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I'll be travelling from Dusseldorf, Germany to Los Angeles (LAX), USA through Chicago (ORD), USA.

So the flight will be: DUS---->ORD ~~ ORD---->LAX

The layover will be in Chicago (ORD)

I was wondering whether I will have to:

1) Go through border and immigration control in Chicago (ORD)

2) Reclaim my luggage in Chicago and check it in again to go to Los Angeles. Or will it travel all the way through without me having to do anything?

3) Go through security check again in Chicago.

The layover will be 3 hours, I will be having an ESTA and not a visa and it is also my first time entering the USA. I'll be travelling alone and I'm not sure of what to do.

Same goes for the return journey, but instead of Chicago I'll be laying over in Philadelphia. Will I have to reclaim my luggage and check it in again? And also, the layover in Philadelphia is only 45 minutes, will I have enough time to board the next flight?

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The flight ORD-LAX will be a internal US flight. What will happen is the following:

You leave your plane in Chicago, go through immigration, collect your luggage, go through customs and then leave the secure (airside) area. You then recheck your bag and go through security.

This process is usually well described by signs and you just have one way to go through it.

On the return trip your luggage will be automatically transferred to the other flight (assuming you booked the flights on one ticket) and you usually won't need to go through security again. Also—maybe surprising to you—there is no border control when leaving the US.

If it was possible to book the trip with 45 minutes connecting time you should be fine (if there are no delays). However, depending on the terminals you use it could be pretty short.

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The only potentially confusing part of this trip will be your transfer through O'Hare. But there are some ways you can speed this up.

  • You will arrive in Terminal 5 at O'Hare, and you will transfer to your flight to LAX in one of Terminals 1-3.
  • Since you're from a Visa Waiver Program country and you are traveling on an ESTA, you may be eligible to skip the immigration queues and use the Automated Passport Control kiosks to clear immigration. (Note that you can't use the kiosk on your first trip to the US, but can do on subsequent trips.) The kiosks will print a receipt; you'll then go directly to baggage claim, pick up your checked bags and go to Customs, where you will show your receipt. Note that in rare cases the kiosk may direct you to the immigration queue anyway, if CBP needs to speak with you prior to entry or you were not eligible to use the kiosk.

    (US citizens and Canadians visiting for tourism or business can also use the Mobile Passport app, and app users have a dedicated "MPC" queue at Customs.)

  • Once you clear both immigration and customs, if your checked bags are checked through to LAX, (they should be) you then drop them at the drop-off immediately past Customs. If your bags were not checked through to LAX, and your next flight is with United or American, there will be check-in desks in Terminal 5 where you can drop them off. Otherwise you will need to bring them with you to your departure terminal.

  • At this point, you are landside in the United States. Take the ATS train from Terminal 5 to your departure terminal. If you don't already have a boarding pass for your ORD-LAX flight, pick it up here (and check in bags, if they weren't checked through). Then clear departure security, and wait for your flight to LAX.

On your return flight you will not need to handle your checked bags at any point, provided they are checked through to DUS (again, they should be). The 45 minute layover time should be enough, but it is a pretty tight connection so you won't have time for much of anything but getting to the next plane. (And, as always, if you miss it, then it's on the airline to get you onto another flight.) Note that there is no immigration control when exiting the US; instead, the airline will notify the US that you have departed.

  • Automated Passport Control kiosks can only be used by people from ESTA countries that have entered the US at least once since 2008. As this is Angela's first time to the US, that won't be the case. The Mobile Passport App is not available for ESTA. – Doc May 17 '15 at 18:16
  • @Doc Thanks; I've made corrections. Keep in mind that I'm also writing the answer to be applicable to the hundreds of other people who will read this as well! – Michael Hampton May 17 '15 at 18:29

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