Trouble with immigration on a mileage run?

Discussion in 'Mileage Runs/Travel Hacking' started by sunny_sc, Apr 25, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. sunny_sc
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    sunny_sc Silver Member

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    A few weeks ago I was crossing the border (by car) from Canada back into the US. I had to go into secondary to take care of some paperwork and overheard a very interesting conversation between an American couple and a USCIS officer.

    The officer asked the couple to confirm a few recent trips: Rio, China, Paris and perhaps a few more that I did not quite catch. I also overheard that they lived in California and had flown up to Seattle for the weekend to visit relatives, and while they were up here, took a drive to Vancouver as well.

    The officer basically wanted to know why did the couple travel so much, but for such short periods at a time? The husband said that he was a physician and it was hard for him to get much time off, but when his wife found a good fare to different locales, they would go visit. (I recall they said they were in Rio for 5 days, which doesn't seem unreasonable to me!) The officer flat out told them that they fit the profile of people doing something illegal because of their short trips.

    My question to the forum is -- has anyone ever had this kind of trouble when returning back to the US after a mileage run? Or perhaps when arriving in a foreign country and explaining that you're only going to be there for a few hours?
     
  2. zphelj

    zphelj Gold Member

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    Just the opposite for me. I once did DFW-LAX-ORD-FRA-ORD-LAX-DFW over 48 hours (2h 50m in Germany) and when ORD CBP asked how long I was in Germany I replied "just for lunch". Pause. "Miles?" he asked to which I replied "Yeah!". I promptly received a "Welcome Back" and a stamp. Quickest I've ever cleared CBP outside of Global Entry :)
     
  3. Wandering Aramean
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    Wandering Aramean Gold Member

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    I had a bit of trouble in Belgium a few weeks ago. It took me about 20 minutes and a conversation with a supervisor to convince them that I really was there for only a day (<24 hours by the time I got through), again. I wrote about the experience here. In the end it was no big deal, but it was quite close to being a serious pain in the arse.

    I also was almost denied entry to Bermuda once because I didn't have my hotel booking details (friend on the island was taking care of it for me). :oops:
     
  4. zshanlon

    zshanlon Silver Member

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    I got heavy heat flying to MEX last December. Mexican immigration asked how longi was visiting and I said 30 minutes. Theat got me an interview with a mgr.

    Same at immigration in ATL...
     
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  5. wfagundes

    wfagundes Silver Member

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    I've never got any "lip" from a CBP regarding short trips. I've flown over 13 DFW-GRU-DFW in the past 3 years w/ 5 days stays (usually leave on a THUR and return on a TUE - I simply go spend the weekend with my father). Three weeks ago I returned from a 5 day OKC-ORD-MAD-BCN-MIA-DFW-OKC run and the CBP officer in MIA got a little serious when he looked at the monitor: "you travel a lot uh?... and not for very long. How Come?" My answer: "I don't work for the government officer (wink)" he laughed but still sent me to the yellow dotted line.
     
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  6. NYCUA1K

    NYCUA1K Gold Member

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    I just interviewed on Tuesday for NEXUS in YUL, and the only thing that seemed to interest the CBP agent, which she said might raise "suspicion", was my extensive and pattern of travel as "an academic". I said that I go to international congresses that last on average 4 days but I select them to be as far away as possible so that I can earn frequent-flyer status and lots of miles, which I then use at the end of every year to vacation mostly in Asia, usually in multiple countries on the same trip... She seemed satisfied and the interview was over.
     
  7. YULtide

    YULtide Gold Member

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    I did a part-time degree in CWL a few years ago, which involved 8 weekend trips YUL-LHR over two years. (I took ground transportation from London to Cardiff). Depart Thursday evening, arrive back Monday. The only trouble I ever had arriving back in YUL was when a Customs agent got suspicious because I wasn't declaring anything. Conversation went something like this: "You have nothing to declare?" "No." "You didn't bring anything back?" "No" "Why not?" "I was only gone for the weekend." "So why didn't you buy anything?" "The purpose of my trip was study, not shopping." .... After that I always brought back a bottle of duty-free whiskey.

    At the other end of the scale, on one return trip, when YUL was still in the process of completing the new International arrivals area, we were brought in to a domestic gate. On the plane it was announced that we would need to be prepared to show our passports at the gate. Deplaning was consequently rather slow. As I came near the front of the queue there were two or three immigration officers checking passports and landing cards. I had my passport in my hand and was just about to hand it over when the agent said, "OK" and waved me through. I asked if he wanted to see my passport and he said he'd seen me before. Go ahead. No check, no questions, not even a glance at a passport. :confused:
     
  8. nova

    nova Silver Member

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    Keep in mind that as a US Citizen there is a limit to how much of a hassle CBP can give you on entry to the country, regardless of your travel patterns. Anything that even implies they're attempting to deny you entry to the country is a big no no. I can't remember what case name is but there's Supreme Court precedent going back 30 something years that citizens have to be allowed into the country in a timely manner.

    The caveats to all this are as always, don't lie to them and don't try and hide anything from them. Those are generally crimes for which they can hassle you all the way to the jailhouse...
     
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  9. Steven Schwartz
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    Steven Schwartz Gold Member

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    Wish I could remember all the details because reading it is fascinating. A fellow was in either Cambodia or Thailand and there was a mile promotion that had an enormous payoff. He basically hired, at ridiculously low wages, numerous people to do mileage runs each and every day. He amassed well over three million miles before being called into the authorities. They told him straight out that he was suspected of being a drug kingpin and that these people were all his deliverers. I don't think it took too much to convince them what he was really doing but they were incredulous he didn't realize what it looked like.

    But 3+ million miles???!!! What would you do?
     
  10. Sagy

    Sagy Gold Member

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    True story, watch the whole movie, this story is about 15:10 minutes in.
     
  11. javacodeguy

    javacodeguy Gold Member

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  12. Photonerd71

    Photonerd71 Silver Member

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    The 4 key words are "in a timely manner". That means different things to different people. What they are supposed to do, and are allowed to do can vary widely from reality.
     
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  13. sunny_sc
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    sunny_sc Silver Member

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    I wonder if the officers manning the land borders are aware of the lengths that points/miles junkies are willing to go to! I also would imagine that they have a very different type of interrogation strategy than officers manning air borders. I notice when I enter the US via air from a foreign country, there are often dogs sniffing the luggage, and I would imagine they do more scanning behind the scenes as well.

    I had the same conversation with a Canadian officer when I did a short weekend trip to the US for a job interview and returned back to Canada after. They had a hard time believing I didn't purchase anything... in his words "not even a keychain?!"
     
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  14. global_happy_traveller
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    global_happy_traveller Silver Member

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    its common, i remember canadian customs find it hard to believe i went to PHL for philly cheese steak and mario batali in NYC for the weekend with like $100 worth of shopping 'ONLY' or my road trip with a good buddy of mine from Thunder Bay to Minneapolis for 24 hours in search for the bubble tea.
     
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  15. YULtide

    YULtide Gold Member

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    It's not like you can buy much without paying duty anyway. The Canadian limits changed in the recent budget, but they're still behind inflation. I suppose if you go away for a week and spend a half day shopping in the process it works out, but under that you're quickly in trouble. I bought a single text book on one of those trips that put me over the then $200 limit.

    Personally, I travel for the purpose of experiencing the destination, not in the main for the purpose of shopping. Though I confess just now to wearing some cufflinks I bought last summer in Oxford.
     
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  16. global_happy_traveller
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    global_happy_traveller Silver Member

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    The impression I get now is "if you travel for such a short period not for the purposes of work or gone shopping, then you are not normal and must be doing something suspicious"
     
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  17. Sagy

    Sagy Gold Member

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    Given that our own wijomas just completed a "trip" without a free night courtesy of any government agency. I think that is is safe to say that most of these cross border issues are just part of issues that people have crossing borders regardless of MR or not. If your odds of an issue are 1% then clearly someone who crossed borders 200 times are more likely to have experienced one than someone who has done it only twice. I think that this is more due to the number of "opportunities" for issues we have and not due to MRing.
     
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  18. nova

    nova Silver Member

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    From what I remember the limit is the length of time it takes to search your person and posessions. They're allowed to ensure you're not bringing contraband into the country and once they do that they have to let you in. No holding you for 3 days to search one bag or any nonsense like that.

    Just like with the police and when "detainment" becomes "arrest" I'd imagine there's a very fine line between what is acceptable and what is not...
     
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  19. E170

    E170 Silver Member

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    Australia went trough my carry on when my stay was 1 night. They were really friendly and said I should see a football match. I did and had a blast. One of the best locals tips I ever got. I also had my reservation printout on me with the very low price.
     
  20. higal
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    higal Silver Member

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    I've gone through YYZ & YVR on a few MRs - When customs asked, they laughed and had heard about MR before. In fact, one of them had a wife that also does it. My recent run to from HNL to BON - first time using my Nexus (EWR) since I got it at the end of last year. I was so nervous - had a big X on it. Turns out since it was my first time, they asked questions. Of course one of them was why I only stayed a few hours in BON. He accepted my MR answer though and stamped me through...
     
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  21. desamo

    desamo Gold Member

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    I think I hit the same immigration agent in Bermuda, btw. I did get in, but it seemed touch-and-go for a moment.
     
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  22. briantoronto
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    briantoronto Gold Member

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    Once driving over to BUF (Nexus at the International Bridge) to do a Hyatt mattress run the agent asked me what I was doing. Described it to her. She thought it was the coolest thing ever. Told her to check out the, um, other board (it was a few years ago).
     
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  23. boxergal

    boxergal Silver Member

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    As a Canadian who moved to the US to marry an American, I frequently crossed the border for quick long weekend trips over the several years we were dating. Customs officials were, for the most part, very friendly and gave my paperwork barely a glance. But on occasion, they would go more in depth and often asked what I considered very personal questions. I think sometimes the questions are more for the purpose of catching you offguard with a question you might not have an answer prepared for. Smuggling isn't their only concern - they are also on the lookout for people who are traveling to the US with the intent of not returning to their country of origin and often want to see proof of a return trip ticket, hotel reservations, a job or income, a family or mortgage to return home to, etc. They are also curious when a flight has not been paid for by the traveler.

    Now that I have a green card, I am finding my cross border travel much simpler. But the same rules apply - answer only the question they asked. No long embellished answers, just answer truthfully and simply without embellishment. If they want more info, they'll ask for it. You don't want to be caught in a lie at the border crossing. It will make every border crossing from then on way more difficult (if you're allowed to cross at all).

    And higal ... it's a shame to only spend a few hours in BON ... the snorkeling and windsurfing are awesome and not to be missed!
     
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  24. Sweet Willie
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    Sweet Willie Gold Member

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    I've been on MANY international mileage runs.

    I've never been questioned in the arriving country.

    RARE that I've been asked when arriving home to the U.S., twice in nearly 20 years. I simply explain that I'm doing it for the miles/found a great fare, that's the end of the conversation (as it should be).

    funny you mention Canada, I stupidly forgot my passport and entered Canada thinking that I'd use my drivers license as I had always done in the past. Boy did I get an earful at the Canadian border from US Customs.
     
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  25. lightangel

    lightangel Silver Member

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    I like the immigration officers in ORD the best. The are very efficient, and they know what they are doing.
     
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