I just booked my first flight heading out of the country (going solo), and I have a couple questions about the steps I need to take to calm my nerves. I’ve flown two previous times, and I have no issues or fears with flying itself. It’s just that build up to it. I’m just at a complete loss for how things work when going out of the country.

I'll number my questions so it's easier to answer.

  1. At what point to I go through customs/show my passport? My flight is PIT (Pittsburgh) to IAD (Washington, DC - Dulles International). Then I change planes, and continue from IAD to LHR.

  2. Do I have to pick up my bags when I change planes (it’s United Airlines the whole time) and go through the process again?

  3. After arriving at LHR I'll be catching a bus that departs from the Central Bus Station at 11:10am. My flight is scheduled to arrive at 10:20am. Did I leave myself enough time?

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    If you want to know what to expect in your landing interview with the UK immigration officer, you can start another question. You have a great answer for this question. Please use the "accept" button to acknowledge it. Thanks! – Gayot Fow May 12 '15 at 0:03
  • Just wanted to say it: Enjoy your trip! – CGCampbell May 12 '15 at 13:46
  • Even though you didn't ask, bear in mind that Greg's answer below only applies PIT->IAD->LHR. On the return journey things will be different. You enter the US in IAD, so you will show your passport then, and pickup your bag, go through customs, and recheck it at a special desk, then go through security. You will then continue pretty much as if you were flying domestically IAD->PIT. And don't worry, people do journeys like this all the time. Just ask the United Airlines reps if you get stuck. – Andrew Ferrier May 12 '15 at 21:29
  • @AndrewFerrier, The more I read around the more comfortable I get with the process. Initially when I booked I was shooting for the least amount of time for layovers, but now the 2.5 hours for the IAD -> PIT makes sense. I also have the TSA Precheck, so who knows if that will work to my benefit. – Sean Q May 13 '15 at 1:07
  • Sean Q, it will help in the U.S. Obviously, TSA Precheck is meaningless in the UK. – Andrew Ferrier May 13 '15 at 2:08

1a) You will show your passport at airline checkin, so they know you (probably) have the right to enter the UK. As a US citizen, you don't need a visa.

1b) You will not go through US customs or CBP when leaving the US.

1c) You will show your passport to the UK border control in LHR.

2) If you're ticketed on United the whole time, your bags will almost certainly be "checked through". You'll drop them off in PIT and pick them up at LHR.

3) 50 minutes to deplane, go through immigration, pick up your bags, go through customs, and catch a bus in LHR is probably not enough time. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of ways to leave LHR and go wherever you want to go.

Couple more tips for international plane travel:

  • Bring a pen with you. You'll need it on the plane for filling out your landing card.
  • Have your accommodation information (address/contact info) and return itinerary available for UKVI immigration if they request to see it.
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    UK immigration can also ask for proof of funds, though in my experience as a US citizen nobody ever asked me for that in any European country. It has been 10 years since I've entered a European country as a US citizen, though, so I couldn't say whether that has changed. – phoog May 11 '15 at 22:25
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    2. It's very easy. Your bag will be checked through to LHR. It is a normal procedure. You will walk from one plane to the other, inside the secure part of the airport. 1. UKBF are not really interested in funds, they just want to know when you'll will be leaving :P They only get into funds if it looks like you might be a drain on national resources. – Calchas May 11 '15 at 22:33
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    @GayotFow: Done, thanks. Who's responsible for editing all the existing answers the next time they change the name of the agency? :) – Greg Hewgill May 11 '15 at 23:52
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    @SeanQ: In particular, bring a ball-point pen (such as a cheap Bic). Nicer pens will sometimes start to leak and splotch under the reduced cabin pressure in flight. – hmakholm left over Monica May 12 '15 at 1:13
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    My experience has been that 2 varies slightly going the other way (UK to US). When you (re-)enter the US, you'll have to clear Customs, then claim your bags, re-check them for any connecting domestic flights, then go through the security checkpoints again. May be worth updating the answer to reflect that since @SeanQ may not be expecting it and get caught out (though United have always been really good about making the whole process clear after landing when I've flown with them in the last few years). – Anthony Grist May 12 '15 at 15:52

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