Travel Tips When You Fly to the United States: Guide for the US-Bound Pinoy

This is it! You are going on a long trip to move to the United States. Moving to another country is always a big move. And if you’ve never traveled by plane for more than 6 hours before, then you need to pack in a lot of patience. In most cases, travel to the USA usually lasts for about 16 to 24 hours including the layovers.

Here are some tips to help make your trip to the United States more bearable.

Before the Trip

When you book your flight, decide on the seat you prefer: aisle or window seat.

If you are traveling with your family, try to sit together so you can easily manage the needs of kids. If you don’t have kids yet, sitting together with your spouse still makes the trip easier.

When I travel on an airplane, I usually prefer the aisle seat. If you need to go to the restroom, you can do so without any fanfare or inconvenience. You can stand up right after the pilot turns off the seatbelt sign after landing. You can get out of the plane more quickly. But if you’re on the aisle seat, you won’t have a chance to look at the clouds or the mountains the plane will pass by.

If you sit by the window, you can look out and enjoy the view. You can place a pillow on the wall of the plane and sleep more comfortably. The problem is, if you want to go to the restroom, you need to pass through your seatmates. If your seatmates are asleep, then you’ll need to wake them up.

If you are traveling by yourself, avoid the middle seat! That’s the seat nobody wants. Funny, on one of my travels, a guy sitting on the middle seat was offering it to the people around it. Of course, nobody took his offer. I definitely wouldn’t!

When booking your flight, set aside enough layover time at your first airport of entry in the USA.

You will need to pass through immigration and customs when you first arrive in the USA. This can be in Atlanta, Georgia; Detroit, Michigan; Minneapolis St. Paul, Minnesota; Seattle, Washington; or Los Angeles, California.

You will also need to claim your bags and boxes and re-check them to your final destination. After re-checking bags and boxes, you will need to go through airport security again. Just to be safe, set aside a layover at your first US airport of entry of at least 2.5 hours.

This was taken on the morning after we arrived at the Detroit airport. We missed the last leg of our flight and had to stay for a night at a hotel in Detroit.

When we first came to the US in 2015, our son was only 2 years old. We lined up for more than an hour at the immigration. Then the officer who looked at our passports took his time before letting us in!

While waiting to claim our bags, our son needed to go to the restroom to poop. We hurried to re-check our bags and go through security. Then we ran to the gate of our next flight because we were late.

We did not make it. We ended up staying an extra night in Detroit because of that. A fun fact that I learned, though, is that even if the airplane is still in the airport gate, if its doors are already locked, they will not open it for you. And oh! How painful it was to see your plane but you can’t get into it because you’re late by 10 minutes.

Start syncing your body clock to US time at last a week before you travel.

Pay attention to the time zone that you will be in. There are several time zones in the USA: Eastern time, Central time, Mountain time, and Pacific time. Try to sleep if it’s night time in the US, and be awake when it’s daytime there. I know it’s weird, but that will help you avoid jetlag and be functional and ready to work the day after you arrive.

So if friends and family want to host a Despedida, schedule it a week or earlier before your flight. You shouldn’t be hosting sad friends and family on the week of your departure.

Weigh your bags and boxes and make sure they comply with the weight and size limit.

Get a bathroom or luggage scale. Make sure that the bags and boxes are less than the weight limit of the airline, otherwise, you will pay expensive fees! You don’t want to be opening your bags and boxes at the airport and transferring panties or briefs from one bag to another just to reduce the weight of your bags.

And please, if you have boxes, wrap them with packaging tape or duct tape. By the way, you cannot bring a duct tape on the plane, it needs to go to your checked baggage. The security guys will confiscate it if they spotted it in your carryon bag.

Set aside enough time for travel to the airport.

Be there at least 3 hours before your flight. It’s better to wait there with plenty of time to spare instead of risking a heart attack because of the traffic. Don’t leave your house or apartment 3 hours before your flight. Overestimate the time needed to go to the airport. You know how it is in Manila, right? Beat the time and for once, show the world (or at least the airlines) that Filipino time means being on time.

Book a hotel if you need to.

I don’t know if you already have an apartment or house when you arrive in the USA. If you don’t have family who can welcome you to their house, book a hotel. You don’t need a 5-star hotel, unless you can afford it.

Go to and look for a nice, cozy place for you to stay in while finalizing your apartment or house for rent. But before traveling, you should have looked for rental options.

Rent a car online. has a lot of options. If you don’t have friends or family who will pick you up, consider renting a car for your arrival. Estimate the number of days you’ll need it. Your Philippine driver’s license is all you need to drive in most states in the USA. You will need your Maps app, though, to give you turn-by-turn directions.

During the Trip

Be comfortable.

Bring whatever you need to be comfy: jackets, pillows, blankets. But do know that you will get a small pillow and a small blanket in the plane.

You will have access to in-flight entertainment: newly released movies, TV shows, and even games for kids on the screen in front of you. Don’t be too excited with watching, though. Take note of the time in the USA, sleep during the night, wake up during daytime hours.

Food & Drinks.

The airline will serve food and drinks while you’re on board. The flight is long and you’ll need food and drinks. Different kinds of alcohol will also be served: beer, whiskey, rum, vodka, red or white wine. Feel free to have a drink or two, but don’t be drunk, especially if you’re traveling with your spouse and kids.

Feel free to bring nuts and snacks to eat during your flight. Airline food isn’t something to write home about, but it will satisfy you and will take hunger away.

Another tip before your flight, please don’t eat any food that might upset your stomach–oysters, crabs or lobster that might not thoroughly cooked. It’s not fun to take a trip to the toilet every hour of your long flight!

Toilet management.

Speaking of toilet, each plane will have several toilets for passengers to use. Think of them as highly comfortable and clean porta-potties. Also remember that there will be hundreds of people who will be using that posh porta-potty so if you can manage your bladder or bowel, do so.

Upon Arrival

Immigration and Customs

Arrival card and customs form. Arrival cards are no longer needed when you arrive in the US. But before you land, fill out the blue Customs card. You only need one form for the whole family.

You will be asked for your name, date of birth, passport details, and information about goods that you are bringing to the USA. You don’t need to declare every single pasalubong that you will give to friends and family in the USA. In fact, if you’re not engaging in selling goods, it’s safe to say that the value of things that will remain in the USA will be zero.

Try to be out of the plane’s door as soon as you can.

The sooner you can get out of the plane, the sooner you can go to the passport control section. But please, don’t stand up from your seat until after the plane lands and the captain turns off the seatbelt sign.

Find out where the foreign passport holders need to go.

When you go to passport control, there will be lines for citizens and residents, diplomats and crews, and for foreign passport-holding visitors. Go to the queue for the visitors. Don’t worry if you can’t find it right away, the airport should have some employees who will point out the way.

Send a call or a message to your friend and family who’s picking you up. Or if you rented a car, go to the rental car company’s office.

image credit: Grant Wickes via Flickr

Go to a restaurant where you can eat your comfort food.

When you arrive, you’ll probably be hungry and ready to eat a whole cow. Look for a nice restaurant who can provide good food. An Asian buffet restaurant will be the best place to eat rice and some soup.

Rest when you arrive at your hotel, apartment, or house.

When you arrive, go get some rest. You just crossed the world and you deserve some rest. But if you’re like most people, jetlag will hit you bad. If that’s the case, then watch a movie, play a game, or stay up for as long as you can.

Congratulations for making it to the USA. This is just the beginning of an exciting journey for you and your family. As Spock always says ‘Live long and prosper!”

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