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On my previous flight from Amsterdam to Tokyo two years ago, about an hour before the seat belt lights came on for landing, we were given our customs declarations form (I'm a UK citizen). I was spending less than 90 days there so I did not have to apply for a visa.

My upcoming flight will have me arrive in Tokyo early in the morning, so I was hoping to sleep for most of the flight with as few interruptions as possible (which I can appreciate on an 11-hour flight is optimistic!). As such, I was planning on asking the cabin crew if I could be given my immigration and customs paperwork at the earliest opportunity during the flight so I can take my time filling it out and not worry about it later. On a personal note, it also removes one less item of stress from the journey.

Are there any laws or common airline-enforced practices that would prevent me from being given my customs paperwork so early in a flight (especially if the flight is to Japan)?

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    Just ask them for one, theres no law, but you'll probably get woken up and given one again if they don't remember you had one. – BritishSam Jul 25 '18 at 13:06
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    @BritishSam This sounds like it could be easily solved with a sticky note on the form basket: "Seat 22B got his already." – fkraiem Jul 25 '18 at 15:31
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    @BritishSam: You could put the completed card in a visible spot on your lap or tray table to reduce the chances of being woken. – Michael Seifert Jul 25 '18 at 20:08
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    Im my experience they usually don't wake people up for giving them immigration forms, but rather leave it in the seat pocket or sth like that. – npl Jul 25 '18 at 21:23
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    @fkraiem good luck telling them to use a sticky note on the basket to remember you already got yours. – さりげない告白 Jul 26 '18 at 3:13
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Usually, airlines have a set schedule for various tasks, and immigration forms are handed out at a set time, on a schedule.

I sometimes ask for the form early, and depending on the mood, the FA will bring it, or tell me "later". Just try your luck.

29

I have woken up to find a landing card in my seat pocket or on my lap more times than I can count (eyeshades really contribute to people leaving you alone.) I fill it out while we land or while waiting in line at immigration. I've filled out a LOT of them from a LOT of countries and have never needed more than 5 minutes. If you're worried, find a copy of the form online so you know what information you will need.

Specifically:

  • don't ask the crew anything special wrt landing cards
  • use an eyeshade to minimize the chances crew will shake you awake to give you the card.
  • prepare in advance (eg get your local address if you need one, etc)
  • have your own pen easily accessible in case the seat belt sign prevents you accessing your carry on
  • be prepared to do the form as the plane taxis to the gate or the passengers in rows ahead of you are disembarking, or even while standing in the immigration line. There will be time.

If you spot a supply of the cards as you enter immigration, and you plan to travel to Tokyo regularly, take a spare. I used to full out the US cards at home and then when the crew gave me one, just put it in my bag for the next trip.

  • I second this. Having traveled to Tokyo multiple times over the past couple of years on various airlines, I have usually seen crew keep the form on sleeping passengers' laps or trays (been on the receiving end once myself). – muru Jul 26 '18 at 9:31
  • It's reassuring that they may find a way to still give you the form if you're asleep, rather than having to awkwardly fill out one at the customs desk! – Kozaky Jul 26 '18 at 11:53
  • @Kozaky I highly doubt they'd let you hold other people up while you fill in your form(s). They'll just send you away, and you'll have to queue up again, if you haven't managed to fill in the necessary forms by the time you reach that point. (Assuming that I've correctly interpreted your usage of "customs desk" as the place where you'd actually hand over your forms to a customs officer.) – Anthony Grist Jul 26 '18 at 13:45
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    Many airports have a set of small desks/tables at the back of the customs hall (where you enter) with more forms and chained pens, and if you still don't have the form filled out by then, you could step over there and finish it. But I cannot imagine that actually happening. You have to be awake for landing with your seat back up. You could probably fill out 20 forms in the time it takes to land and taxi, assuming you had a pen. – Kate Gregory Jul 26 '18 at 15:59
  • I don't get why don't ask the crew anything special wrt landing cards is part of the list. You have a good plan to avoid it, but don't say anything to back "just don't". – mgarciaisaia Jul 26 '18 at 17:23
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As BritishSam commented, you can probably ask for the paperwork early, but as others pointed out the staff might not remember that 10 hours later.

With a long overnight flight arriving in the morning, they will almost certainly dim the cabin lights so everyone can get some sleep. Around an hour or two before arrival they will generally wake everyone up for breakfast and bring up the cabin lights - the cabin will generally get a lot noisier. This is part of the "wake everyone up" process and there's probably not much you can do to avoid it, except doggedly try to stay asleep.

An alternative approach that I have found is to make yourself really tired before going to the airport - party late or just stay up all night. That'll make it easy to fall asleep quickly once on board. If you have a window seat and make it clear you want to sleep (reclined seat/eyeshade/blanket/neck pillow/etc), the cabin crew generally don't wake you until they really need to. With a bit of luck you could get a good 7 or 8 hrs sleep on an 11 hr flight. And I find this reduces jetlag.

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    I have seen eyeshades with text on them: "Wake me up for breakfast" on one side, "Let me sleep" on the other. Very useful. – Stephan Kolassa Jul 26 '18 at 9:05
  • It also may not be the same cabin crew by the time you get there. Potentially. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 26 '18 at 9:49

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