Mobile Passport Control: All about CBP’s Smartphone App to Expedite Entry into the US

by Joseph McKeown

Pretty much everyone agrees that the most time-consuming and least enjoyable part of international travel is being processed through customs and immigration. (Okay, waiting for baggage isn’t much fun either.) In an effort to make the admission process into the US smoother and to manage the growing number of travelers, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has launched Mobile Passport Control (MPC), the first authorized app to expedite a traveler’s entry process into the US. The app is designed to streamline “the traveler inspection process and enables CBP officers to focus more on the inspection and less on administrative functions.” Although we’ve discussed it previously, we thought we’d answer some questions (with CPB’s help) about the app, especially since now we have even used it ourselves!

What exactly is Mobile Passport Control?

Mobile Passport Control is a CBP-authorized app for smartphones and tablets to be used by US citizens and Canadian nationals to enter the US. Travelers create a profile via the app with their passport information and enter their name, gender, date of birth, and country of citizenship. Upon landing in the United States, travelers complete the “New Trip” section by selecting their arrival airport and airline, taking a self-photo, and answering a series of custom declaration questions. After the traveler submits their customs declaration form through the app, the traveler will receive an electronic receipt on their phone with an Encrypted Quick Response (QR) code, which expires four hours after being issued.

Travelers then bring their passport and smartphone or tablet with this time-sensitive digital bar-coded receipt to a CBP officer to finalize their inspection for entry into the US. When I used the Mobile Passport Control app at JFK International Airport, there was a separate—and much shorter—line for Mobile Passport Control users. It took me less than one minute to get through the line. While my fiancée made it through the regular line in about four minutes, she was at the head of the line and it was quickly backing up, while the line for Mobile Passport App remained short.

Do I still speak with a CBP officer?

Yes. The MPC app enables a traveler or family group to “pre-position their biographic information” prior to speaking with a CBP officer. The CBP officer is then able to focus on “identity verification, admissibility, and questioning to determine purpose and intent of travel.”  The app is designed to reduce the traveler’s time with the CBP officer and also increase service levels. In my own recent trip, my interaction with the officer was incredibly brief, though, of course, there are no guarantees for how long it will take.

Who qualifies for Mobile Passport Control?

US citizens and Canadian visitors can use Mobile Passport Control. Travelers must have an Apple iPhone or Android device and be connected to the Internet or mobile network.

Are lawful permanent residents able to use Mobile Passport Control?

Not at this time, but CBP is planning at expanding eligibility in the future.

What are the benefits of using Mobile Passport Control?     

Mobile Passport Control provides a more efficient and secure in-person inspection between the CBP officer and the traveler. 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.

Can families use Mobile Passport Control?

Yes. Three additional profiles can be created for family members. The app allows for families of four to submit a single customs declaration form.

Where can I use Mobile Passport Control?

CBP officially launched the pilot program of MPC at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2014, and as of the publication of this post it is available at twenty airports and one cruise port, including Miami International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and JFK International Airport, where I used it. It is expected to expand to more airports.

Where do I get the Mobile Passport Control app?

The Mobile Passport Control app is available on the Apple Store and the Android version is available at the Google Play Store.

Does Mobile Passport Control replace my passport?

No. Travelers must present a valid US or Canadian passport to a CBP officer upon arrival.

Will I still have to go through the processing lines if I use Mobile Passport Control?

Yes, travelers will still have to be processed by a CBP officer. Mobile Passport Control’s goal is to expedite the entry process. To do so it provides travelers with the option of using a specific processing lane.

Do travelers still have to fill out a customs declaration form?

No. Travelers submit their customs declaration form electronically via their smartphone or tablet. If a traveler has already filled out a customs declaration form, it can be given to a CBP Officer for shredding.

How is it different than Global Entry?

They are similar but there are key differences. Global Entry is a CBP program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival to the US. Unlike Mobile Passport Control, Global Entry is open to US citizens but also lawful permanent residents (i.e., Green Card holders), UK citizens, Dutch citizens, South Korean citizens, and Mexican nationals. Canadian citizens and residents may enjoy Global Entry benefits through membership in the NEXUS program.

Again unlike Mobile Passport Control, all applicants for Global Entry must undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before enrollment. Global Entry travelers are processed through a separate line, completing their “paperwork” also at a kiosk; however, once they receive their receipt, they have cleared immigration and they do not have any additional screening by a CBP officer. Once they have their luggage they also have expedited passage through the customs screening.

Is the Mobile Passport Control App secure?

CBP says yes. The passport information and answers to the customs declaration questions on the app are submitted directly to CBP via secure encryption protocols. CBP then sends a response to the app generating the electronic receipt to show to the officer. The Mobile Passport Control app gives users the option of storing profiles on their smartphone or tablet for future travel or deleting it after the trip. 

What happens if my flight is diverted to a different airport?

Oh no! If travelers are re-routed to an airport that does not have Mobile Passport Control, they will not be able to use the app. Instead, upon arrival at the airport, travelers must follow standard processing procedures.

What about secondary inspection?

If a traveler has been referred for secondary inspection, they will be directed to the appropriate location by CBP Officers.

Is Mobile Passport Control the only authorized app for mobile passport processing?

Yes. Mobile Passport is currently the only app authorized by CBP to submit passport information and customs declaration form using a mobile device.

Based on my experience, though limited, I can certainly recommend the app. Downloading the app and setting up a profile on the phone is quick and easy. We are excited to continue using the app and (fingers crossed) avoiding those long immigration longs. As to waiting for luggage, well, there are plenty of apps to distract me!