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Point of Entry (POE)

What is a Point of Entry (POE)? 

A port of entry (POE) is any designated place where persons or goods may lawfully enter the United States and can be located at land borders, airports, and seaports.

Key Takeaways 

  • POEs are locations managed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and CBP officers assess the eligibility of travelers by verifying travel documents, conducting security and background checks, and conducting interviews and personal assessments.
  • Different Points of Entry (POEs) are designated to process specific types of entrants and visa classifications.
  • Entering the U.S. outside of a designated Port of Entry (POE) can result in significant penalties, including fines, deportation, a ban on reentry, and even imprisonment.

Entering the U.S. at a Designated POE 

Having a visa or other entry authorization does not mean you may enter the U.S. at any airport or seaport in the U.S. or any point along its border. Rather, a POE must be "designated" to handle certain entry requirements and to process specific forms and categories of travelers. For example, only certain designated ports can process Form I-192, Form I-212, and Form I-824 entrants. The CBP also has a web application where you can view POEs by geographic location. 

What Happens at a POE? 

Upon arrival at a POE, CBP officers will inspect travelers to verify the legality and intent of their visits. The officers may ask them various questions to ascertain their intentions in entering the country, such as where they are staying, how long they are staying for, their employment status, etc.

Travelers will also have to present visas, forms, and documents, some of which may be mandatory, and others, while not strictly required, can be greatly beneficial to substantiate the nature and purposes for the traveler’s entry to the U.S. Core documentation may include:

  • For Tourists (B-2) and Business Travelers (B-1): Valid passports and visas are essential, with business travelers possibly needing an invitation letter from the U.S. entity they are visiting.
  • For Students (F or M): A valid passport, visa, and Form I-20 issued by the U.S. school.
  • For Temporary Workers: A valid passport, the corresponding employment category visa, and employment verification documents.
  • For Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Travelers: An e-passport, ESTA authorization, and a return or onward ticket.
  • For U.S. Citizens and Green Card Holders: A valid U.S. passport or Permanent Resident Card, respectively.

Documentation that may not be strictly required but could be beneficial in corroborating the nature and intent of your visit includes:

  • Accommodation Details: Hotel reservations or a letter from a host confirming where you will be staying. 
  • Travel Itinerary: Details of your travel plans, including return or onward tickets.
  • Employment Verification (if applicable): A letter from an employer stating the purpose and duration for your visit.
  • Invitation Letters: If visiting family, friends, or attending a specific event, an invitation letter can be helpful.
  • Educational Documents: For students, acceptance letters from the U.S. school, transcripts, or other related documents.

Secondary Inspections 

When being questioned at a POE, it is critical to answer all questions honestly and consistently. When an initial inspection raises concerns regarding a traveler's eligibility or admissibility, the CBP has broad discretion to conduct secondary inspections, which are typically carried out in a separate area away from the main inspection area, and involve more thorough examinations, further questioning, document verification, and having your personal belongings searched.

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