Miami Beach 411
Like what you see? Let's talk about how
we can help your vacation --> Contact Us
  • Homepage
  • Plan Your Trip
  • Travel Forum
  • News & Events
  • Maps
  • Transportation
  • Tours
  • Hotels
  • Travel Tips
  • Reader's Reviews
  • News Archives
  • Need help? Call us! - 1-305-754-2206

Getting Through Customs and Immigration at Miami Airport

Immigration wait times at MIA just got longer.
August 30, 2012 By Jess in Miami: Travel News  | 25 Comments


Flying to the USA requires a certain degree of patience when you land at Miami International airport. The USA immigration laws are some of the strictest in the world. Visas to work here are scarce, and green cards enabling people to live here without restriction are very hard to get. Getting through immigration at Miami airport is not easy, with the officers questioning and detaining many passengers as they pass through the busy gateway into the USA. The new Customs and Immigration hall opened last month, with the promise of shorter lines and quicker processing times. However, the new system has increased wait times and infuriated passengers visiting Miami.

The new immigration hall opened behind schedule last month, at a cost of 180 million dollars. With 72 passenger lanes, it is the length of a football field, so surely this should speed up waiting times? According to the airport’s Communications Director, the old immigration hall in Terminal E used to take an hour or more to get through and the new facility should quicken things up. “We are thinking, on an average, it will be 15 to 20 minutes less than it was before.”

Americans Go To The Front Of The Line

The reality though, is far different. The new arrivals hall is split into Visitors, Residents and Citizens. This is a new concept for Miami immigration, which previously let US residents and citizens pass through the same lane. Now, if you have a green card, you are also in a huge line of people and are not allowed to pass through with US citizens, no matter how long you have lived here or if you are married to an American. The visitor lines are long and slow moving and the staff are unfriendly.

If you are a US citizen you seemingly get special treatment, and the staff will tell you to go in front of other waiting visitors and residents straight through to a waiting officer. US citizens have no line, as they are waved through at the expense of everyone else waiting. Is this a way to welcome guests and tourists to the City of Miami? By giving them a longer waiting period at the unfriendly immigration hall? I think not.

Online blogs, forums and articles have been loudly complaining about MIA’s new immigration wait times, with many visitors being made to wait over two hours. Trip Advisor forums are full of complaints, with members stating:

There was one member of staff managing the international line which was chaos. I will never fly into MIA again.”

“There were many people in the line missing connections who were just told tough”

Officials at MIA say the new hall is here to stay, with the possibility of re opening Terminal E’s hall in the future. Many of the international passengers land at Terminal E or F and have a long 20 minute walk to the new hall located in terminal D. I can only hope terminal E will reopen for their sakes. Not many people want a 20 minute walk after a being cramped on board a long international flight.

If you do find yourself flying to Miami from another country, make sure to prepare yourself for your trip, and a longer wait at immigration. In the meantime, please also remember to do the following:


Have you completed your ESTA form?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization is required by all people traveling to America from a country that takes part in the Visa Waiver Program. These countries include most of the European Union, four countries in Asia, and Australia and New Zealand. If you are traveling from these countries, you do not need to go to an embassy to apply for a regular 90 day travel visa, but you will need to complete the ESTA online form or you will not be permitted to travel.
The ESTA form was brought in after 9/11, as a way to pre screen visitors coming to the US. Approval takes no time at all, but it does cost $14. Make sure to apply through the official US government website, and not through a third party site that will charge you much more for doing the same thing.
If you do not complete this form, the airline will not allow you to travel. When ESTA was first introduced, many thought it would cut immigration time. Unfortunately this was not the case.

Landing at MIA if you are a Visitor

Passing through immigration when you land in America can be a daunting experience. Even with a visa, you don’t have the right to enter the US; only the immigration officer can make that decision. US immigration officials are trained to suspect that everyone who doesn’t have the right to live and work here is a potential illegal immigrant, and so they question everyone for as long as they deem necessary. Unfortunately this leads to long lines in the immigration hall. Miami and New York’s JFK airport are widely known to have the worst wait times in the country.
Another new regime implemented since 9/11 is that all visitors must have their fingerprints taken and their photo captured before passing through. Some airports will even scan the iris in your eye. Be sure to correctly fill out the landing card forms they hand out on the plane, and be calm when you are talking to the immigration officer and this will speed the process along.

Be careful of connecting flight times

Not everyone passing through Miami is coming to stay. The reason Miami has such a busy airport is while it is a tourist destination, it is also a major airline hub. Many people connect through here from South America. If you connect in Miami and it is the first American airport in your trip, you will need to clear immigration here. So keeping in mind the above waiting times, and make sure to have at least 2-3 hours in between your flights.

Related Categories: Miami: Travel News,

A SoBe resident for 5 years, Jess’s writing focuses on healthy living in South Beach with a dose of British humor and a cheerful outlook on life in Miami. She can be found moderating the forum Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Jess.

See more articles by Jess

Was This Post Helpful? Please Share It With Others!

You Deserve More Than an Ordinary Vacation.
Travel with Miami Beach 411 Today!
  • Over 10 years of excellent service guiding tours. Awarded a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence.
  • Large fleet of new motor coaches, tour buses, and luxury vans. Technology you won't find anywhere.
  • Highly skilled, professional drivers and guides. From people who love what they do.
The Miami Beach 411 Travel Store is Open 24/7.
Search for Tours & Transportation

25 Comments on

"Getting Through Customs and Immigration at Miami Airport"

Matt Meltzer says:

I’ll just reiterate what I said in the forums:

You may complain if you’re not from here, but this airport is, technically anyway, in the USA. So, yes, revamping it is going to make it easier for AMERICANS. Because,again, technically, it’s OUR country.

So remaking the lines so legit citizens can get through faster makes sense. Does in inconvenience people from other countries? Sure. But it’s not their airport. It’s ours, as such the goal should be to make it easier for US.

Point is, shut your whining foreigners. Feel free to return the favor if I decide to visit whatever 3rd world pit of filth you’re coming here from. But for now understand this is like the one thing Miami has ever done to accommodate Americans. And we don’t post on forums complaining about it because we like it.

Posted on 09/03/2012 at 9:11 AM

jess says:

Now our Florida Gov is weighing in on the argument:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott weighed in Thursday on a staffing controversy involving customs and immigration officers at Miami International Airport, telling the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the personnel shortage “has the potential to damage Florida’s image” and business growth.

In a letter to homeland security Director Janet Napolitano, Scott said because Customs and Border Protection cannot adequately meet staffing levels at MIA — only about half the lanes are fully staffed — baggage is getting lost and passengers are missing flights.

But when the North Terminal opened in July, Customs and Border Protection failed to supply enough agents to fill the 152 immigration lanes at the airport’s three terminals, north, south and central. Now, only about half the lanes have enough staffing. To make up for the shortfall, Airport Director Jose Abreu shut the Central Terminal immigration lanes and shifted its staff to the North Terminal.

That means a walk of up to 1,400 feet, or about a quarter mile, for some passengers.

Posted on 09/21/2012 at 8:25 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

Holy shit, Rick Scott did something right.

I don’t see this becoming a trend, though.

Posted on 09/21/2012 at 11:55 AM

Marty Olsen says:

I travel international all the time for my job, and most airports around the world have special lanes and treatment for their citizens. I am so glad that the US is doing that same thing in Miami for US citiaens.

Posted on 02/28/2013 at 12:24 AM

Theresa says:

I am a naturalized US citizen, British born. I came into the US in the last 20 years on various visas: a B1/B2 visa, a C1D visa, an F1 visa, then a green card. Guess what, the only time I got really grilled at Immigration, was when I finally had my US passport! Go figure.

Posted on 03/30/2013 at 7:05 PM

Jess says:

Wow, that’s interesting. Usually they just say to me, “welcome home ma’am”.

I only got grilled once in the US when the officer couldn’t find an entry stamp from the country I had visited. I had to produce my second passport to show her I don’t get entry stamps when I visit my other home country. She wasn’t too pleased about that.

Posted on 03/30/2013 at 9:46 PM

Deez says:

Miamis the bestttt im glad it taking care of our citizens im gonna arrive on monday and the citizens and us resident lane is only fair;)

Posted on 05/13/2013 at 1:04 PM

Cary says:

I have been out of the country on vacation several times and I must say that Miami immigration officers have the nastiest attitude towards passangers. I am an American Citizen and every time I come back into the US I get treated like crap by them. They not only need a change on the wait time. They beed attitude adjustments.

Posted on 06/23/2013 at 9:35 PM

Marc says:

My family and I just got back from vacation. The lines were taking forever and one of my daughters was sick so my wife and I decided to get in two lines at the same time to speed up, when it was my turn my wife and my other daughter came with me (to the line I was in). When the Immigration Officer noticed that he did NOT want to process our papers and he sent us back to do the line all over again. I explained the officer that one of my daughters was sick but he DID NOT care. We felt so frustrated. Worst experience ever and the Worst attitude towards passengers. I guess that officer does not have kids and have no idea how you feel when your kids are sick. What a lack of respect and understanding towards passengers.

Posted on 07/03/2013 at 5:44 PM

Nina says:

Have never had a problem in Miami. But hear horror stories   Houston used to be easy

Posted on 10/15/2014 at 6:25 AM

Russ says:

Have an express lane at 100$ per person for people from outside the U.S. and use the money to employ more agent .
If they currently have the gates but don’t have the agents onsite, surely this could help.
They could consider the price.  100$ is just a suggestion.

Posted on 02/25/2015 at 5:19 PM

jeff says:

Interesting that this new in 2012 immigration hall was designed to speed up US citizens entering from travel abroad. Not true. MIA has the absolute worst immigration process times I have ever experiences. We travel abroad at least twice a year and have never seen such a wait. We spend over 1 hour just to process in these passport kiosks. Many many people seemed to have serious problems with the process. This is a computer and is supposed to be fast and easy to use. Not true. The two contract helpers had to use a flashlight to help get some people’s photos to take! Can you believe! Then after the one hour to go through the kiosk we had another 30 min wait just for some real customs official to rubber stamp the “receipt” rendered by the computer. What happened to paperless? Horrible experience. Total time from walking the mile and a half plus lines was just under 2 hours.

Posted on 02/26/2015 at 2:50 PM

Laurie says:

Does anyone know why you get an x and have to go to another line in Miami immigrations

Posted on 03/27/2015 at 11:53 AM

Nina Lee says:

My husband who came with an immigrant visa was surprisingly happy with the immigration lines. We had heard that this was a very tough airport to enter and that all the agents were rude and unpleasant.. Not so. We lucked out.. He was treated with the utmost respect. Yes he had to wait nearly three hours for his paperwork to be ok’d but other than that Miami was good .

Posted on 03/27/2015 at 7:08 PM

James says:

MATT MELTZER: If anything, getting through MIA is a struggle for US citizens as well. This year I traveled from overseas into Miami and it took forever to get through immigration. Even though its our airport, the process should be easier for all people passing through because why leave out everybody else? And saying “feel free to return the favor if I decide to visit whatever 3rd world pit of filth you’re coming from” makes you sound like a complete asshole. Just because we’re Americans doesn’t mean we’re entitled to make the system only easy for us because people of other backgrounds are passing through and they’re human as well.

Posted on 07/03/2015 at 12:49 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

I’ve always had fairly easy customs experiences at MIA. And I think it’s our right as Americans to, if we so choose, make the process easier for our fellow Americans.

Posted on 07/07/2015 at 1:35 PM

Joe says:

I am visiting USA for travel with my family , for one year , but somthing happend and i must do an operation in israel so if i will stop my trip and go for one month would i have any problem to enter the Usa agian ? With my 2 doughters? Can someone help me and advice?

Posted on 11/23/2015 at 8:55 AM

Mari Pochuzk says:

Matt settle down with that American sh** if you travel to different country you would expect to get good treatment. They treat visitors and even people with green card like animals. You have no idea how they talk to you and what they do after they detain you because you traveling with a green card. This airport should be investigated not everyone is a terrorist.

Posted on 05/01/2016 at 12:24 PM

Eileen says:

I just connected through Miami, returning from Antigua. Customs was fast. But why did they send us OUT of the secure area to go to our connecting flight?! The lines at security to RE-ENTER with people from originating in Miami was ridiculous! Is this something new like they do at LaGuardia? I’ve never had to leave a secure area to re-enter thru another security check in the US.

Posted on 05/17/2016 at 7:36 AM

Susana Hite says:

My elder parents are flying in to LAX thru Miami to come visit the grandchildren. Their flight from South America lands at 1:45 PM and I have them booked on a direct flight to LAX at 5PM, is this enough time for them to get thru immigration and customs?

Posted on 06/02/2016 at 9:57 AM

Kristy says:

My husband is a legal resident and has been for over 10 years. He is currently standing in a line with 200+ people waiting to get through customs and likely to miss his connecting flight home. MIA airport has the WORST process! In 2014 when we came through together, we had one custom form as a married couple, not knowing they were going to split us up upon arrival…absolute nightmare! And even as a US citizen, I almost missed my flight because the agent took 40 minutes to screen 3 of us through - efficient my butt! If my husband does miss his flight today, we are DONE going through that airport! No one will even answer his questions and the directions of how to get through timely are not posted anywhere.  This sirports customer service is beneath subpar towards visitors, immigrants, and US citizens alike! PATHETIC!

Posted on 07/16/2016 at 5:26 PM

jess says:

Hi Susana, That should be enough time for your parents. They can also book wheelchair assistance if they are elderly, which will speed up the process.

Posted on 08/01/2016 at 10:26 AM

Vanessa Wright says:

I have a brother in law that had a flight from Jamaica to Miami yo Orlando. Hr has been held up in Miami by Jose (Immigration officer). I received a call from Mr Jose asking me questions surrounding my brother in laws visit. I had no issues answering Amy questions. He had it a point to ask questions such ad why is Jr coming? I’d hr married? Does hr have a job? Why would I let Jim come with no money? Does hr have kids? He feels he is hiding something. He could be coming here to sale drugs. When he came the last time what did we do? What type of job I have what type of job his brother has? He threatened to say cause he doesn’t trust him hr is sending him back and suspend his visa for 5 years. I BRG him please don’t. I know personally my brother in law has been through a lot in his marriage and wants things yo work buy he has been looking for work and things are tough in Jamaica. Just sent for him to cheer him up give him a breather. I know he wouldn’t stay as long as o set his ticket but I set the dates. The officer yolde don’t ho yo Orlando to pick him up because he probably will be sent back to jamaica. I still sit worried no call. Hhe has no cell phone. This is an unbelievable experience. He doesn’t sell drugs nor does he have anything illegal to carry in.

Posted on 09/09/2016 at 4:48 PM

Cary says:

Wow! I am so sorry to hear that Vanessa. I hope you hear from your brother soon. This is something many people experience when they arrive at the Miami airport, especially from islands in the caribbean. Immigration in Miami is so corrupt that they think everyone is th same. They are very nasty to people and take advantage of authority. It’s sad that just because the officer felt he was hiding something he is keeping him from arriving at his destination. He has nothing on him and there is no reason to keep him.
Again, hope you hear from him soon. Give an update when you have one.

Posted on 09/09/2016 at 5:14 PM

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.
Discuss the surrounding area in our hugely popular Miami forum.
Today's Miami Specials
Like what you see? Let's talk about
how we can help your vacation
--> Contact Us