After telling you about the Mobile Passport Control smartphone app earlier this summer, I was excited to have the chance to try it out for myself. Our family vacation this summer took us to South America, and we returned to the US through Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Since Fort Lauderdale is one of the 18 US airports that currently offers Mobile Passport Control facilities, I knew I needed to download it to my phone and take it for a road test!
Setting Up the App
I already knew that our return airport, Fort Lauderdale, was on the list of airports that use Mobile Passport Control. (Not sure if your airport has Mobile Passport Control facilities? It’s currently in use in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Minneapolis, New York JFK, Newark, Orlando, Raleigh-Durham, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington Dulles. Houston will also soon have Mobile Passport Control at both Hobby and Bush Intercontinental airports.) My next step was to download the app. I use an Android phone, and I easily found the Mobile Passport Control app in the Google Play store. The app is free, and downloaded quickly.
When I opened the app for the first time, I was prompted to create a 4 digit PIN number for security. I made sure to choose one that was easy for me to remember! The next step was to set up our profiles in the “Passports” tab. The Mobile Passport Control app allows you to add one primary user — that would be me — and three additional members of the household. That worked out perfectly, since I was traveling with my husband and two sons. A larger family could have both parents set up the app on their phones. To set up our profiles, I had to type in our passport details: full name as listed in the passport, date of birth, passport number, and date of expiration.
The profiles also require a photograph, which can be taken selfie-style with the front camera or with the phone’s rear camera. This is where you can improve on the job I did. I could have set up our profiles well in advance of our trip, but instead I waited until the morning that we were flying home. The photos I captured of our family that morning in our hotel room were not our best looks — me with no makeup, my husband pre-coffee, our older son with an epic case of bedhead. The baby looked cute, at least! The app allows you to go back and edit your information or take new photos. I’m planning to take better pics before our next trip.
In taking the photos, I tried to have plain backgrounds, as this is the standard for passport photos. My husband’s photo included a piece of furniture off to the side, but this didn’t cause any problems when we landed.
On The Plane
During our flight back to the US, the cabin crew distributed paper forms for US Customs declarations. We didn’t bother to fill ours out. Instead, I took a couple of minutes to log in to the app and open up the “New Trip” tab. In no more than two minutes, I’d answered all of the questions. Once we were back on the ground and back on the 4G network, I clicked “submit.” Done! Our confirmation was now available in the “Receipts” tab.
In The Airport – Immigration
Getting through US Immigration and Customs is a multi-step process. After disembarking the plane, all the passengers filed in to a room with long lines to access Automated Passport Control kiosks. I had my phone in hand, and was able to wave it at the security officer controlling the area. We bypassed the line and went through the first of several Mobile Passport Control express lanes into the next room. There, we faced more lines of travelers waiting to be cleared by immigration officials, separated into multiple lanes. My family was able to go into the designated lane for Mobile Passport Control users. Several international flights had landed at once, and the immigration lines were long. In the Mobile Passport Control line, there were only a few people ahead of us, and we quickly were seen by an immigration official.
The process to go through immigration was simple. We handed over all four passports to the USCIS officer. I opened up the “Reciepts” tab of the app, which had a separate QR code for each one of us. One at a time, I had to tap the QR code image to open up a larger version of the code, and then I held the phone steady over a scanner to have the QR code read. This took a few moments for the machine to scan the image and flash a light to indicate we’d been cleared.
The only step of the process that the Mobile Passport Control app couldn’t speed up for us was getting our checked luggage! We had to wait for our luggage to come around on the baggage carousel, just like everyone else. We entered our final Mobile Passport Control express lane to clear Customs after retrieving our bag. We zipped up to an officer and scanned the QR codes on our receipts again. That’s it! Welcome back to the USA.
The Mobile Passport Control app gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up from my family. It was easy to use and allowed us to skip several very long lines. If we traveled overseas more frequently, we’d consider getting Global Entry, which also allows you to use designated express lanes to clear immigration and customs. However, Global Entry has a fee to join, and the Mobile Passport Control app is totally free to download and use. It was a perfect fit for our family’s traveling needs.