I’m in Switzerland for a week’s work (together with requisite beer, chocolate and cheese), and I wasn’t in the country 10 minutes before being pleasantly surprised.
The Swiss really don’t care who comes into their country. Really. All the flight crew were waved through with a glance and a smile whilst they held out their badges. Passport control for us mortals was only slightly stricter, with a quick glance and a good morning in the appropriate language. No questions, no lines, no fingerprints, no forms. Unlike my flights into the USA.
Arriving at JFK, I feel somewhat of a hybrid between an immigrant queuing at Ellis Island – desperately hoping to be admitted to a brave new world – and a criminal mastermind playing an intricate game of cat and mouse with the border police, each arranging our pawns as we wait for the other to strike.
First come the forms. My passport contains a visa that was an experience in itself to get. Endless pages of prose, screenshots of software I’ve built, full papers I’ve written and abstracts of papers citing them and even emails of recommendation culminated in a trip to the American embassy in London, replete with armed guards, a strict ‘no anything (including phones)’ admittance policy and staff that were really annoyed I’d brought along such prolix.
This, however, along with the 8 sets of fingerprints and photos they now have on file for me, isn’t enough. I need to give them another of each, along with a customs form and the exciting I-94 to let them know where I’ll be staying, just in case they want to deport me later. I haven’t been asked the old checklist of ‘are you a terrorist/communist’ for quite a while though, it seems they’ve stopped that.
After all this, comes the interview. Sometimes a handful of questions suffices, but I’ve previously been asked to describe what I do in quite a lot of detail (a question I normally deflect with ‘maths’ because, frankly, even those that *do* understand it find it hard to care much), and even my neighbourhood. Presumably in case I was lying about living there. Unfortunately, I moved into my current apartment on the day I landed so I had very sketchy details when asked about that, but survived without any trips to room 101.
A few stamps later, and it’s through to the final phase of customs. So far I’ve always followed the golden rule of ‘tick no to everything’ and never been stopped. Which is useful as my suitcase is generally filled with delicious contraband: tea, Oxo cubes and the like.
The only Swiss customs requirement I’m aware of is that of declaring if one is carrying more than $100k. So they can assign a personal banker.