So here is my question, me and my wife are both from Europe. We want to travel to Puerto Rico - which is sort-of USA.

First we do NOT have any valid US visa and as I understand we actually need one. That should ok - we can apply here, at home, for one.

My second and most important question is different. We plan to fly via Atlanta Airport and my understanding is that there's no such thing there as an international area. Meaning that when we get off the plane that arrives in Atlanta, we still need to enter the USA mainland territory (I really hope I am wrong here) - valid visa USA checks, etc. I've traveled to New York before and from my experience this can take hours (it took me 4 hours last time I was in new york).

So if there's a connection flight in Atlanta within these 4 hours for example, I can easily loose my flight from Altanta to Puerto Rico, right?

Any other pitfalls I might need to know? Thx!

  • 1
    Four hours is unusually long for US immigration: my recollection is that people normally recommend leaving about two hours. If you can, get seats close to the front of the plane and, after disembarking, go immediately to the immigration area so you're ahead of the 200+ people behind you on your plane. Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 11:56
  • @DavidRicherby that's weird. I really did stay 4 hours there, the queue in JFK was enormous.
    – Eugene
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 12:25
  • I'm not doubting your experience: I'm just saying that, compared to my experience and what I've heard of others, you were very unlucky. Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 12:49
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    There are several questions regarding immigration wait times at airports: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/49160/…, there was also one somewhere about Chicago. You can use the same site for Atlanta.
    – Karlson
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 13:21
  • @DavidRicherby The problem in JFK is concentration of international flights at various terminals and occasional A380 arriving late in conjunction with a few large planes from elsewhere.
    – Karlson
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 13:23

1 Answer 1


Yes you do need to clear immigration and customs in Atlanta.

But on the brightside Atlanta's immigration area is fairly large and well manned, so processing time is not too bad. While as a US citizen I go through a different line, I have seen foreign nationals from my flights awaiting their baggage same time as me, so they have obviously made it through the processing line in decent time.

Assuming you are on one ticket, your bags checked through, once you clear customs, you drop your bags at recheck just outside customs and clear security and head to your next gate. Fairly straight forward.

If you are delayed at immigration and miss your connecting flight, then the airline will try to get you on the next available flight.

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    This matches my experience entering via Atlanta as a foreign national several times. I once even made a 1hr 15min connection at ATL, though they'd almost finished boarding when I got to the gate. (I wasn't supposed to have that connection but I got rerouted after AMS was closed by fog. They put me in business class on the leg from ATL, too, so I was especially keen not to miss that flight!) Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 14:07

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