What are the requirements for an airport to be designated as an international airport in the US? Is there a minimum runway size or required customs office?

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    $\begingroup$ There has to be customs on site for sure. $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2019 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ @user3528438 You'd think, but a number of US airports with "international" in the name don't have customs facilities, as fooot points out. Sometimes the airport used to have customs and no longer does, and sometimes the airport operator just wants to sound important. $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2019 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ Have (or had, at one point) regularly scheduled international flights? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Nov 13, 2019 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ I live near the airport with an airport code of BLI, which stands for "Bellingham International". It's a tiny airport near the USA/Canadian border, which varies its routes sometimes but I believe it has often only had flights to SeaTac (which is about a 90-120 minute drive away on Interstate 5) or Vancouver, British Columbia (which might actually be a bit closer). But since there is at least one regular flight that goes to a foreign nation, the whole dinky little tiny airport was considered worthy of having "International" in its name. $\endgroup$
    – TOOGAM
    Nov 13, 2019 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ Even Breda International Airport has international in it's name doesn't exaclty fly commercial flights or anything. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2019 at 13:02

3 Answers 3


There is no US regulation about whether an airport can be called "international." The Secretary of the Treasury designates the official list of international airports of entry. But not all airports on this list are even called international, and it does not include all airports with international flights. There are even some airports called "international" with no customs facilities or plans to have them in the near future. The airport name is determined by the airport owner.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that at many US airports without on-site customs facilities, you can pay an extra fee to have officers come over from another facility for a specific flight at a specific time. Many small airports calling themselves "International" fall in this category. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Nov 12, 2019 at 1:23
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    $\begingroup$ It's also not uncommon for passengers on flights to the US from major airports in Canada (and a few airports in other places) to clear US customs while still in foreign territory by going through a US-staffed facility at the origin airport. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_border_preclearance $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2019 at 5:42
  • $\begingroup$ Why the Secretary of the Treasury, and not like Homeland Security or something? $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2019 at 18:49

It is defined by the ICAO in this glossary:

International airport. Any airport designated by an ICAO Contracting State in whose territory it is situated as an airport of entry and departure for international air traffic, where the formalities such as customs, immigration, public health, agricultural quarantine and similar procedures are carried out.


"International" is supposed to be a code word to inform pilots and ATC that the Border Guards have a presence, and can admit you into the country: stamping passports, collecting duties, all that stuff.

What you shouldn't do, say, is fly from Canada into Oswego County Airport, rent a car and drive over to Syracuse Hancock International to clear Customs/Immigration.

You are to land at Hancock International, clear Immigration, then if needed fly onward to Oswego County.

The only exception I can think is if you have an emergency, such as weather unexpectedly closes in and no international airports are viable. Aviation authorities will be sympathetic; they want you safe. The border guards will be less amused. They will suspect a setup and that you are up to no good. From their POV, if conditions were marginal, you shouldn't have attempted the trip.

You wouldn't want to make a habit of it.

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    $\begingroup$ I thought in most emergency landings, they just left you on the plane. Wasn't there a big thing a couple months ago when someone died or something because they were all left on a plane in Nunavut? $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2019 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ @AzorAhai Depending on the field "they" may not have the physical presence to keep a truck from meeting you and unloading a couple pallets of Kinder Surprise before they show up, or even detecting such an activity. It's nothing new for border guards to chase an ambulance to the hospital to stamp the visa of the sick person. Letting someone die on the tarmac is a total gongshow. $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2019 at 21:48

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