Travel

Which Airports Have the Shortest and Longest Customs Wait Times? (2019 Study)

Are some airports better than others at getting people through customs faster? Here's a breakdown of the shortest and longest customs wait times by airport.

Going through customs after traveling abroad is usually not an enjoyable experience. Some airports do a good job at getting people through customs quickly. But if you're not enrolled in the Global Entry program or another trusted traveler program, then you could end up waiting in customs for longer than 50 minutes at some airports.

We took a look at the last 12 months' worth of data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to determine which airports have the longest and shortest customs wait times. We ranked every airport in the data set and also compared results to the wait times in the preceding year to see which airports have improved and which have gotten worse.


Highlights

  • Charlotte's CLT and Raleigh-Durham's RDU airports, located about 160 miles apart in North Carolina, are both among the top 10 when it comes to getting travelers through customs quickly, averaging wait times of eight and 10 minutes, respectively.
  • Travelers flying to Orlando, Florida, have the option of flying into the second- and third-worst airports for customs wait times. MCO and SFB both have average customs wait times of 26 minutes.
  • Denver's DEN airport is the second-most improved airport for customs wait times, dropping from 18 to 12 minutes over the last year.
  • The month with the fastest average customs wait times is surprisingly November, when travelers can expect an average wait of 14 minutes.

Top 10 Shortest Customs Wait Times

The airport with the shortest average customs wait time is PBI, in Palm Beach, Florida, with an average wait of five minutes. Even its maximum average wait time is shorter than many other airports' average customs wait time.

Travelers flying into North Carolina have two great options if they're looking to avoid long customs wait times. Both CLT and RDU airports, in Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, respectively, have relatively short average customs wait times of eight and 10 minutes. Both airports also come in under the half-hour mark when it comes to the average maximum wait time.

AirportCityAverage wait timeAverage maximum wait time
PBIPalm Beach5 minutes10 minutes
MDWChicago5 minutes18 minutes
PHXPhoenix7 minutes22 minutes
SNASanta Ana7 minutes16 minutes
BWIBaltimore/Washington, D.C.7 minutes24 minutes
SJUSan Juan (Puerto Rico)7 minutes17 minutes
CLTCharlotte8 minutes26 minutes
RDURaleigh-Durham10 minutes29 minutes
PDXPortland10 minutes34 minutes
SLCSalt Lake City10 minutes33 minutes

Top 10 Longest Customs Wait Times

Travelers flying into Orlando are likely to face long customs wait times regardless of which airport they fly into. MCO and SFB are ranked as second- and third-worst when it comes to customs wait times, respectively. Travelers should expect to spend around 26 minutes on average to get through customs at either airport. Even worse, average maximum wait times at both airports exceeds 45 minutes.

Several of California's airports also have long customs wait times: ONT, SFO, SMF and FAT airports, located in Ontario, San Francisco, Sacramento and Fresno, respectively. The wait at all four of these airports was longer than 20 minutes. SFO offers a particularly bad experience, with an average maximum wait of 69 minutes.

AirportCityAverage wait timeAverage maximum wait time
SPNSaipan Island (Northern Mariana Islands)28 minutes55 minutes
MCOOrlando26 minutes51 minutes
SFBOrlando26 minutes46 minutes
ONTOntario (California)24 minutes51 minutes
SFOSan Francisco24 minutes69 minutes
SMFSacramento22 minutes45 minutes
FATFresno20 minutes41 minutes
LASLas Vegas20 minutes43 minutes
EWRNewark19 minutes50 minutes
JFKNew York City18 minutes50 minutes
SANSan Diego17 minutes34 minutes
MIAMiami17 minutes52 minutes

Biggest Year-Over-Year Changes

From 2018 to 2019, SMF airport in Sacramento saw a 35% decrease in average customs wait times. That's enough to rank SMF as the third-most improved airport when it comes to decreasing customs wait times. The most improved airport was RDU, where the wait fell from 18 to 10 minutes.

On the other side of the spectrum, San Diego's SAN airport saw the largest increases. The average customs wait times at SAN airport increased from eight to 17 minutes. Furthermore, average maximum wait times increased from 22 to 34 minutes.

Airports with the largest increases and decreases in average customs wait times from 2018 to 2019.

Average Customs Wait Times by Month

The best month for avoiding long customs wait lines is November, when the average wait is just 14 minutes. On the other hand, the worst month for getting through customs is August, when the average wait is 18 minutes. Overall, average customs wait times don't vary much from month to month.

Average Customs Wait Times by Month

Traveler Tips on How to Speed Through Customs

If you're looking to avoid long customs wait times, it may be worth considering applying for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Global Entry program. The program allows preapproved, low-risk travelers to speed through clearance when arriving in the United States. Instead of waiting for a customs agent at the airport, Global Entry members can present their passport or permanent resident card at a Global Entry kiosk. After fingerprint verification and completing a customs declaration, travelers receive a transaction receipt and proceed to exit claims.

The Global Entry program requires applicants to go through a background check and an in-person interview before enrollment. Membership to the program only lasts five years and requires a $100 fee. After the five years are up, you'll need to re-enroll. Regardless, membership can be well worth it for frequent travelers. More recently, it has become quite common for certain credit cards to offer cardholders a voucher to cover the Global Entry application fee.

Full Rankings of Shortest to Longest Customs Wait Times

AirportCityAverage wait timeAverage maximum wait time
PBIPalm Beach5 minutes10 minutes
MDWChicago5 minutes18 minutes
PHXPhoenix7 minutes22 minutes
SNASanta Ana7 minutes16 minutes
BWIBaltimore/Washington7 minutes24 minutes
SJUSan Juan (Puerto Rico)7 minutes17 minutes
CLTCharlotte8 minutes26 minutes
RDURaleigh-Durham10 minutes29 minutes
PDXPortland10 minutes34 minutes
SLCSalt Lake City10 minutes33 minutes
MSPMinneapolis/Saint Paul11 minutes27 minutes
SATSan Antonio11 minutes25 minutes
DFWDallas/Fort Worth12 minutes44 minutes
IADWashington, D.C.12 minutes41 minutes
PHLPhiladelphia12 minutes36 minutes
DENDenver12 minutes34 minutes
STLSt. Louis12 minutes26 minutes
DTWDetroit13 minutes35 minutes
SEASeattle13 minutes44 minutes
ORDChicago13 minutes45 minutes
CVGCincinnati14 minutes32 minutes
AUSAustin14 minutes39 minutes
BOSBoston14 minutes38 minutes
HNLOahu15 minutes39 minutes
SJCSan Jose15 minutes33 minutes
GUMHagåtña (Guam)15 minutes32 minutes
TPATampa15 minutes44 minutes
IAHHouston15 minutes52 minutes
FLLFort Lauderdale15 minutes48 minutes
ATLAtlanta16 minutes53 minutes
LAXLos Angeles16 minutes49 minutes
OAKOakland16 minutes46 minutes
MIAMiami17 minutes52 minutes
SANSan Diego17 minutes34 minutes
JFKNew York City18 minutes50 minutes
EWRNewark19 minutes50 minutes
LASLas Vegas20 minutes43 minutes
FATFresno20 minutes41 minutes
SMFSacramento22 minutes45 minutes
SFOSan Francisco24 minutes69 minutes
ONTOntario (California)24 minutes51 minutes
SFBOrlando26 minutes46 minutes
MCOOrlando26 minutes51 minutes
SPNSaipan Island (Northern Mariana Islands)28 minutes55 minutes

Methodology

We used the last 12 months' worth of data available from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. To calculate the average customs wait time, we took an average of each airport's reported wait times. Airports were then ranked from the shortest to longest wait times. Average wait times were rounded to the nearest minute. When comparisons are made to the previous year's results, we are making a comparison to the 12 months preceding May 2018.

Joe Resendiz

Joe Resendiz is a former investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs, where he covered public sector and infrastructure financing. During his time on Wall Street, Joe worked closely with the debt capital markets team, which allowed him to gain unique insights into the credit market. Joe is currently a research analyst who covers credit cards and the payments industry. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in finance.

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