Having Passport Stamps from Certain Countries
If you have passport stamps from certain countries (even from a trip you took years ago), you may run into trouble at customs at home or abroad. For example, trying to enter certain Middle Eastern countries with an Israeli passport stamp in your passport can cause trouble—so much so that Israel began a pilot program this year through which visitors get a separate entry card rather than a physical mark on their passport. Likewise, having a stamp in your passport from Cuba will likely raise some eyebrows at the American border.
Those snoopy agents always look at my passport stamps. Some have made comments, such as “Why did you go to XXXX?” The colorful visas that are permanently glued into your passport are particularly noticeable and often quite colorful. They draw attention. Also, numerous stops in the same city raise a red flag. It obviously means you are a drug dealer or pimp!
Of course, the opposite problem is even worse. Always get your passport stamped on the way into a country. If they find you entered without or illegally, you will be placed in jail, and expected to pay a large fine, upwards of $1000 each. It really happened to some friends on mine on their way to Burma, or should I say, on their way out of Burma.
Some other hints: never use your cell phone or camera in the customs area. It will be confiscated and never returned! Hiking boots are also a red flag, both for the mud and grass stuck to the tread of your shoes, as well as the predictable lifestyle, as in hostels, Kasbahs, smoking dens, and marijuana farms. We had this problem in New Zealand. Never admit to being on a farm, or having golfed in a country with weed infestation issues. The shoes must be clean!
Another really important piece of information is always know where you are staying. Even for just a night, have a hotel reservation. Never say you are going to camp, backpack, or try to find an open hostel. These are reasons to keep you out of the country. Another one is having enough money, despite your stack of credit cards, particularly in countries where credit cards are not very prevalent.
Food of all kinds, especially fruit can be a red flag. Most herbal products, including tea will attract the drug seeking beagles. I realize your snacks are important. Make sure they are obvious, like dried nuts. Stay away from the more exotic snacks like trail mix, jerky, and brownies (you know the kind!).
Stay away from big heavy, lace-up boots. These are a red flag for contraband, plus they take way too much time to remove. Likewise, jewelry draws too much attention. Bring only stuff you are willing to lose or give away. And body piercings are a guarantee that you will get a private pat down in a cold dark room down the hallway. True for belts and belt buckles, so keep the Roy Rogers souvenir cowboy belt at home.
Above all, stay away from offensive names and slogans on T-shirts and other clothing. These could be as innocent as a Nike T-shirt, or a beer logo, all the way up to “Impeach xxxx.” Plain is best, even designer logos can cause problems. Foreigners notice these things.
A guarantee that you will be frisked and body searched are loose-fitting clothes, especially for women. I know all of the travel experts suggest layering your clothing while traveling, to lighten the load. Just keep it to a minimum, you can carry a small backpack or overnight bag instead.
Note on the CLEAR card, or should it be a warning? I now have a CLEAR card, works currently at SFO only. There is generally no line. But once clearing CLEAR, the agent walks you to the front of the TSA screening line. Amid the numerous dirty looks of people who have been standing in line, the CLEAR card still requires shoes off and laptops out. I just do not see its value.
But I do like the GOES program. The Global Online Enrollment System quite simply allows the GOES traveler to bypass the US Customs line, after scanning their GOES approved US Passport through a card reader. After scanning and giving an electronic thumb print, the GOES traveler can head directly to their baggage, and leave the long lines of Customs and Immigration behind.
Happy, carefree travels to all!