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International Travel

​INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS PROCESS

​​International flights arrive at the S Gates where all passengers must process through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before entering​ the United States of America.  This includes an inspection/interview by CBP Officers, claiming all checked luggage and then either exiting to Seattle or transferring to connecting flights.  

Processing can take 30 to 60 minutes or longer during peak periods when multiple international flights arrive typically between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pacific DST. 

PASSPORT CONTROL PROCESS

Depending on citizenship and purpose for travel, there are multiple methods to process through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Methods include:

  • Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks
  • Global Entry kiosks,
  • Mobile Passport Control and the traditional CBP booth and officer.
The Passport Control level is small and divided into three different processing areas.  A new International Arrivals Facility (IAF) is under construction to alleviate congestion issues; however, there may be times when travelers are held prior to entering Passport Control.  The different processing areas include: 

Area 1: APC kiosks

  • U.S. Citizens
  • U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents 
  • Canadian Citizens  (in Transit)
  • ESTA  – Returning or have traveled to the USA before

Area 2: Traditional booth and officer

  • ESTA – First time to the USA or traveling on a New Passport
  • Visitors traveling on a US VISA

Area 3: Traditional booth and officer

  • Military  personnel traveling on ID and Orders

The methods for processing through Passport Control process include:

1. Mobile Passport Control (MPC): 

U.S. and Canadian citizens are encouraged to download the Mobile Passport app to speed the entry process at Sea-Tac Airport. MPC is free of charge and available from both the Apple Store and Google Play.  Once downloaded, each traveler will register with their personal information, complete the declaration questions and submit.  If CBP responds with a QR code, then travelers entering at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport may pass through Passport Control, collect their checked luggage and be screened upon exiting Customs Baggage Claim. 

2. Automated Passport Control (APC) Kiosks: 

U.S. and Canadian citizens, U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) and those international travelers who are from an eligible Visa Waiver Program can use a self-service APC kiosk. Passengers who are eligible for APC may go directly to the kiosks in Passport Control Area 1. Each passenger will receive a receipt confirming their information and proceed to the CBP officer for final processing. Kiosks allow up to 12 people living at the same residential address. Watch how they work!​

3. CBP’s Global Entry/Trusted Traveler Program:

U.S. and Canadian and other citizens from many countries are eligible to enroll in CBP’s Global Entry program. This is CBP’s premium program and all participants must pay to enroll. Once interviewed by CBP and accepted into the program, entry through most major U.S. airports is extremely fast.  CBP has an enrollment center at Seattle-Tacoma international Airport on the Mezzanine level above Seattle’s Best Coffee (between Security Checkpoints 2 and 3). 

LUGGAGE

Once travelers exit Passport Control, they MUST CLAIM their luggage in the Baggage Claim, regardless if the passenger is staying in Seattle or transferring to another flight. Four baggage claim carousels are located on the lower floor after Passport Control.  The airline will drop oversized luggage near Claim 30 and the elevators.  Travelers should not open their luggage until after they exit Baggage Claim.Note: Passengers with liquid duty-free items must put them in their checked luggage or they will be confiscated at the security checkpoint. Luggage carts are available free of charge in the Baggage Claim. 

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Travelers will exit Baggage Claim and go left for transfers and connections OR  will go right for exiting to Seattle and for ground transportation.  

International Transfers:

Upon exiting Baggage Claim, travelers will go left (following the orange walls) and check their luggage for the next flight. All transfer passengers must go through TSA screening at the Subway level of the S Gates.  The subway is the only means of connecting to different Concourses and the rest of the terminal.  Travelers with liquid duty-free items must put them in their checked luggage or they must be in a duty-free sealed bag, otherwise they will not be allowed through TSA screening.

Exiting to Seattle and Ground Transportation:

Travelers staying in Seattle or needing ground transportation will exit to the right (following the green walls) after Baggage Claim.  Travelers are not allowed to keep luggage carts. Medium and large luggage should be placed on the belt and claimed at Baggage Claim 1 in the Main Terminal.  Travelers will have a short ride on the subway before exiting in the Main Terminal Baggage Claim between Claims 7 and 8, where greeters are waiting.  To see all options of ground transportation, rideshares, renting vehicles and other forms of transportation at Sea-Tac Airport, see here.

Meeting arriving passengers

Passengers from international flights arrive at the South Satellite, or S gates. It typically takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes to clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection, though it may take longer during peak periods when multiple flights arrive at once.

The best places to meet arriving international passengers are either at the escalator between carousels 7 and 8 on the Baggage Claim level where international travelers first come up to Baggage Claim, or at Carousel 1 where they pick up their checked luggage.

If you park at the Sea-Tac Airport parking garage, park in the yellow or green sections at the south end of the garage.

Departures

Contact your airline directly for directions on how early to arrive for your flight. Most airlines recommend arriving a minimum of three hours prior to departure for international flights. ​​​​

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