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Travel and Readmission to the United States in 2018

What to Expect When You Arrive at a U.S. Port of Entry

Inspection of People and Baggage.  All individuals, unless exempt by diplomatic status, are subject to inspection by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers when seeking to enter the United States from out of the country.  The scope of inspection includes persons, baggage and merchandise.  CBP searches may be conducted with or without suspicion of an unlawful activity.

CBP officers are responsible for determining whether or not an individual has the right or permission to enter or return to the United States and are authorized to stop, detain, and search any person or item for this purpose.  It is unlawful for these searches or detentions to be based solely on race, national origin, religion, sex, or ethnicity.  However, CBP may stop travelers based on a variety of reasons, including their citizenship, their travel itinerary or because they have been selected for a random search. 

If you are detained and have concerns about how you are being treated, you may request to speak with a CBP supervisor.  U.S. citizens who are detained for extended questioning have the right to have an attorney present.  Non-U.S. citizens generally do not have the right to an attorney prior to admission into the United States. 

Inspection of Electronic Devices.  Electronic devices are considered to be “virtual briefcases” and are subject to search.  CBP officers may ask for passwords to search your devices.  Travelers who refuse to give up passwords may be detained for longer periods and have their bags searched more intrusively. While U.S. citizens cannot be detained indefinitely for refusing to provide a password, their device may be seized and kept for an extended period.  If a device is seized, CBP is required to issue a Custody Receipt to the owner of the device (CBP Form 6051D). Foreign visitors who refuse to provide passwords may be turned away at the border, and green card holders could be questioned and challenged about their continued legal status. 

Travel Advice

U.S. Immigration Documents.  Non-U.S. citizens should review their international travel documents to ensure that they have the appropriate documentation in order to be re-admitted into the United States.  If you have any questions about U.S. immigration documents, please contact the International Offices (,, or before departure.

Travel Advisories.  The U.S. Department of State (DOS) provides Travel Alerts and Warnings based on country conditions or short-term events that U.S. citizens should know about when planning travel abroad.  It can be helpful for non-U.S. citizens, too. 

Be Courteous and Cooperative. If you are searched or detained, we recommend that you cooperate with CBP officials. Failure to cooperate may result in delays in the inspection process and/or detention of your devices. If you are on business travel you should report to your manager any CBP access to proprietary or business-sensitive data.

Electronic Devices.  Electronic devices may be searched when entering the United States and other countries.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) provides recommendations for U.S business travelers which apply to both U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens, specifically that individuals travel with clean devices. 

When travelling with electronic devices it is recommended that you:

  • Backup your data before you travel, to ensure that your important information is available to you if your computer is seized.
  • Minimize the data you carry.  Consider traveling with an empty device and accessing your data using VPN.
  • Password-protect and encrypt any sensitive or proprietary information on your computer.
  • Shut down devices during border crossings to prevent devices from being hacked.
  • If your device is searched and it contains any sensitive or proprietary information, let the CBP officer know as there are privacy protections that may apply. 

JPL employees should review JPL Rules 78233 Recommendations for Protecting JPL-Provided Mobile Electronic Devices Outside of JPL and 77592 Hand Carrying JPL work related Documents, Laptops or other Information Storage Devices.  If applicable, JPL employees should complete Form 7003 Foreign Business Travel Declaration and Certification.

Caltech employees may contact IMSS for advice and assistance with preparing electronic devices for international travel. 

Emergency Assistance Contact Information

Caltech.  During business hours, you may contact Ilana Smith, Director, International Offices at 626.395.2188, or  After hours, you can reach an International Office staff member via Caltech Security at their non-emergency number 626.395.4701. 

JPL.  During business hours, you may contact Catherine Shock Echevaria, Assoicate Director, JPL International Office at 818.354.2120 (office), or  After hours, you can reach a JPL International Office staff member via JPL Security at their non-emergency numbers 818.354.3530 or 818.354.4160.

Travelers on Caltech or JPL Business.  If you are on Caltech or JPL business travel and need emergency legal assistance, you may contact the Office of General Counsel (OGC).   During business hours, you may contact OGC at 626.395.6182 or 818.354.0999.  After hours, Caltech employees can reach an OGC staff member via Caltech Security at their non-emergency number 626.395.4701.  JPL employees can reach an OGC staff member via JPL Security at their non-emergency numbers 818.354.3530 or 818.354.4160.

After Entry into the United States.  If you encountered any difficulty at a U.S. port of entry and you would like to inform the Institute about your experience, please report it to Ilana Smith, Director, International Offices at 626.395.2188, or