If I am travelling to the US with a non-American friend/girlfriend/boyfriend/international school group (of which some need visas), which lanes do I use, especially if ATC is involved?

Do the same rules apply if I am travelling with a spouse?

I am mainly asking for entry into the US, but I would be interested to hear how this works in other countries, as well.

Moreover, this question is more intended as a reference point for the future in case this type of situation arises for me.

  • Such an interesting question! Do you think you could focus some more on the different passports in the title? Now it seems to me you're speaking about big group of friends that have nothing special besides being friends.
    – Belle
    Aug 11, 2016 at 14:41
  • 5
    Is there a reason the group can't split up and use different lanes?
    – user35890
    Aug 11, 2016 at 14:48
  • 1
    Even when all adults and able to travel alone, I would prefer a group to stay together going through immigration. If someone is not allowed into the country they can (usually) not warn people who are in a different part of the immigration area or airport.
    – Willeke
    Aug 11, 2016 at 15:01
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    This is really, really broad, hypothetical question. The answer is "it depends on the particular country and group of travellers"
    – CMaster
    Aug 11, 2016 at 15:56
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    When I, a US citizen, was living in Europe and traveling to the US with a European romantic partner with whom I did not live, I was told by a CBP officer that I should take her with me in the US citizens line. I can't speak to what their advice would have been for a group of adults who were just friends.
    – phoog
    Aug 11, 2016 at 16:32

3 Answers 3


Probably the official answer is that each adult should use the lane appropriate to her circumstances.

That said, in practicality, in the US and elsewhere, a small group of two or three may stay together and use the fastest line. By a small group, I mean perhaps an adult citizen with his alien parent, someone travelling with a disabled person using a fast lane, or a married couple (where one spouse is not a citizen). I am not talking about friends or colleagues travelling together.

The immigration inspectors are not specialized for any purpose, an immigration inspector in the "Aliens" lane can process a citizen and an inspector in the "Citizens" lane can process a tourist, if they so choose, and they will understand that a family will want stay together.

But this is bounded by common sense. If someone has a complicated visa process that will take some minutes to arrange, then he should probably not be in the citizens' line holding everyone up. If one traveller entering the US has a valid Automatic Passport Control slip and the other needs to be fully processed, then they will be separated.

  • 2
    @pnuts I was actually trying to find a polite way of saying ‘yes but don't take the piss’ :)
    – Calchas
    Aug 11, 2016 at 16:01
  • You say that the immigration inspectors are not specialized for any purpose, yet I claim to differ. Automated machines only able to read certain types of passports (like ESTA passports which are biometric), will not be able to process other passengers. Also, are you saying you would expect parents to leave their children on their own, or disabled people (in a wheelchair, for instance) to fend for themsevles? Explain please how they would get through passport control by themselves.
    – user49558
    Aug 11, 2016 at 16:04
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    Entering the US, family members residing at the same address are supposed to fill out a single customs declaration. If one of the family members is a US citizen, the entire group uses the citizens' line.
    – phoog
    Aug 11, 2016 at 16:29
  • @user49558 also, I'm a US citizen married to someone with a G visa. When I enter the US with her, I use the "A and G visas" line even though I do not hold a visa of any description, let alone an A or G visa. The basic answer to your question is "you can use any line as long as at least one member of your group qualifies for that line."
    – phoog
    Aug 11, 2016 at 16:41
  • Calchas: have you used APC? I have not, but in one video, I recall (perhaps incorrectly?) that I saw provisions to include travelers who don't otherwise qualify for APC in a group with an APC-qualified traveler.
    – phoog
    Aug 11, 2016 at 16:44

My experiences entering the US suggests that a group can use any line as long as at least one member of the group qualifies for that line. These experiences include:

  • Being told by a CBP officer to take my European girlfriend with me to the US citizens line (15 years ago or so).

  • Entering the US through the "A and G visas" line when traveling with my wife who has such a visa, even though I am a US citizen. I also did this with her before we were married.

The basic principle seems to be that a group can use any line for which at least one member is qualified, and they don't seem terribly strict about the specific definition of group. I've never used automatic passport control, though, so I don't know how that affects this.


Regarding your side question: For the Schengen area, family members of EU/EEA citizens with the appropriate residence permit can use the EU lane. That's because the immigration officials will only check their identity, not the purpose of the visit or whatever.

A "mere" boyfriend/girlfriend won't have those papers.

  • I -1'd this because 1. this only answers a small part of my question and 2. it is very vague. Please elaborate on non-Schengen passengers and/or if the family members would simply be visiting.
    – user49558
    Aug 11, 2016 at 15:26
  • @pnuts I know it's kind of a broad question, but 1. the side questions aren't as important; it's really the US I'm concerned about and 2. The question really is: "What immigration lane as a group with different nationalities do we use?"
    – user49558
    Aug 11, 2016 at 15:52
  • @pnuts My point is, some people require assistance; they simply cannot be left alone. Would you expect a 7-year-old child to find his/her way through immigration by himself/herself simply because he/she is Chinese and his parents are American? Of course not!
    – user49558
    Aug 11, 2016 at 16:09
  • Family members without the residence permit can also use the EU lane if they have documentation to prove their family relationship.
    – phoog
    Aug 11, 2016 at 16:30

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