The big day is almost here! You’ve been planning your trip to Florida for months, booking flights, choosing hotels, and counting down the days until your departure. Soon, you’ll be disembarking from the plane and headed toward theme-park thrills and chills. But, for international travelers, this excitement may very well be competing with some anxiety about your arrival in the United States of America.
If you’re not sure where to begin when it comes to Customs and Immigration, documentation, or baggage claim, that’s completely understandable – but worry no longer! I’m here to serve as your international guide, ushering you through the arrival process from the moment you step off the plane and take your first steps in sunny Florida.
Let’s jump right in!
Arriving from outside the United States
You’ve managed what seemed impossible: everyone has checked in, no one has lost a bag, a child, or his temper, and you’ve landed safely in Florida. It’s time to hit Universal Orlando Resort!
Well, it’s almost time. First, you need to clear US Customs & Immigration, so head right to the Customs and Border Protection checkpoint. There, you’ll pass through a biometric scanner and receive an electronic I-94 form. This document keeps track of your arrival and departure to and from America, proving that you entered lawfully and showing the date by which you must leave the country. You’ll also get a stamp on your passport – how fun!
The Customs and Border Protection officer who issues your I-94 and stamps your passport should inform you about how to access the electronic form; if not, you can always do so by using the CBP online system. (I would recommend printing a copy of the form for your records.) Overall, the process is quite straightforward, so don’t stress about it!
What if I have an American passport?
In that case, I have good news for you: you don’t need an I-94! Simply hop in the checkpoint’s queue for those with US passports.
If you’re interested in saving even more time, you may want to look into a Trusted Traveler Program. There are a few options to choose from, including Global Entry, which costs $100 and lasts for five years. This program includes TSA PreCheck, which will help you save more time still at airport security.
You can browse all of the options at the DHS website, where you’ll also find a handy survey to help determine which one best fits your needs.
Time to collect your baggage
Congratulations – you’re in! Next up, it’s time to collect your baggage and officially clear Customs. To do so, simply grab your baggage from the carousel and present it, along with your Customs Declaration Form, to an officer. They may check your document and search your luggage, but don’t sweat it – if you comply with all of their requests, you should have no trouble at all.
Once you’ve cleared Customs & Immigration, you can either keep your luggage with you as you travel to the Main Terminal, or you can have it transported there for you. If you choose to have it transported, your baggage will be delivered to either Side A or Side B, depending on the terminal that your plane arrived in. This information should be announced to you while you’re still on the plane, but don’t worry if you forget; there are screens located conveniently throughout the airport that will display your flight number and baggage carousel location.
All you have to do now is hop on the Automated People Mover (your first attraction of the vacation) and enjoy the ride to the Main Terminal! It’s a short trip – just over a minute long – so be sure to take it all in, including the personal welcome from our beloved mayor, Buddy Dyer. If you chose to keep your luggage with you, you’re ready to depart from the airport. If you had it transported, follow the signage and announcements to Baggage Claim A or B to pick up your belongings, and you’ll be good to go!
Bonus tips for navigating Orlando International Airport
Luckily, Orlando International Airport isn’t too difficult to navigate. Still, these additional tips will help you shave a little more time off your arrival process— and, by extension, buy you more time in the theme parks:
- Sit closer to the front of the airplane, if possible. The closer you are to the front of the plane, the faster you can exit and make your way to the Customs and Border Protection checkpoint.
- In the same vein, be prepared to disembark from the plane. There are almost certainly other passengers onboard that will be headed to the Customs and Border Protection checkpoint with you, so make sure you’re off the plane as quickly as you can to minimize the chances of waiting in a long line. (In other words, you should avoid having to repack your entire life into your carry-on luggage, if possible!)
- If you are flying from Europe, see if you can route through the Dublin or Shannon Airports in Ireland. These airports are home to Customs and Border Protection Preclearance facilities, meaning you can clear Customs before arriving in the United States. This will allow you to be treated as a domestic passenger upon arrival, thereby saving you a lot of time!
Congratulations – you’ve officially arrived. Now, it’s time for the fun to begin!
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