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I am flying from the Middle East to Toronto.

I have a United Airlines flight from Frankfurt to EWR terminal B, and my connection to Toronto is from Terminal C.

Do I need to clear customs or immigration in the USA, or just personal security check & hand baggage check when I move from terminal B to terminal C?

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Contrary to most other countries, there is no sterile international transit in the US.

All passengers arriving in the US, whether it's their final destination or they transfer to a domestic or international flight, will have to:

  • go through passport control (and thus have a valid US passport, green card, visa, or ESTA),
  • reclaim luggage
  • go through customs.

After customs, if you are on a single ticket and checked through to your final destination, you will be able to drop off your bags (already tagged for your final destination) at a counter just after exiting customs. You can then go to departures, through security, and to your gate (possibly changing terminals in the meantime).

If you are on separate tickets, you will have to go the the check-in area for your flight to check-in and drop your luggage before you can go through security and to your gate.

There are two exceptions:

  • If you arrive from a "pre-clearance airport", where checks will have been done at the departure airport, you will be considered as arriving on a domestic flight. But this does not apply for Frankfurt at this time.
  • If you transit in MIA or DFW and you arrive from selected airports on selected airlines and you got red luggage tags, you will still go through passport control and customs, but you will not need to reclaim/recheck luggage. There's a pilot in ATL for flights from ICN (!) to do the same thing. But none of those apply to you.

Note that in all cases, since you will be entering the US, you need to meet all requirements for entry into the US, not only from an immigration point of view (as described above, US passport, green card, visa or ESTA), but also for Covid-related measures (vaccination and recent test).

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  • I did several time without reclaiming luggage. Some airlines on some airports may be able to do it. In any case one must pass custom (and TRANSIT) in the custom form. But yes, it is complex, you should complete also ESTA (and pay for it), and queues are usually long (it is not the custom or baggage reclaim which take time). I would recommend not to use such route. Especially considering you are already changing in Europe. Try to see if you can change the flights (COVID added some extra option to change flights) Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 15:52
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    @GiacomoCatenazzi The only exception I know how where you don't need to reclaim you luggage is if you arrive from a pre-clearance airport (checks will have been done at the departure airport instead of when arriving in the US). Otherwise I don't think it's possible (unless you don't have hold luggage of course!). You need to reclaim your bags before going through customs.
    – jcaron
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 16:08
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    The pre-clearance exception will apply to the return trip. You will clear U.S. customs in Toronto for the flight to Newark. Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 22:43
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    @PatrickMevzek “Sterile transit” is a common term for international transit connections that do not require clearing customs and immigration.
    – cpast
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 3:59
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    @T.J.L. see fifth form at dictionary.com/browse/sterile : "not productive of results, ideas, etc.; fruitless." Don't we say "sterile conversation" for example? (at least we do that in French, but English is not my mother tongue) Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 15:29

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