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LandlockedCruiser01

"Did you meet anyone on the ship?" question in Customs

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Posted (edited)

It's semi-common knowledge that us solos don't get a lot of love in Customs.  We're always viewed with suspicion, resulting in anything from quizzical looks, to additional questioning, to being detained for secondary screening.  (The latter usually relatively brief, less than an hour.)  Now, I remember reading on another site that Customs likes to ask people: 'Did you meet anyone on the ship?"  That question does NOT mean what regular people think it means.  It doesn't mean: "Did you make any new friends on the ship?"  It means: "Did you pre-arrange a meeting with anyone on the ship?"  (To hand off a briefcase of drugs or cash, of course. :classic_huh:)  So, your answer to that question should always, always, ALWAYS be "no".  And stick to it if pressed for details.  Customs doesn't care if you made friends or not; you are not having an informal conversation with them.  They're looking for information on drug smuggling, and solo cruisers are easy scapegoats for it. 

 

Why Customs wouldn't just ask about prearranged meetings, rather than making the question overly generic and confusing, damn if I know!  But this is what I read.  Lucky for me, I already knew that I'm supposed to say "no", even if I hung out with 10 new friends I made on the ship.  Which I did.  They believed me, but I still got detained, grilled about my past travel history, and had my bag searched.  (The guard questioning me seemed to take on a more relaxed demeanor after I told him about my Birthright Israel trip.  I wonder if he was Jewish.)  But at least I dodged the bullet with the loaded question, and made my airport shuttle on time.  I thought I should pass this information along.

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01

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34 minutes ago, LandlockedCruiser01 said:

It's semi-common knowledge that us solos don't get a lot of love in Customs.  We're always viewed with suspicion, resulting in anything from quizzical looks, to additional questioning, to being detained for secondary screening.  (The latter usually relatively brief, less than an hour.) 

I have traveled solo to many a foreign country and have never experienced this so I wouldn't necessarily generalize it as being semi-common knowledge. In fact, the one time I was actually taken aside for questioning, to see if I had any fruit/etc., was when I was traveling with my friend. Otherwise, I usually breeze through Customs because I am solo. 

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Posted (edited)
24 minutes ago, bhsolo said:

I have traveled solo to many a foreign country and have never experienced this so I wouldn't necessarily generalize it as being semi-common knowledge. In fact, the one time I was actually taken aside for questioning, to see if I had any fruit/etc., was when I was traveling with my friend. Otherwise, I usually breeze through Customs because I am solo. 

The "semi-common knowledge" part was tongue-in-cheek, rather than to be taken as gospel.  But on average, Customs targets solos more than non-solos, because we're not a mainstream cruiser demographic.  I read accounts about it on here, as well as on other sites.  That's where I also read about what Customs usually mean when they ask the question in the title.

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01

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I usually cruise about 4 times a year. I believe I've only been asked 2 serious questions on re-entry.

**Once the customs/immigration official asked if I had anything to declare? I said no and that was it.

**The second occasion, I was asked if I was travelling alone. I said yes and that I am divorced. 

All other times it was pleasant comments or just handing me my passport back.

 

Where I entered a foreign country to begin a cruise, they either asked how long I was staying or simply just stamped my passport and handed back.

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I have never been asked the question the OP posted and I travel solo more often than not.

 

My most frequent Customs/Immigration questions have been: 

 

Do you have anything to declare?  (If I am over the dollar limit, I declare it and the resulting answer has always been:  "Forget it."  No duty was charged.  The amount over has always been less than $100.)

What is the purpose of your trip?

How long will you be in our country?

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On 8/18/2019 at 2:44 PM, LandlockedCruiser01 said:

'Did you meet anyone on the ship?"  That question does NOT mean what regular people think it means.  It doesn't mean: "Did you make any new friends on the ship?"  It means: "Did you pre-arrange a meeting with anyone on the ship?"  (To hand off a briefcase of drugs or cash, of course. :classic_huh:)  So, your answer to that question should always, always, ALWAYS be "no". 

 

I disagree: Your answer to every question should ALWAYS be the truth; there's a huge risk in lying to customs agents, and they have more powers than just about any law enforcement group in the US.  Giving them the vibe that you're lying is just not worth it.

 

Actually, they want to know much more than about pre-arranged meetings - they want to know whether you met anyone who might have asked you to carry a package (if they think you're naive), or might have slipped something into your bag without you knowing.  

 

Be pleasant, honest, and forthcoming, and expect that atypical people will get atypical questions.  No big deal, as far as I'm concerned.

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Posted (edited)
42 minutes ago, calliopecruiser said:

I disagree: Your answer to every question should ALWAYS be the truth; there's a huge risk in lying to customs agents, and they have more powers than just about any law enforcement group in the US.  Giving them the vibe that you're lying is just not worth it.

 

Actually, they want to know much more than about pre-arranged meetings - they want to know whether you met anyone who might have asked you to carry a package (if they think you're naive), or might have slipped something into your bag without you knowing.  

 

Be pleasant, honest, and forthcoming, and expect that atypical people will get atypical questions.  No big deal, as far as I'm concerned.

All right, I'll bite: Can you give me an example of a way to answer a question like that?  Especially considering that the meaning of the word "met" is ambiguous.  I suppose it won't hurt to mention that I didn't let anyone into my cabin.  (Which is when that person might actually slip something into my bag.)  Because I'm pretty sure I'll anger them off if I ask for clarification of what "met" refers to, and there's no way in hell I want to do that.

 

Last time I cruised, I said "no".  Which was technically truthful: I didn't prearrange a meeting with anyone.  And speaking of slipping something into my bag, I got asked something similar when leaving Israel: "Did you let your bag out of your possession after you packed it?"  And honestly, that question is really stupid: unless you're a total hermit, it's impossible to go on a cruise and not meet anyone.  Which makes me think it's a mind game, like "good cop, bad cop".

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01

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2 hours ago, LandlockedCruiser01 said:

Last time I cruised, I said "no".  Which was technically truthful: I didn't prearrange a meeting with anyone.

No, not technically truthful,  because that wasn't what you were asked.

 

 

An example of how to answer the question of did I meet anyone  on board?  Sure - how about 3 examples:  "Yes, I have some friends from Australia who were on the same cruise with me".  Or, how about "Yes, I was sitting at a mixed table of 8 each night for dinner - met some nice people".  Or "Of course, meeting people on a cruise is a given .....can you be more specific?"

 

I'm not afraid of their questions at this stage, because they're just routine screening questions that they probably ask several dozen times a day.  No big deal. 

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Never had the question.  'do you have anything to declare?' that's about it.  Does my Nexus card reduce the questions? Maybe? Or perhaps my country of habitation........

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I guess I have been lucky.  In all my trips I can only remember one occasion when I did not just breeze through customs traveling as a solo.  I was returning from a three city tour from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok and had arrived at LAX.  When I got to the customs area and gave them my customs form, they asked to search my bag.  I told them that that would be fine, and that everything I had purchased was in my carry on bag.  The larger suitcase was filled with two weeks worth of dirty laundry and I told them that it was full of dirty laundry.  Too funny, that is the one they wanted to search, and yes they did find two weeks worth of clothes to be laundered.  I then asked them if they would like to see the things that I had purchased that were in my carry on bag, and they told me no thank you, you can go.  They must have thought I was hiding something in with the dirty laundry.  I just thought it was funny at the time.

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7 hours ago, travelnap said:

The larger suitcase was filled with two weeks worth of dirty laundry and I told them that it was full of dirty laundry.  Too funny, that is the one they wanted to search, and yes they did find two weeks worth of clothes to be laundered.  I then asked them if they would like to see the things that I had purchased that were in my carry on bag, and they told me no thank you, you can go.  They must have thought I was hiding something in with the dirty laundry.  I just thought it was funny at the time.

 

My Mother, Brother in his early 20's, and I were returning from a cruise in New York.  My brother's piece of luggage contained all of our dirty clothes.  My Mother and I breezed through Customs.  When my Brother reached the Officer, he wanted to inspect his luggage.  Like you we had quite a laugh after we got beyond the Customs area.  We figured that it might have been because my Brother was just 22 that caused the Officer to decide to inspect his luggage.   

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When I disembarked by myself I breezed through with no questions. Most recently though, when I was with my mom, the customs agent asked me if I was going to work that night. I said no, thankfully not until tomorrow. He asked me where I worked and my mom chimed in that we both work at “the hospital.” We often just call it THE hospital because it’s in the port’s city, and locals often just call it that because it’s the only one nearby. She thought he was just making small talk...lol. He asked me to specify which hospital. So I said its formal name, and then that was it. I thought that was kind of interesting. 

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, ldb1988 said:

When I disembarked by myself I breezed through with no questions. Most recently though, when I was with my mom, the customs agent asked me if I was going to work that night. I said no, thankfully not until tomorrow. He asked me where I worked and my mom chimed in that we both work at “the hospital.” We often just call it THE hospital because it’s in the port’s city, and locals often just call it that because it’s the only one nearby. She thought he was just making small talk...lol. He asked me to specify which hospital. So I said its formal name, and then that was it. I thought that was kind of interesting. 

Interesting indeed.  The first time I cruised, I didn't get pulled aside for a search and questioning, but the guard seemed awfully interesting in my job too.  Not my employer, but my job title.  (I knew he wasn't making small talk, but I found it a bit odd.)  So I told him: "Technical Support Professional".  Which was a more normal rephrasing, since my company used weird titles.  He asked if that was IT, and I said yes.  After that, he pretty much waved me through, after asking if I had anything to declare.  (No.)  I guess he didn't think an IT guy could be a smuggler.

 

This makes me wonder: How do Customs react if your job title is "Unemployed"?  I've contemplated taking a cruise during periods of unemployment, since most IT jobs make it difficult to take a vacation.

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01

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Both times I've been through customs in the last year, the only question I've been asked is whether I have anything to declare. The customs officials have been polite and professional to me. It's a nice change of pace because I get felt up by TSA every time I go to an airport because I have multiple implanted medical devices that set off alerts. I've also been pulled aside by TSA at the gate for "random additional screening", meaning a second series of groping..excuse me, pat downs...and a thorough review of every single thing in my carry on.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, VirginiaIsForCruisers said:

It's a nice change of pace because I get felt up by TSA every time I go to an airport because I have multiple implanted medical devices that set off alerts. I've also been pulled aside by TSA at the gate for "random additional screening", meaning a second series of groping..excuse me, pat downs...and a thorough review of every single thing in my carry on.

I actually had the opposite experience.  The Customs guard looked angry when I told him I was cruising solo, while the TSA couldn't care less.  In fact, funny story.  I got past Customs, on the shuttle, and to the airport.  While I was taking my backpack off the X-ray conveyor belt and putting it back on, I accidentally bumped a TSA guard with it. :classic_ohmy:  I honestly thought I'd get swarmed and arrested, knowing how trigger-happy TSA can be.  So I started apologizing profusely, and explained that I just came off a cruise ship, so my balance was out of whack.  (Which was 100% true; I had debarkation vertigo.)  He chuckled and said: "I understand.  I've been on ships myself.  It's partially my fault for standing too close."  I thanked him and walked away.

 

If demographics make a difference, I'm male and I was 29 at the time.  If anything, the TSA at ORD are usually jerks.  MIA was meh: polite but terse.  MCO was friendly.  Looking forward (sort of) to finding out about LAX.  I never got secondary-screened in the airport; just the body scanner for me and the X-ray for my bags.

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01

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Hi OP,

I absolutely have been asked that question and have been detained for extra screening.

I did ask the CO to clarify what he meant by meet.  I said I met new people but had not planned to meet anyone specific. He was satisfied with that.

My detain time was about 1/2 hour. I just got off a TA cruise which stopped in Morroco (to MIA) so I am assuming they were being careful.

I have been asked intermittantly questions like that, depending on where the ship went, it seems. 

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5 hours ago, LandlockedCruiser01 said:

If demographics make a difference, I'm male and I was 29 at the time.  If anything, the TSA at ORD are usually jerks.  MIA was meh: polite but terse.  MCO was friendly.  Looking forward (sort of) to finding out about LAX. 

 

I'm female and in my 50s. I normally fly out of IAD and have considered asking the TSA agents there to buy me dinner after being felt up so thoroughly. I agree that MIA has been polite but terse. The nicest TSA folks I've ever dealt with were at MSP and SGF. The agent at SGF kept apologizing for inconveniencing me and seemed genuinely upset that she had to pat me down that I wanted to hug her.

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2 hours ago, VirginiaIsForCruisers said:

I'm female and in my 50s. I normally fly out of IAD and have considered asking the TSA agents there to buy me dinner after being felt up so thoroughly. I agree that MIA has been polite but terse. The nicest TSA folks I've ever dealt with were at MSP and SGF. The agent at SGF kept apologizing for inconveniencing me and seemed genuinely upset that she had to pat me down that I wanted to hug her.

Pat you down?  I thought they have people stand in those body scanners.  Did you opt out, or get secondary-screened?

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I have been reading this thread with interest.  I'm a frequent solo traveler, a middle aged female.  I would say in my 20's to early 30's, I had my fair share of having customs paw through my luggage.  It doesn't really happen anymore.  Except I seem to be red-tagged in Israel.  Every time I fly home from there, I get put in the line for the extra special, thorough search.

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16 hours ago, LandlockedCruiser01 said:

Pat you down?  I thought they have people stand in those body scanners.  Did you opt out, or get secondary-screened?

 

Oh, I stand in the scanner. But because of implanted medical devices, I always get flagged. Some of the TSA agents are ... thorough. Those agents will put on gloves and start at one ankle, feeling all the way up that leg, feel my private parts, then down the other (I have two artificial knees). Then they will pat from just under my breasts to my hips, all the way around my torso (I have implanted mesh all through my torso). The whole time this is going on, I have to hold my arms out parallel to the ground. It's really awful, especially in front of an audience.

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I have always been told by TSA that I have the option to go into a private area for any search/pat down beyond the scanners. If they have not offered the private option, you should tell them you want the search in private.

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I'm guessing that you are young. I had more difficulty with U.S. customs, and especially with Canada border services, when I was about half the age I am now and traveling alone. Also more at land borders, most of all when driving a slightly flashy car. And the very most when I wanted to enter Canada for just two hours to have dinner. Except in Quebec, Canadians find it hard to believe that anyone would come to Canada merely to have dinner, but it seemed reasonable to me since the only choice on the U.S. side of the border was a chain restaurant like Denny's.

 

I had less difficulty as a college student, because border authorities were used to student travel during the summer. Back then, almost in prehistory, they were more worried about ordinary customs infractions than about drugs or money laundering. The suspicion began  when I was about 30.

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, kochleffel said:

I'm guessing that you are young... (truncated)

I'm 36.  That's not exactly young, but not really in the "harmless old man" category, either.  When I got detained, I was 29.  Maybe it'll be better this time around.  As long as I "didn't meet anyone on the ship" and not carrying anything illegal, I'll be 100% fine. I'll debark early, with a time buffer for detainment, so that I'll make my airport transfer shuttle no matter what.

 

I did do a land crossing from Canada, albeit with a group of friends, not solo.  While there, I bought dried fish snacks in Toronto's Chinatown.  The US Customs guard spent an awful lot of time trying to read the packages and asking me about them.  But when I told him they were snacks to eat with beer, he broke into a smile and pretty much ended the search. 

 

Canada Customs were much looser.  "Any alcohol or tobacco on you?" / "No." / "OK, welcome to Canada."

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01

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On 8/29/2019 at 2:45 AM, LandlockedCruiser01 said:

I'm 36.  That's not exactly young, but not really in the "harmless old man" category, either.  When I got detained, I was 29.

 

As I said, my troubles began when I was about 30 and lasted until I was about 40.

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On 9/3/2019 at 6:07 PM, kochleffel said:

As I said, my troubles began when I was about 30 and lasted until I was about 40.

Funny that you mentioned it.  I just got off my cruise today; heck, my head still hasn't stopped swaying.  

 

My experience with Customs was the complete OPPOSITE of that after my last cruise, where I got the third degree: I was questioned extensively about my past and current travels and had my bag searched.  The reason the agent gave was because I was cruising alone; he even looked angry when I first told him that.  I got a kick of seeing a deflated "damn it!" look on his face when he found nothing he was looking for.  I was 29 back then; I'm 36 now.  

 

This time, the officer just took my passport from my hand, asked me to step closer, held it next to my face, and said: "All clear, welcome back."  Grand total time interacting with Customs: 10 to 15 seconds.  "Breezed through" would be an understatement.  Needless to say, he didn't ask who I met on the ship, even though I "met" THE MOST FUN group of people I could imagine meeting, and hung out with them most nights and for much of the sea day.

 

So what gives?  My older age?  Different port of embarkation?  Individual officer's bias?  The only common factors are me being male and Caucasian.  (If it's the port, it makes me more willing to sail out of Long Beach, and avoid Port Canaveral like the plague, and least while cruising solo.)

Edited by LandlockedCruiser01

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