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I will get married in March, and shortly after the wedding we will be traveling together to the US. She does not have US citizenship. So which rules do we follow?

  1. Do I pass through the US citizen lane, and her through the foreigner lane?
  2. Or do we pass together as a single family (and if so, through which lane)?
  • 2
    @pnuts: I don't expect there to be a newly-married queue, either. But they always instruct families traveling together to pass through immigration together. But when our citizenship is different, are we still supposed to follow that rule? – Flimzy Jan 14 '15 at 16:16
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    In the Schengen area there are explicit rules about this (married couples can go together through the “EU citizen” lane even if only one of them is actually an EU citizen) so the question seems completely reasonable to me (+1). – Relaxed Jan 14 '15 at 18:27
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    If she is entering on a tourist or student visa, it is possible for them to deny her entry, because it is so easy for her to abuse it to immigrate as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. – user102008 Jan 14 '15 at 20:16
  • @user102008: She will be entering under the VWP. – Flimzy Jan 14 '15 at 20:25
  • @Flimzy: Yeah, VWP included – user102008 Jan 14 '15 at 21:55
27

The fact that you're newlywed is irrelevant. What is important is that you are one family travelling together.

I've been in exact this situation before. I am an American citizen and my wife is not. Whenever we fly to the USA, we'd go through the immigration together - through the lanes for "Non-US passports". We give two passports together - mine and hers (with the visa). The agent usually checks her details first, get her fingerprint scan, then quickly scans my passport, says something like "Welcome home" - and we're in.

That said, last time we flew to the USA was about a year ago. Furthermore, different airports may have different policies regarding this. We usually fly to BOS (Boston Logan) and once to New York (JFK).

I do think though that you should be fine going together, but make sure to go via the "non-US passports" lanes.

  • 1
    Great, this is exactly the information I was looking for. – Flimzy Jan 14 '15 at 20:26
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    I'd like to stress the importance of her already having a visa in this scenario. If you try to cross as newlyweds without a visa, there's a good chance they will not let her in (she would need to have all kinds of proof that she didn't intend to stay in the US permanently, and even then it could all come down to the subjective decision of a border guard who's having a bad day). – Rudism Jan 14 '15 at 20:41
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    @Rudism Of course the presumed "border guard who's having a bad day" may deny entry even with valid, approved, paid visa documents or waivers. – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 14 '15 at 21:58
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    @FedericoPoloni I'd wager that someone without a valid visa or ESTA would not even be allowed to board at the port of departure. – Aleks G Jan 15 '15 at 11:23
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    I've been repeatedly instructed by CBP officers in New York that my wife and I should use the US citizens line. Furthermore, she's on a diplomatic visa, so we use the diplomats' line when there is one. So the admonishment to "make sure to go via the 'non-US'" line is unnecessary. You should try the US citizens' line next time. – phoog Apr 24 '18 at 17:53
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You can use either line. I've been repeatedly told to use the US citizens' line with my wife, who is not a US citizen. In the past, I was told to use the US citizens' line with my then girlfriend, who was not a US citizen and with whom I did not live. She didn't even live in the same country.

Whichever line you choose, you should go together if you live together, since family members living at the same address are supposed to submit a joint customs declaration.

  • 2
    For clarity, the "Citizen" vs "Non Citizen" line is irrelevant to the Officer. It's just a way to theoretically make the Citizen line faster since there's generally less inspection. – Johns-305 Apr 25 '18 at 2:29
  • @Johns-305 this is what one would think, though I read once somewhere that they actually try to keep the wait times similar on both sides of the hall, presumably by putting more agents on the non-US side. This makes one wonder why they have different lines; is it just to reinforce tribalism? Also even though the officer might not care, presumably they do enforce it somehow. If a non-US visitor goes alone to the US line, surely there's a risk of being sent to the other line, isn't there? – phoog Apr 25 '18 at 13:15

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