Bogota Airport To Get US Pre-Clearance Facility

Filed Under: AviancaTaca, Security/TSA

Many of you have probably heard of US pre-clearance facilities, available for US-bound flights at select airports around the world, including Abu Dhabi, Dublin, and Toronto, just to name a few.

What are US Pre-Clearance facilities?

The idea is that you clear US immigration before boarding your flight to the US, as a means of making the process more seamless once you land in the US, and also to increase security, since they can screen passengers before they board a flight to the US.

As someone with Global Entry I selfishly don’t love the concept, since immigration on arrival takes me a few minutes at most. However, I understand the concept in theory:

  • Some US airports have insane immigration wait times, and this can help reduce them
  • The US is one of the few countries in the world without a sterile international transit facility; this means you have to clear US immigration even if you’re only making an international-to-international connection in the US (almost all other countries allow passengers connecting internationally to stay in transit without clearing immigration)
  • It’s a way of screening high risk passengers before they board flights to the US, which in theory makes more sense than screening them upon arrival

There have been a lot of countries that have considered adding Pre-Clearance facilities. For example, over the years I’ve written about how Dubai, Jeddah, and Riyadh, were all under consideration for a Pre-Clearance facility. As of now that hasn’t happened for any of those airports.

Bogota Airport expected to get US Pre-Clearance

In February I wrote about how Colombia’s president indicated that Bogota Airport was near the final stages of announcing a US Pre-Clearance facility, and that we could see one added by the end of 2019. This would have made Colombia the first country in South America to have such a facility.

I’d note that even prior to that, this had been under discussion for over a year, so I sure wondered if this would ever come to fruition.

It has now been about six months, and we haven’t heard any further updates, and we’re approaching just four months left in the year. So what’s the latest on this?

In addition to Colombia’s president having confirmed intentions for this again, the US ambassador to Colombia has also confirmed that this is in process. Ambassador Whitaker has said that there will be a Pre-Clearance facility in Bogota, and that the process has been started. He said that it should exist within 12-18 months.

I imagine this remains highly subject to change, though it’s at least good to know where they stand on this as of now.

Of course creating an immigration facility at Bogota Airport is a logistical challenge, since an area of the terminal would need to be rebuilt or redesigned to make this possible.

Bottom line

We’ve heard representatives from so many airports talk about the possibility of adding a Pre-Clearance facility, and often they don’t come to fruition. However, we’ve now heard both US and Colombian officials confirm for an extended period of time that this is in process, so I would expect this to happen.

Personally I don’t really love this concept, as the US makes further innovations when it comes to the immigration process. Sure, shortening wait times sounds good in theory, but I’d rather they increase staffing and facilities at US airports, which seems like it would be much more cost effective.

Furthermore, the US is making progress when it comes to wait times with things like Mobile Passport, which streamlines the process.

Would you like to see Colombia add US Pre-Clearance at Bogota Airport? Would it make you more or less likely to connect there?

(Tip of the hat to God Save the Points)

Comments
  1. That photo of the Dublin pre-clearance gives me PTSD (‘m being serious). I had a horrendous experience there where they accused me of previously working in the USA and denied me boarding. First of all, I never worked illegally, and secondly, the way they treated me was beyond reprehensible. The “processor” (a large Hispanic woman), really treated me like a criminal, shouting at me and calling me names and throwing completely false and absurd accusations, as well as going through my personal things (in luggage, on my phone and online). When I questioned the treatment with the supervisor he said – “Once you step foot in here you give up all your rights” as a person and threatened to “Blacklist” me if I countered. Then they threw me on the street at 6:00pm Ireland time without accommodation or food.
    I had to fly to Munich a few days later to get another visa and was in the US less than a week later (because obviously I hadn’t done anything wrong). However, it left me with PTSD and also created a hatred of the nation in me, so not sure what they were trying to achieve.

    Bottom line – I believe it is easier for them to deny boarding before you have arrived – user beware!

  2. Bogota airport is currently under construction. The domestic and international terminals are under expansion. This expansion can include the pre-clearance area. If it has been in the talks for some time now. I don’t see why Bogota wouldn’t make it to the list…

  3. Preclearance allows direct flights to regional airports that don’t have immigration facilities. I think that’s why Toronto has preclearance. If Colombia can expand its direct flights by having preclearance, that would be a plus.

  4. BOG to US flights already require two rounds of security. One to get airside and one to get into the gate area. Once in the gate area, there are no restrooms and no food, drink, or water for purchase. (And of course, you can’t bring in more than three ounces with you.) So if restrooms and services are available in the “sterile” area, I suppose it would be better than the current setup.

  5. Lucky – generally, I agree that it’d be more cost-effective to beef up immigration in the US. But one benefit of preclearance that you neglected to mention is that it enables international service to smaller airports that otherwise wouldn’t be able to accommodate international arrivals.

  6. The US airport system isn’t setup for international to international connections. Studies show most traffic to the US was/is O/D anyway. I like how I can ear security in any terminal and walk to the international terminal (assuming they are connected airside). I like how there is no immigration going into an international terminal.

    Maybe that’s an unpopular opinion. What do I know.

  7. Anon: My understanding is that you can leave the U.S. pre-clearance area at any time. You are NOT on U.S. soil. So, it is absolutely not the case that you “give up all your rights” when you set foot in that area.

  8. I agree with the above comments about easing entry. Another big advantage is if you need to transit in one of the gateways to a domestic flight. Once you get off, you simply head to your next gate without the hassle of going through immigration and customs and then checking in for the next flight.

  9. All major and some not-so-major Canadian airports have had U.S. pre-clearance facilities for years. They’re really useful as it means you can do a very quick transfer gate-to-gate without pre-clearing security or any immigration at a U.S. hub airport. And also, if you do have any entry issues, you can resolve them (or not have them resolved) at your origin in Canada instead of at the end-point or a hub in the U.S.

  10. @Justin, that is not what he told me, and instead said that I am under their jurisdiction and that by walking into the pre-clearance area, I was “giving my consent and forfeiting my rights” – that is actually what he said.

    I wasn’t able to leave because they had all my luggage, passport, travel documents, etc. I got the impression by his message that they could potentially arrest me and do whatever they wanted with me. I agree with you in principle though and I have a feeling that the supervisor was actually out of line and acting illegally. But what could I do, put in a complaint? I was still hoping to make the flight (and not end up in jail either!).

  11. Another contender (but on a later date) would be GRU – São Paulo. The OneWorld CEO has recently said that they will build a OneWorld lounge at GRU by the time the airport expands into the 3A gates.
    Maybe there will also be a Pre-clearance facility, since the actual government is really USA-centric.

  12. @Anon: The United States may have a different arrangement with the Republic of Ireland, but in Canada’s case US CBP officers do not have ANY powers of arrest while on Canadian soil, which includes pre-clearance facilities. US CBP officers can ask local police stationed at the Canadian airport to arrest you, but they will only do so if you are breaking Canadian law.

    But as you say, if you were hoping to make your flight, then they had leverage over you to stay put.

    Actually, after doing some research on this, I may be completely wrong. It seems Canada passed a new bill in C-23 which does allow US CBP officers to arrest people. Previously you could just withdraw: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/pre-clearance-u-s-travellers-bill-c-23-reaction-1.4213797

  13. I can confirm Justin’s observation that most Canadian airports have had pre-clearance from the earliest days (1960 and before). This occurred long before security was an issue at the Canadian US border — you didn’t need a passport in the old days and they certainly didn’t have the IT infrastructure to screen passengers.

    My understanding is that this practice allowed US airlines serving Canadian cities to operate those trans-border flights as US domestic flights. And yes the US wing of the airport is in effect US territory.

    OTOH mention was made that you can leave the US wing at any time. My understanding is that once you clear US immigration and Customs, you would need to re-enter Canada through Canadian immigration. For instance you might have to pay duty on any duty free purchases you made “leaving” Canada.

  14. Does having pre-clearance in BOG means that if cocaine is smuggled into the US, but caught, it’s caught on Colombian soil so no federal prison?

    Airports that need pre-clearance more than BOG include NRT, HND, LHR, AMS, CDG, FRA, MUC, even GRU.

  15. @MDE Ken – When I flew BOG – ATL on Delta in late 2017, the flight departed from a normal international departures area, with access to restrooms and shops like anywhere else. The only additional security was a brief interview at the check in-desk upon entering the terminal, placing a security sticker on the back of my passport, and then showing that sticker to agents posted inside the jetway as we boarded. A few passengers were pulled aside for a brief bag inspection. But we were never cordoned off into a separate waiting area without services for the Delta flight.

  16. Though you see this more often with Canadian flights, the benefit is they can fly to US non-international airports like DCA and LGA. I fly YYZ-DCA on AC a few times a year.

  17. @MDE Ken: what you say is completely false. I’m Colombian and have traveled many times (years ago and recently) to the US. I’ve taken flights to the US from BOG and MDE. I’ve never been in a place without access to restrooms or food. I’ve always been able to freely move around the whole departures area. Your comments are a disservice to visitors who already believe in a lot of stereotypes and hold a lot of misconceptions about our country and our facilities.

  18. @justin, thank you for the link and and it doesn’t surprise me. You’re right, I guess there are different rules in each place. Either way, it was a harrowing experience and I felt they over-exerted their power. Basically, if you gave any explanation other than what is according to their agenda, they seem to have grounds to say you “assaulted” them and then subsequently deal with you. It left me – a seasoned traveler who has had no problems whatsoever entering 35+ countries – with an abject fear of immigration, especially US.

    The main message I got from it is that it seems to be easier for them to deny entry and not have any responsibility for what happens after (deportation, flights, accommodation, etc) in the pre-clearance scenario.

  19. One advantage of pre clearance is on arrival in the US you land as domestic which makes getting domestic connections much easier and with a lower MCT than if you tried to book post an international arrival.

  20. You mention that this will be the first airport in South America with pre clearance. Actually that is incorrect. Aruba is located on the South America continental shelf and so is therefore part of South America, and Aruba already has pre clearance facilities.

  21. The pre-clearance facility at Abu Dhabi has global entry the last time I went through there (and if memory serves so does the one at YVR and YYZ); so the potential pre-clearance facility at Bogota might too and not lead to greater time time clear immigration and customs.

    The US and China, the two largest aviation markets, both lack sterile international transit facilities.

    I wonder if a pre-clearance facility at BOG would use the same criteria and processes for screening as would be applied at the various ports of entry in the US or if BOG might be more stringent?

  22. I can see some benefits assuming things work. And I hope countries who facilitate this do not give up jurisdiction on that space so that officers will have to behave and to continue complying with laws.
    Main question obviously is if they will properly train the officers that work in those facilities. Generally I am unimpressed by the the social and technical skills of US persons that they have stripped in a uniform.

  23. @Lucky, you left out the main reason why these were first designed and implemented. These were first opened in Canada as it allows smaller regional airports in the US, who otherwise have no immigration facilities, have access to the transborder market. US-Canada are the biggest trading partners in the world and having air services across multiple cities is crucial. It was determined that with a smaller population and less number of airports, the facilities would be located in Canada to be optimal. This greatly benefited mainly Air Canada as it opened up so many more markets they can serve. Perhaps Colombia is trying to do the same as Spirit Airlines flies there.

    (From a Canadian transplant now living in the US who flies YYZ-DCA regularly that would not have been possible without these facilities)

  24. This would be GREAT!! Only positives will come from this. Landing in the US and just connecting on seamlessly to another flight or just leaving the airport will be a wonderful thing. Totally FOR this. This will benefit everyone, particular small airports which have very small immigration facilities and people get stuck on planes for sometimes hours on end. FLL quickly comes to mind here. I hope this happens. I’ve been looking for a new go-to airline for international and this would be a huge benefit to Avianca.

  25. @derek +1 on British and European airports needing preclearance. Ridiculous that one can’t pre-clear US customs in Heathrow, Schiphol, Zaventem or Charles de Gaulle.

  26. @ Peter

    Maybe it would work if it were reciprocal: give the EU facilities in the bigger US airports to pre-clear. Same for China.
    That would be very efficient.

  27. @Ron

    Given that major European airports have separate international transit zones, and given the fact that passengers boarding a flight in the US to one of these hubs might be continuing on to a wide variety of non-EU destinations, how would you manage pre-clearance on the US side?

  28. @anon thank you for your personal experience at a pre-clearance facility. It really did not add any relevant information to this discussion. US Immigration law follows the same procedures on US soil as it does at pre-clearance facilities. Customs officers are given much discretion in determining admissibility, as long as any adverse actions are approved by those higher up. And what you were actually “forfeiting up” was your rights to any legal representation or recourse at that time. All persons and belongings are subject to search (as is the case with most countries customs regulations). Much of this information is available online. Being afflicted with PTSD seems a bit dramatic.

  29. @ Neil

    Thats extremely simple. Same as Thailand handles CIP/non-CIP. Transit and terminating passengers are processed through different facilities at origin. So in this case instead of stickering the transiting passengers you sticker the terminating passengers.

  30. Its good if Bogota is your original point of travel.
    It is bad if Bogota is your point of transit (It will add time and unpredictability to your transit)
    I personally would REALLY hate to have this feature implemented in Amsterdam.
    How about we just make US arrival immigration control manageable.
    It is ridiculous to say that we can’t make US Immigration control ATL\JFK\MIA faster than in Bogota or Dublin.

  31. I took a connecting through Abu Dhabi last year. There was a global entry line. So I don’t see the down side having a pre clearance in another country.

  32. I was told many years ago that Dublin and Shannon were added as pre-clearance because so many Irishman were being returned because of previous overstays. This became an issue in the summer when flights were full and the airlines didn’t have the capacity to return 20 pax a day.

    The issue I have with pre-clearance in these far flung places is that it costs US taxpayers money to ex-pat CBP officers and their families. The taxes collected on the tickets hardly covers the cost.

    We should be at the point where technology is identifying the individuals who require greater scrutiny while leaving everyone else alone.

  33. What happens if the plane returns after take off because of a technical issue or is diverted due to passenger illness or weather? Do the passenger go through US customs/immigration again?

  34. Refresher on those previously hinted (mostly as of 2018):

    YTZ Toronto Billy Bishop
    Bilateral laws signed Dec 2017
    YQB Quebec City
    Bilateral laws signed Dec 2017
    PUJ Punta Cana
    Supposedly 2009, then 2014, now TBD
    SXM Sint Maarten
    Discussions continued, Jul 2018
    AMS Amsterdam
    Discussions resumed Jun 2018
    BRU Brussels
    EDI Edinburgh
    LHR London Heathrow
    MAD Madrid
    MAN Manchester
    MXP Milan
    OSL Oslo
    KEF Reykjavik
    ARN Stockholm
    Agreement signed, 2016
    IST Istanbul
    NRT Tokyo Narita
    KIX Osaka Kansai
    TPE Taipei Taoyuan
    Feasibility study Mar 2018
    MEX Mexico City
    BOG Bogota
    Discussions, Nov 2018
    Aniticipated, late 2019
    GIG Rio de Janeiro
    GRU Sao Paulo
    EZE Buenos Aires

    Really should be considered imo:

    MBJ Montego Bay
    BGI Barbados
    CUN Cancun
    SJD San Jose del Cabo
    PTY Panama City
    FRA Frankfurt
    MUC Munich
    ZRH Zurich
    CPH Copenhagen

  35. @ MDE Ken

    As someone who flies through BOG frequently, as others have said, this is false. At BOG, you go through international exit customs, then security, then you enter the international terminal, as you do at any airport when flying internationally. After that, you have the run of the terminal (quite nice and brand new in many parts, I might add), until you begin boarding. At that point, most people continue on to the flight without problems, but every flight there’s a few people that get taken aside either for some brief questioning by the gate agents, or get their carry-on inspected by some other airport employee just before entering the jet bridge. Both of these things have happened to me a few times, but neither takes more than 5 minutes, and you certainly aren’t confined to any area without access to facilities and services at any point, as MDE Ken claims.

  36. EU airports were considering asking for this. Airlines and passengers have pointed out how it’s more of an inconvenience there. It’s main benefit to the public is really to fly to airports without US immigration. Not going to be getting AMS-DCA even if pre was added. There’s many drawbacks including increasing MCT FOR CONNECTIONS. Couple of airports including ARN were seriously considering it, but have backed out. If anything I think we should be looking to MEX next.

  37. I have GE and feel that pre-clearance is great when flying nonstop from the origin to destination, but I’m not really a fan for connecting flights. While the GE line is often a little longer at pre-clearance airports than on arrival in the US, I believe pre-clearance offers these benefits:

    1) As others said, it allows international flights to arrive at domestic gates in airports where there is no CPB checkpoint within the main passenger terminal (e.g. DCA) as well as other airports where existing CPB facilities are woefully inadequate (e.g. MKE).

    2) At most pre-clearance airports, the pre-clearance area is fully segregated from the regular terminal meaning the single security check meets US standards (DUB is a very clear poor exception from this). This means when connecting from a pre-clearance flight in the US, you go through security one less time than clearing CBP on arrival in the US – plus you avoid the TSA, while meeting the same security standards. Additionally, you arrive directly in the sterile domestic concourse, making it much easier to get to your connecting flight.

    3) At most pre-clearance airports, customs and immigration are now fully colocated meaning you don’t need to lug your bags through the checkpoint and you are only stopped once. This makes normal pre-clearance less stressful and sometimes quicker than customs on arrival.

    4) Most, if not all, pre-clearance airports still have GE kiosks.

    5) In Canada, GE members get expedited security at pre-clearance checkpoints.

    All in all, as someone who has lived in regional cities throughout the US and currently lives near a major airport without CBP, pre-clearance makes things much easier.

    I’d love to see pre-clearance at additional airports with many flights to the US where there are higher numbers of international originating travelers like MEX, TLV, and HND rather than airports with many international connections like FRA, LHR, and CDG.

  38. I’ll probably never use Bogata preclearance.

    CBP agents probably won’t like it. I had a very brief chat with preclearance in Nassau, Bahamas, just a few sentences. He didn’t like being assigned there.

    Me: Hey, you get to be assigned to the Bahamas!
    CBP guy: What do you mean “get”?
    Me: You mean it isn’t a coveted assignment?
    CBP: Let’s say that I’m not saying everyone is fighting for the spots.
    Me: Oh, sorry.
    CBP: It’s not a life sentence. I’ll eventually get assigned back in the US.

    I usually never chat with them for fear of being tagged as a bad apple.

  39. I could live without pre-clearance facilities because I do not find clearing customs in the US to be a problem. It just seems like a hassle having to get to your international flight even earlier than ever just to take care of something that isn’t broken at the other end.

  40. Preclearing customs and immigration as others have mentioned allows many more direct flights to smaller markets. Plus in Toronto at least, there is a Global Entry lane. I visit my parents and family in Toronto every year and it’s great to take advantage of no lines.

  41. I just went through this in Aruba and it was terrible. I love the way it works in the trains in Europe, but it would have to get better in the other countries. I liked getting off the plane in the US and walking to my next gate. But the time in Aruba was much worse than my normal 10 minutes in Houston’s Global Entry and 15 through TSA precheck.

    Good on paper, terrible on execution.

  42. @Anon

    I know how you feel. The U.S. government and bureaucrats are more concerned about harassing and targeting U.S. citizens and tourists than stopping actual dangerous illegals who commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime, breed poverty and demand more benefits paid at the expense of productive citizens. Everything is backward.

    Still, I rather have more preclearance facilities as it makes returning home a breeze and not having to worry about the immigration line. If you have global entry others in your party may not and the line at JFK was an hour 6 months ago.

  43. What’s the economic arrangement for these? Does the host country pay for the convenience, the fliers / airlines via fees, the ole rounding error on the federal budget or a cost share of all three?

    Interesting to know how cost effective it is to station a bunch of CBP/ICE people overseas to work at the airport. Is it a sought after gig for them?

    I also thought the whole ESTA thing was supposed to make all of this easier.

  44. When I first started using the old preclearance facility at DUB in the late 90s, it was solely about avoiding Stateside deportations, as @Jason says. In fact, both DUB and SNN used to preclear immigration only. You still had to pick up your bags and go through customs when you arrived in the US. A supervisor just walked the arrivals from that flight around the immigration desks in the US. So there were none of the benefits you have now of also preclearing customs and US-level security in DUB so that you arrive as a domestic flight with free access to the gates at your point of US entry. Canada’s arrangement has always been very different.

  45. Anon’s experience at DUB reminds me of my last transit from DL to KLM at LHR. Rude, obnoxious, threatening staff. No more LHR for me.

  46. I just arrived from DUB and pre-clearance was wonderful.

    Our port of entry wasn’t our final destination but because we’d been pre-cleared the checked luggage went directly to our connecting domestic flight. No need to wait for your bags, clear customs and recheck them.

    GE got us through immigration at DUB in under 5 minutes. Upon arrival in the US we disembarked at a domestic gate, walked to the gate for our onward flight and got onboard. Because the MCT for a pre-cleared flight is the same as a domestic connection we only had to allow 30 minutes. Pre-clearance essentially turns an international flight into almost the same experience as a domestic one. Check your bags at the departing airport and pick them up at your home airport.

    I can understand that Lucky might not see the value. This is a game changer but only for those who have a domestic leg after their international flight and in particular those who need to check bags. But it sure is sweet for anyone who lives in someplace other than cities with overseas flights. Even those EI has a pretty mediocre business product the trip I’m thinking of using them for my next trip to Europe and not just when going to Ireland.

  47. Although the comments in the article regarding the best use of CBP’s resources are generally correct, what the article somewhat fails to point out is that air carriers (and U.S. airport authorities) really love it when there’s a pre-clearance facility on foreign soil. That way, any U.S. bound flight from there can be treated as a domestic flight and they thus do not have to worry about access to an international arrivals gate. I would imagine that this saves time and allows for greater options for scheduling.

    Personally, I would prefer to deal with customs/immigration upon arrival in the US. But I do understand why this program is growing and I tend to agree with the reasons.

  48. Add me to the list of people who DO NOT WANT this. US-required extra security at foreign airports is bad enough as it is. I’ve been stuck at a single gate with no bathrooms, no liquids allowed to be brought in, no vending. With pre-clearance, I can kiss hanging around in the lounge goodbye as well.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to never need more than 1-2 minutes to cross thanks to Global Entry.

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