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Now You Can Fill Out U.S. Customs Forms Using Your Phone

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is rolling out a new app called Mobile Passport Control App (MPC), with which flyers can fill out those customs declaration forms necessary for re-entry into the U.S. Insert the usual “There’s an app for that!” one-liner here.

This is the first app authorized by CBP, and it launches today, August 13. CBP is hoping the app, developed in partnership with Airside Mobile and Airports Council International-North America, will speed up the customs process, reduce wait times, and cut operating costs.

The app doesn’t allow anyone to skip any lines, but it looks like it will help processing go a little faster. According to CBP, “Since the administrative tasks are performed by the traveler prior to the passport control inspection, MPC reduces passport control inspection time and overall wait times.” Basically, it allows U.S. and Canadian citizens to electronically submit customs forms prior to arrival at customs. Here’s how it works: After creating a profile and entering some information about your trip, you’ll receive an electronic receipt with a QR code. Present the code to the customs officer, and he or she will scan the code and send you through.

In an increasingly automated world, it’s not unusual that CBP is trading its old-fashioned paper customs forms for a digital version. Along with CBP’s new customs kiosks, the app heralds a more seamless experience for travelers entering the United States. But it might be a while before you can take advantage of the new technology. The free app is still in an initial testing phase. It’s available for iPhone and iPad only, and CBP says it will introduce a Droid-friendly version soon. (There’s been no word on when.) The app works only for arrivals at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. More airports should be added in the next few months.

CBP says the app works for “eligible” travelers only; the agency doesn’t give any details on who’s eligible and who’s not. Yet it doesn’t appear that travelers need any kind of pre-approval for the app to work. My guess is CBP throws “eligible” into the language to cover their bases: If you’re on some kind of watch list, perhaps you won’t receive a QR code.

Search for “Airside Mobile” to find the program in the App Store. You have to be connected to Wi-Fi or a cell network for the app to work.

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