US Pre-Clearance: How does it work?

By David Mumford


What is US Customs and Border Protection Pre-Clearance?

This service basically allows aircraft flying from certain approved airports direct to the US to complete their entry procedures at their departure airport – instead of on arrival in the US.

Where can I do it?

If you’re a private/charter flight, you can only do it at EINN/Shannon.

Scheduled airline flights can do it at these airports too:

  • The United Arab Emirates – OMAA/Abu Dhabi
  • Aruba – TNCA/Aruba
  • The Bahamas – MYGF/Freeport or MYNN/Nassau
  • Bermuda – TXKF/Bermuda
  • Canada – CYYC/Calgary, CYEG/Edmonton, CYHZ/Halifax, CYUL/Montreal, CYOW/Ottawa, CYYZ/Toronto, CYVR/Vancouver, or CYWG/Winnipeg
  • Ireland – EIDW/Dublin

Where can I fly to once I’ve done it?

It turns out it’s not that easy to find a list of US airports approved for the arrival of pre-cleared aircraft. But thanks to some dogged investigation from an Opsgroup member, we had one sent to to us! Here it is:

Click to download PDF

KVNY/Van Nuys is also approved, but does not yet appear on the list. And they will soon be adding a few more airports to the list as well:

  • KTYS/McGhee Tyson, Alcoa
  • KTRI/Tri-Cities Regional, Blountsville
  • KCHA/Lovell Field, Chattanooga
  • KMEM/Memphis International, Memphis
  • KBNA/Nashville International, Nashville

It’s worth noting that not all US international airports of entry are on the list of those approved to accept pre-cleared flights, due to lack of agriculture agreements, and/or local CBP agreements there.

Finding a list of US international airports of entry is pretty easy, just go to the CBP website and use their interactive map:

Click for CBP website

How Pre-Clearance works

US CBP has published this guide on exactly how the pre-clearance service works, but here’s the lowdown:

  1. Request the service with CBP – Get in touch with CBP telling them that you want to do it! Pass them a bunch of information – details about the flight, passengers and crew. You can do this step through your ground handler (recommended).
  2. Submit APIS – Slightly tricksy here, because for pre-clearance you have to submit this no less than one hour before the scheduled pre-clearance processing time itself, rather than the departure time from the pre-clearance airport. For example, you want to fly from EINN-KALB at 2pm, and you’ve got your pre-clearance set up for 1pm, so that means you need to file  your APIS no later than 12pm!
  3. Preclearance approval – CBP will email notice of approval, including the appointment confirmation number.
  4. The preclearance procedure – When you arrive at the preclearance airport, CBP will conduct the same procedures as if you were at an airport in the US. Travelers and luggage are screened and the aircraft is inspected.
  5. Departure – Crew, passengers and luggage board the aircraft, and off you go. (And remember – no opening of any aircraft doors now before departure!) The kindly CBP chaps you’ve just dealt with will zap your info across to their counterparts at whichever US airport you’re flying to, so everything should be nice and smooth on arrival.
  6. Arrival – Upon arrival in the US, bag up your garbage for CBP to collect. Note that if you have to land somewhere other than where you said you’d be landing in your APIS, pre-clearance approval will be voided and you’ll have to go through the normal entry process.

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