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U.S. Customs Is Bringing Preclearance to These Foreign Airports

By Michelle Baran

Sep 29, 2020

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Brussels Airport will soon have preclearance for U.S.-bound travelers.

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Brussels Airport will soon have preclearance for U.S.-bound travelers.

A deal has been struck with Brussels Airport, and negotiations are under way to add Amsterdam and Bogota, Colombia, to the growing list of hubs where travelers can complete the customs process prior to boarding their flight to the U.S.

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The United States and Belgium struck a deal Monday to implement preclearance operations at Brussels Airport, meaning travelers will be able to pass through customs and immigration before their flight and bypass inspection upon arrival. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) expects the program in Brussels to be available to U.S.-bound passengers within the next 18 months to 2 years.

The move is part of newly reinvigorated effort to expand preclearance to additional foreign airports, CBP said during a press call on Tuesday.

The original goal of the program was to “be preclearing upwards of one-third of international arrivals,” Clint Lamm, CBP’s director of preclearance field operations, said on the call, acknowledging that it was a “lofty goal.” In order to keep moving toward that target, CBP is working to identify additional international partners.

The preclearance program dates back to 1952 when it was instituted at Toronto Pearson International Airport. There are now 16 preclearance locations in six countries:

  •     Ireland—Dublin and Shannon
  •     Aruba
  •     Bahamas—Freeport and Nassau
  •     Bermuda
  •     United Arab Emirates
  •     Canada—Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg

In 2019, CBP precleared 22 million travelers, or more than 16 percent of all commercial passengers flying to the United States.

To establish preclearance in an international airport, foreign governments must authorize CBP to carry out inspections of travelers before they board their U.S.-bound flights. Enabling travelers to bypass customs and TSA security inspections upon arrival in the United States means they can proceed more quickly to their connecting flights or to their destination.

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Lamm said that CBP was very close to finalizing deals to have preclearance at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota, Colombia, and at Amsterdam Schiphol as well.

As for the role preclearance can play in monitoring the health and wellness of travelers amid the coronavirus pandemic, Lamm said that it can offer an “added layer” to the effort of screening and identifying potentially infectious travelers. Part of the preclearance inspection process includes asking passengers if they are experiencing any signs or symptoms of illness, he told reporters.

CBP wants more airports to join the preclearance club

CBP said it is now actively inviting new airports to participate in the preclearance program. Interested foreign airports can submit an application through the CBP website. So, what’s in it for them? According to the agency, preclearance airports have a distinct advantage over competing airports—preclearance makes U.S.-bound travel more convenient and allows airlines to fly direct routes to more than 160 U.S. airports that don’t have customs facilities or have limited customs processing capabilities, CBP explained.

The agency noted that the preclearance program helped drive a 75 percent increase in Dublin Airport’s U.S.-bound travel volume between 2014 and 2018.

To be eligible for preclearance, foreign airports must have U.S. air carrier operations, a suitable facility for preclearance processing, and TSA-approved security protocols; they also must be prepared to share the cost burden with the U.S. government.

Once the terms of the new agreement with Belgium are finalized, CBP will station personnel at Brussels Airport to complete customs inspections of travelers before they board their direct flights to the United States.

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