When entering the US on an international flight, and then on to a connecting domestic flight, what is the exact order of the process that will take place? In other words, what happens first, second, third, etc.?

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    While the broad outlines are always the same, a couple of questions that will let us give you an answer specific to your situation (i.e. whether you'll need to change terminals). Which airport and airline? Are the international and domestic flights purchased as a single ticket in one transaction, or are they separate tickets? Sep 2 '18 at 6:24
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    I'm sure we already have a question on this. Anyone? Sep 2 '18 at 8:52
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    @ZachLipton I think all of those could be included conditionally in an answer without knowing Donna's specific case, e.g., "You do X, you do Y, then you change terminals if you need to (you can find out by doing ABC), then you do Z." That would make the answer more generically useful. Sep 2 '18 at 8:54
  • @NateEldredge No, that isn't a duplicate. That question asks more about how the particularities of the immigration check however, this question asks more about the particularities of transferring on to a domestic flight. Sep 2 '18 at 16:52
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    Aside: "Entering the US" doesn't always occur where you think it will. Preclearance Locations may cause you to go through the process in a place like Toronto, Canada, or Shannon, Ireland. That's something worth knowing when you schedule flights to ensure sufficient time where it is needed.
    – HABO
    Sep 2 '18 at 18:10

Here's a very general outline.

First, on the plane, you will be asked to fill in a short form for customs. This contains information about who you're travelling with, where you're travelling from, and what you're bringing into the country. It's therefore a good idea to have a pen in your carry on luggage.

After getting off the plane, you come to the immigration check. This is where your visa or ESTA will be checked, and immigration officers will determine if you are allowed in the USA. There may be machines where you are supposed to enter some information before speaking to immigration, depending on the airport.

After clearing immigration, you will pick up your bags and take them through customs. Here you will typically be asked by a customs agent to verify your answers on the customs declaration form you filled in on the plane. The agent will determine if you need to pay any duties or if anything in your luggage needs to be quarantined or destroyed. They may decide to search your bags.

These things will always happen. What happens next depends on the airport and your specific itinerary.

The easiest scenario is that you immediately hand over your bag to a staff member from your airline and proceed to your gate. There may or may not be a security checkpoint before you can go to your connecting flight.

Otherwise, you will need to recheck your luggage and go through a security checkpoint before proceeding to your gate, same as you did to get on the flight to the US.

  • Johanna, (+1) great answer, one thing missing is what happens when you need to change terminals (or even airports.)
    – Willeke
    Sep 2 '18 at 8:20
  • Aren’t there still I94 forms to fill, especially if arriving at an airport without kiosks?
    – jcaron
    Sep 2 '18 at 8:38
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    If you come in contact with your checked bags, you will always need to go through security. Sep 2 '18 at 8:43
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    "There may or may not be a security checkpoint before you can go to your connecting flight." There will always be a security checkpoint before you can continue to your connecting flight if your next flight is on a normal commercial scheduled air carrier (as opposed to, say, a private jet, which doesn't require security checks.)
    – reirab
    Sep 2 '18 at 12:50

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