A few weeks ago we took a trip to Cuba and Panama, and came back in to the US via Miami Airport immigration. The lightning show on the plane helped take our minds of the potential of security nuisances in MIA.
Getting in to both Cuba and Panama were easy, and we thought we might be questioned a little more intensely coming back in to the US.
After getting off our flight from Panama City on American Airlines, we were vectored in to the immigration hall where we would have to go through security, pick up our bags, clear customs, re-check our bags for transfer to DEN, and go through security again before getting back in to the Domestic terminal of MIA.
If you’re heading in from somewhere where you don’t want to be questioned (like Cuba), Miami Airport immigration is the place for you. We were a little worried that we would either have to lie to US immigration and customs officers about being in Cuba (and say we just visited Panama), or that we would fess up about Cuba and then be questioned and potentially fined (since you’re still not technically allowed to go as a tourist unless it’s in a pre-arranged charter group). But, we had to do neither of these things – in fact, at no point did we even have to talk to an immigration officer since the re-entry process is all automated in the Miami Airport immigration hall. All my hard work clearing my backpack and suitcases of any remnant of Cuba (receipts, business cards, maps etc.) at PTY airport were all in vain.
I am a Global Entry member, so I was able to skip the (short) line and move to the Global Entry kiosks located a little after the main set of kiosks.
My traveling companion Dave didn’t have Global Entry, so he used the regular set of entry kiosks. Neither asked us hard questions that we couldn’t answer, and were really only asked which country we came from (Panama).
After taking our biometrics and our questions at the automated kiosks, the machines printed out slips that we were to hand to an officer once we collected our bags.
It took quite some time for our bags to come since we had an oversized item (Dave’s fly fishing pole) and at first we thought we would have to file a lost luggage claim – but then miracle of miracles, it arrived after we had given up hope and waited for about an hour. #traveltip – carry-on your fishing pole if at all possible.
Then, since I had Global Entry, we were actually both allowed to go through the Global Entry line with our bags to clear customs. On the other side, we had to re-check our bags. We both re-checked our carry-ons, and Dave checked his pole again (simply because we had a long layover and didn’t want to have to deal with carrying it around). We decided we would bring our Duty Free Abuelo 12 year Panama rum that we purchased at PTY Duty Free with us on the plane (just in case we wanted a little something extra with our drink service soft drinks, as we had done from the flight from PTY to MIA).
We queued up in the security line with my backpack and his Duty Free bag (and the artwork we had bought in Cuba) and started making our way. Then, one of the security officers made an announcement that if you had Duty Free liquids, you would have to stand in line at a booth on the side of the security line to have it pass through. Dave got in that line, while I waited in the long security line. After 10 minutes of waiting, Dave finally got to the front, and was told that he would have to check the rum since it was already open, and in a “certified” US Duty Free sealed bag.
We had already checked out bags, and there was no way I could check my backpack (it had my laptop and camera). We were furious, because we literally just bought that special rum hours before, and were told by Duty Free in PTY that we’d be able to bring it with us no problem. Apparently, Panama Duty Free didn’t have a reciprocity agreement with US Duty Free or with US Immigration to allow us to bring it through (even though we had already gone through security prior to boarding our flight to Miami). There also had been no signs warning us we would have to relinquish our liquids PRIOR to re-checking our bags. We found out only after it was too late at Miami Airport immigration. We were so irritated that, rather than throw the rum away, we asked the security officer who had warned us about it if he wanted it. He took it with a smile, and immediately handed it off to co-worker for safe keeping (and hopefully safe-drinking later).
Since I was already a bit ahead of Dave in the security line, I started making my way back through the line to stand by him. As I moved, the large black man with a large dog (who was a Immigration and Customs Officer – the man, that is) yelled at me: “Where are you going?”, thinking that I had drugs I was trying to ditch. I just said I was joining my boyfriend a little further back in the line because we had to ditch some of our Duty Free. The guy didn’t really believe me, but then the security officer that we gave the rum to, waved him off. I re-joined Dave at the back of line, and as we passed the guy with dog, he gave us an evil eye and let the dog take a nice long whiff.
We made it through security after a 30 minute wait – all in all we had wasted 90 minutes just clearing the entire process, even though the Miami Airport immigration questioning was super easy. Definitely leave yourself some time at MIA if you’re traveling to the US from abroad, and don’t think that having Pre-Check will clear you to the front of the final security line after the bag re-check (the line was closed).
We were frustrated about the rum once on the other side, and hungry to boot, so we settled in to my favorite restaurant at MIA, Sushi Maki, and ordered sake to drown our pain and make up for the loss of rum. Pretty soon we forgot about the rum, boarded our flight to Denver, and made it home after a long and fruitful trip to Cuba (and Panama).