You deplane after a grueling international flight, excited to explore life beyond U.S. borders. The not-so-friendly Customs officer inspects your passport with a vigilance befitting a C.S.I. forensics team. He gives you the side eye then begins a barrage of questions: “Where are you coming from?” “How old are you, really?” “What is your profession?” “Why are you here?” “When do you leave?” “What do you have in those bags?” As your fellow travelers pass through Customs with less scrutiny, it suddenly clicks: You are being profiled as a drug mule.
My career has taken me to all corners of the globe as a solo traveler. I am frequently profiled, especially when traveling to and from countries that are notorious transshipment points for the international drug trade. There are times when I want to scream like a banshee in response to the unwarranted scrutiny. However, I always remain calm and emerge unscathed by following three simple rules.
1. Pack a Paper Trail
In the Internet era, our world—and our record keeping—is brimming with electronic transactions. When an immigrations officer requests details about you and your travel, don’t get cute and pull out your smartphone. It might be a little less earth friendly, but there’s power in paper!
I always travel with paper copies of my entire flight itinerary. Immigration officers like to examine the port of origin, as well as see proof that you have a paid ticket to an onward destination. I also carry a paper record of any local hotel bookings made in my name. Not having a hotel booking in your name arouses suspicion in some immigration officers. Being composed and forthcoming with any evidence that your travel is legitimate will set airport authorities at ease.