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passport controlIf you’ve traveled outside of your own country enough times, you’ve likely encountered all manner of immigration officers – some friendly, some indifferent and some decidedly inhospitable.

I’ve certainly seen my share of all three, including one nasty run-in with power-happy officers at the Manhattan cruise port who treated my husband like a terrorist and accused us of bribery (after we explained that we’d recently paid his Green Card renewal fee). So when my in-laws arrived in the United States from Romania last week for a month-long visit, I nervously awaited word from my husband that they’d gotten through okay. In the end they lucked out, getting a friendly jokester who welcomed them warmly into the United States. What a relief!

Listening to my mother-in-law talk about how the immigration officer gave them a smile and a big thumbs up brought up memories of some of my most memorable immigration experiences — like the time I waited in line for nearly three hours at the JFK airport because it was shift change time, and rather than stagger the closures, they simply shut immigration down for about an hour.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

Another time, I was leaving Romania, where I had been living for a couple of years. I did not have a permanent visa, so I left the country every three months for a week or so. Nobody cared, except for one passport control worker who told me as I was leaving that I wouldn’t be allowed back in and that I should stay in my own country. I was shocked and spent several hours in Madrid, Spain, trying to find the Romanian consulate so I could get permission to go back. By the time I found the consulate it was closed. My Romanian fiance told me not to worry (ha! Fat chance of that). But he was right. Coming back, they didn’t even give me a second glance.

Not all my memorable immigration experiences have been bad. My favorite passport control story is the time my sister and I were training it from Prague to Switzerland. Passing through Germany, the train was stopped and several immigration officers got on to check passports. When the stern German officer got to our car he methodically took a passport, looked at the photo, looked at the person and handed it back. Except when he got to one young Italian man. With him, the officer looked at the photo, looked at the man, looked at the passport photo, looked at the man, then kept the passport. He then checked all the other passports. Returning to the young Italian, he repeated the photo, man, photo, man routine. Then with a wink, he simply returned the guy’s passport and left. I guess that was his way of having fun.

Passport Information

How about you? What have been some of your most memorable experiences with immigration and passport control?

— written by Dori Saltzman

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2 Responses to “Travel Immigration: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

  1. soliteyah says:

    The vast majority of immigration officers I’ve interacted with have been gruff, indifferent or downright cranky. I’ve found that the friendliest immigration officers are in countries that have a reputation for being nice/polite: Canada and New Zealand.

    I travel with my unmarried significant other, and we got in trouble once with U.S. immigration for coming up to the officer together when we’re not married and therefore not part of the same “family.” Since then we’ve always gone separately, even though other officers have said it’s not a big deal.

  2. Andrea Sophia says:

    Hi, I catch your blog on Zite. My story is short and sweet. My first trip abroad was to take a cruise out of Venice to the Greek islands back in the summer of 2007. We just got out of JFK by the skin of our teeth due to big thunder storm. Landing in Venice at Marco Polo airport early in the morning, we shuffled of to immigration where my girlfriend Kat flashed her passport without a blink from the officer. Right behind her, I hand the man my passport, he looks at it, then at me, smiles, then catches his cohort in the next booth, and says ‘Novello’, then very pleasantly looks at me and says, in his best English ‘Andrea Sophia Novello, Welcome to Italia !” He had such a huge smile on his face. Maybe He knows some Novello’s ? It hooked me, hook, line and sinker on Italy. I have been back every year, nibbling a bit here and there, now taking big bites out of Italy every chance I get. I am going to touch every inch of Italy, in this decade, before I retire from my dental hygiene career. Then I can really start traveling. I have some awesome stories, plan to write them down, and hopefully get to share them, too. Travel safely

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