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Tips for Going Through Customs & Immigration in Sydney

The customs and immigration process at Sydney Kingsford International Airport (SYD) was somewhat unique, and it actually caught us a little off guard. While nothing to worry about, we thought it might be helpful to share our experience to help others be more aware and go through the process more smoothly.

First off, try to get a passenger card (immigration form) and fill it out before you land. Our flight crew accidentally grabbed a stack of passenger cards that were printed in French. Being a flight originating from the U.S., these cards weren’t overly useful for the majority of passengers on board. We were casually told by the flight attendants that we could simply grab one when we landed. However, several customs officials in the Sydney airport asked to see our passenger cards, and they seemed uncomfortable with the fact that we did not already have them from the flight.

As we walked off the plane, there were several customs officers lining the jetway with a few dogs to sniff you and your belongings as you deplaned. The officers will direct you to stand in a line against the wall so the dogs have a chance to sniff.

If you have an electronic visa (that’s tied your passport), you will need to stop at an electronic kiosk to print out a personalized strip of paper to use when going through the “Smart Gate” immigration control.

If all of the first kiosks you see are full, try walking around a bit. We waited in line at the first row of kiosks we came across, but once we finished and walked around the corner, there were several more kiosks that weren’t being used.

As far as the kiosks are concerned, it is similar to the Global Entry kiosks in the U.S. – you’ll just slide in your passport, confirm your personal information and declarations, and it will print a strip of paper to use at immigration.

When you arrive at the actual immigration hall, the immigration process for electronic visas should be quick and simple. Enter the personalized strip of paper you received from the kiosk and look at the camera, which takes a picture to match your face to your passport. Easy enough, right? Well, just be patient. Female DINK thought something was wrong when nothing happened for a while and looked down to make sure her strip of paper was inserted correctly. The camera took the picture as she looked down and, therefore, couldn’t recognize her face. After getting an error message on the screen, she had to go to the regular immigration line and wait to go through the “normal” passport control. This delay is easily avoidable – just be patient for the picture and don’t look away!

While at the baggage claim, we were approached by a customs officer asking to see our documents. He asked for a business card to prove we held the jobs we wrote on our passenger cards. Unfortunately, we did not bring business cards with us, as this was a leisure trip. We were instead asked if there was anything on our phones to show us associated with our professions such as a picture of us on our company’s website, etc. The best we could come up with was our LinkedIn profiles, which was deemed sufficient.

After a long international flight and landing in a new country, this questioning was stressful and somewhat uncomfortable; however, the customs officers were professional at all times. So, long story short, if you have business cards, just bring a couple along in case you’re asked about your documents in customs. Or, take a screenshot of your profile on your company’s website or LinkedIn.

Finally, it was time to go through the ‘declare’ or ‘nothing-to-declare’ with our now-retrieved checked luggage. But, there was yet another line and check to go through before leaving the customs area. After showing our passenger cards to an immigration officer, we had to go through one more check with the dogs. In groups, we lined up in the designated area, and a very friendly and energetic dog ran past everyone and their bags a few times. Once satisfied that the dog had a chance to catch anything of interest, we were dismissed, and the customs process was finally complete.

So, in summary, fill out your passenger card as soon as possible, don’t look away at any time during the picture-taking process, bring a business card or something that ties you to your job, and be prepared for a few dog checks. Now that you’re aware of the process, it shouldn’t be too difficult or stressful, and you should be able to breeze through immigration without any problems!

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