US Pre-Clearance at Abu Dhabi Airport

This. Is. Fantastic. My whole life I have dreaded every trip to the US – not because of the long flight, but because of what comes after it: a long wait in crowded halls full of tired passengers, to go through seemingly endless questioning by immigration and customs officers. I understand the need, but when you are tired, this is just not fun.

Abu Dhabi is one of the few places in the world that has a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility at Terminal 3, which is supposed to speed up your travel to the USA by allowing you to go through immigration and customs at your departure airport.

On our recent trip to Washington DC we got to give this facility a try. At the check-in counter, we were given a US customs form and asked to get to the departure gate about 1.5 hrs prior to departure to allow enough time for the pre-clearance process. We then went through the general airport security check and stayed in the lounge for a while. About 1 hr prior to departure we finally followed the signs towards our assigned gate, which led us straight to the pre-clearance facility, which involved 3 steps:

  1. First you get to a passport & boarding pass check;
  2. then you enter a massive room set up for airport security checks; these guys follow the guidelines one is used to from the US, including the need to bin your water bottles, and removing your travel-sized liquids and laptops from your bag for scanning; there was not a single passenger besides us to be seen!
  3. And then you reach another big room with a line of booths manned by US immigration officers, who quickly took our finger prints, our photos, scanned the customs form, and we were done! No other passengers to be seen here either. Technically, we were now on US soil!

All other passengers were already at the gate, waiting to board Etihad’s Dreamliner to the USA, and within about 15 minutes we were called for boarding.

We couldn’t believe the efficiency of the process until we landed in Washington DC, walked straight to the baggage claim area, and were then able to leave the airport without a single passport or customs check. Simply amazing. I can finally enjoy traveling to the US again!

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