As the Pilot In Command of a private aircraft, what are the customs procedures that must be complied with before leaving, before returning, and upon arrival to the USA?


2 Answers 2



  • Each person leaving the country must be authorized to return to the US. (ie. they are a US citizen or their visa allows them to leave and return to the US.)
  • Ensure that you have all required paperwork
    • Pilot license
    • Medical
    • Aircraft Registration
    • The aircraft must have a current customs decal.
  • Ensure that the aircraft is properly equipped
    • 12" Registration Numbers
    • Transponder

Before Leaving the US

  • File eAPIS
    • eAPIS is required to be filed at least 60 minutes prior to your departure.
    • Other third party services (ie. FlightPlan.com, etc.) may make this easier if you do it a lot.
  • File an international flight plan
    • May be an instrument or a defence VFR flight plan

Before Returning to the US

  • File eAPIS (see above)
  • File a flight plan (see above)
  • Notify customs and obtain permission at least one hour prior to landing in the US. Record the initials of the customs officer that you spoke to just in case they misplace your notification.
    • Note that if you are coming from locations "south of the US" (for the specific definition, see here), you must stop at the designated airport closest to your point of border crossing to clear customs (unless you have an overflight permit).

Upon Arrival in the US

  • You must land at an airport of entry.
  • Report immediately to the designated customs location
  • Do not allow anybody or anything to leave/enter the aircraft until the customs official gives your permission
    • The only exception that I know of to this are the South Florida airports where you are expected to take all people and belongings into the customs facility for inspection.
  • Discard any international garbage in the approved manner.
  • Provide required paperwork
  • Wait for customs to specifically tell you that you are cleared before you attempt to leave.


This is not all-encompassing, please help add to and expand this list so that others may learn from our experience!

A TON of useful information is made available by the FAA in the Guide for Private Flyers.


The FAA outlines the procedures on their website.

In short, you'll need proper documentation for the airplane, flight plans, passports for everyone on board, and more.

  • $\begingroup$ I am looking for specific procedures to follow, such as notification requirements, etc. The site that you link to is a good start, but does not include everything. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 1:06

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