Your first encounter with local people in a new country is not when you arrive at your hotel, or when you take public transport or a taxi to get there. It is actually before you even exit the airport, when you get off the plane and speak with airport staff. Although the questions asked at immigration and customs are mainly generic all around the world, it is important to learn how to answer these questions clearly. Nobody likes to be kept waiting at an airport due to any language barriers.
By the end of this article, you will be able to swiftly move through the airport from getting off the plane, all the way to exiting the airport’s front doors, with absolutely no issues whatsoever!
Queuing to clear customs
Once you’ve disembarked the plane, you will make your way to the customs and immigration checkpoint. With your passport in hand, you step up to the desk and start answering questions from the immigration officer, this will most probably be your first meeting with a local person. He/she says:
- “Good morning, welcome to London. How was your flight?”
Let’s break this up into 3 pieces:
- Good morning.
- Welcome to London.
- How was your flight?
You could respond with:
- “Thank you, yes the flight was fine”.
- “Hello, good morning, very pleasant thank you”.
- “Morning, it was good thanks. It went by quite quickly actually”.
- “Good morning, thank you very much! It was great thanks, really relaxing”.
As you can see, you don’t need to respond to everything they say, so long as you answer the final question they asked - ‘How was your flight?’
- “What is the purpose of your visit?”
Pretty straightforward, all you need to do is briefly describe why you’re in the country. You don’t need to go into too much detail, just give a short answer.
- “I’m a tourist, just visiting for a few days”.
- “I’ve come to see a festival”.
- “I’m visiting family here”.
- “Where will you be staying?”
Again, a straightforward question, with a simple answer.
- “I’m staying with my friend, in Hackney”.
- “I’m booked in to the Hilton Hotel”.
- “In Lambeth, I’ve got an Airbnb booked”.
- Duration of stay
Typically, you will hear it being asked in this fashion:
- “How long do you intend to stay?”
- “How long are you in the country for?”
- “Do you have a return flight?”
If you haven’t already answered this during a previous question, it may come up. It can also be phrased in different ways:
“Just a couple of days”
“I’ve got a flight out on the 4th”
- Anything to declare
You will hear it being asked in this way:
- “Do you have anything to declare?”
- “Are you carrying more than $10,000? in cash”
- “Are you bringing any ...?”
This gets a bit trickier now, here they want to find out if you are bringing anything, or plan on doing anything...bad on your visit. Tourists don’t usually have anything to declare, and most definitely do not have $10,000 in cash. Things that need to be declared can be: certain items that are banned or restricted (like food, drink, plants), anything that is over your duty-free allowance, or items that you plan to sell. A simple and honest “No” will be all you need to say should none of these apply to you.
Security / Baggage Screening
Going through airport security can be slightly annoying, and time-consuming, with some people moving so slowly to remove all their necessary items prior to passing the metal detector. To not get caught slowing others down, and to get through security fast yourself, take a look at some possible things the security guard might say:
- “Place any valuables you have in the tray”.
To place means to put something in a particular place. Your valuables pretty much mean anything in your pockets; phone, wallet, coins, keys, etc.
- “Take out any laptop or electronic device”.
It’s fairly obvious that you can’t take your laptop through the security scanner, however, you must also take it out of your carry-on luggage and put it separately in an empty tray. Other electronic devices could be tablets, music players, a Kindle, etc.
- “Put your jewellery in the tray, watches and belts included”.
Jewellery are anything you wear on your body that is made from metal, or jewels. Necklaces and rings usually have to be taken off, as do watches and belts (and sometimes even shoes).
- “Throw away your water bottles or dump any liquids”.
If you have a bottle of anything, unless it’s really small, then you must throw it away, or put it in the bin/trash.
“This way please, step through the scanner. Ok do you have anything in your pockets? Any jewellery on? Go back through and take off your belt. Ok come on back. Just stop there and put your arms out to the side please. Thank you”
Once you’ve placed all your items in the tray and put your bag onto the conveyor belt, you’ll need to walk through the scanner. The security officer might ask you to go back and make sure you’ve emptied your pockets and took everything off. They may also scan you with a small body scanner, which is when you need to put your arms out so they can search you very quickly.
Asking About Transport Links
Now that you have your bags and are ready to leave the airport, you must figure out how to get to your accommodation. There should be an information desk somewhere in the arrivals lounge where you can ask about available transport links.
1. Going by the Tube (Metro)
“Hi, how are you? How do I get to the Thomas hotel?”
“I’m great thank you. Ok, so you need to walk through there, where it says train station, and you need to carry on going for about 10 minutes. Then, you’ll see a ticket booth where you can buy a ticket to Paddington Station, it should cost you ₤10 (EUR). Is there anything else I can help you with?”
- ‘To carry on going’ means to continue walking in a particular direction.
- ‘A ticket booth’ is a small compartment where you can buy tickets across a counter.
2. Going by Taxi (Cab)
“Hello, could I ask a question please? How do I get to the Thomas hotel?”
“Yes of course. Alright, you see that yellow sign over there? Where it says Taxi Rank? Just head over there and ask for a taxi to the Thomas hotel. There might be a little wait as it’s quite busy this afternoon. I think the price is about ₤40-50. Ok?”
- ‘Alright’ in this sense is a synonym for ‘Ok’.
- It can also be used in British English to informally ask ‘How are you?’ or to reply ‘I’m fine’.
- ‘To head over somewhere’ means to go somewhere.
3. Going by Bus
“Hey, how’s it going? I’m looking to get to the Thomas hotel”
“Hi there, all good thanks! Ok well there’s a few ways, you can either take a taxi, the train, or there are also buses going into the centre.
“Yes I’d rather the cheapest option to be honest”
“Ok so that would be the bus. What you need to do is walk through these doors here and go down the lift, turn right and walk down that way for 5 minutes. You can catch the bus from there, they go every 30 minutes. You just need to buy a ticket from the man in the bright orange coat, he should be around there somewhere.
- ‘A lift’ is the word we use in British English for an ‘elevator’.
- ‘To catch something’ can mean to contract a cold for example. However, here it is saying to get on the bus.
And remember, if at any time you need help with anything, you can politely ask someone if they could assist you with a simple “Excuse me, could you help me please?”