It was the first time I ever took an international flight when I was traveling from India to the USA for a long-term assignment. As we say, there is always a first time for everything and so it was the first time to travel abroad for me and that too, it was to the USA. It was all exciting and anxious stuff.

However, I was clueless about the process of what happens at the airport in India and then at the airport in the USA. I had no idea about anything from entering the airport to boarding any of the international flights. The immigration process was totally alien to me and so was what should I expect when I land at the airport in the USA. I am sure there will be many out there, like me, who sail in the same boat as I did three years back.

I learned a lot from my experience of traveling to the USA from India for the first time. So, in this article today, I am going to share with you the step by step process of what happens at the airport when you take an international flight to the USA from India 🙂 🙂 …

In the last couple of articles, I shared with you about preparing yourself in India for the long-term travel to the USA. Now that you have done all the necessary things in India before moving to the USA and also have bought the must have things to carry to the USA from India, it is time for you to take the flight from India to the USA. So, let’s looks at the whole step by step process of flying to the USA from India, in detail.

Pre-Airport Luggage Preparation and Organization

Before you travel to the airport, you should read the baggage guidelines of your airline properly and weigh your luggage accordingly. You should be aware of what you can/cannot carry in carry-on baggage (the one that goes with you in the cabin) and what items you can/cannot carry in the check-in baggage (the one that goes in luggage storage of the plane). You should also have a rough idea about what things you have kept in what luggage bag, especially things like electronics, ghee, pickles, oils, liquids, power banks, etc.. They might ask you to take them out and either throw them or keep electronic items in carry-on baggage. So, instead of opening up all the bags and searching/scanning them, better to have a rough idea where things are kept. It will help you save a lot of time when you are put into such a situation.

You should check the USA Customs website for a complete list of prohibited and restricted items and ensure you are not carrying on the plane any of these with you.

Expert Tip: Make sure you have gone through the complete list of prohibited and restricted items for entering USA else you may end up paying heavy fine.

Reach on Time at Aiport

Needless to say, I will recommend that you reach well in time for your flight. There could be many things that could delay you for an international flight within the airport as well. Hence, it is always good to arrive about 3.5-4 Hrs before in case you are traveling with family and with a lot of luggage. If you have less luggage, have traveled quite a few times or traveling alone, maybe you may reach 2.5-3 hrs in advance and still be fine. However, for first-time family travel with a lot of luggage, I will recommend reaching early. Things like overweight luggage, immigration queues, multiple security checks, items not allowed, etc.. can sometimes eat up a lot of time.

Step by Step Process at the India Airport

You must be wondering about what will happen at the airport, where will you get the boarding pass, what happens at security checks, what am I allowed to carry or what happens at immigration, etc.. If you are traveling to an international destination for the first time, like me, these questions are natural and quite expected. I will share my experience in this article of what happens at the airport and I am sure it will be helpful to many others seeking out such an information.

1. Before Entering Airport

Before you enter the airport, you can find a trolley to put your luggage on it and then walk into the airport. The luggage trolley is free to use at the India airport. The guard at the airport entrance gate will check your ticket and the photo id proof. After verification, he will let you enter the airport.

2. Pre Weigh Luggage after entering

There are free weighing machines available just after entering the airport. If you weighed your luggage bags at home and they are just around the weight limits of your airline, I will recommend you weigh them again after entering the airport. You can ask one of your relatives who came to drop you at the airport to stay back while you confirm the weights. This way, if you find too much difference in the weights of your luggage bags, you can quickly take the stuff out which is not so important and hand it over to your relatives waiting outside. This will help you save your stuff being thrown away at the boarding pass counter in case of overweight.

3. Boarding Pass and Luggage Check-in

Once you have weighed and confirmed the luggage, you can move to the respective airline ticket counter where you will get the boarding pass after displaying the copy of your purchased ticket and your valid passport. In case you have purchased the ticket using a credit card or debit card, you need to also show the card as well by which ticket was purchased (most airlines have this guideline, there might be some exceptions though). If someone else purchased the ticket for you, you need to show the authorization letter from the card owner which verifies the ticket purchase from his card. I have created this template for the credit card authorization letter for airline ticket purchase. You can download the template and tweak it accordingly for your own use.

There will be a queue at the boarding pass counter, get in the queue and wait for your turn. Once you reach the counter, provide the required documents and after document verification airline staff will ask you to put the luggage for weighing. You can negotiate for marginal over weights but it totally depends on the airline and their policies. So, it is always good to pre-weigh as described above. After weighing both carry-on luggage and check-in luggage, you will be provided the boarding pass to board the flight. This is where you will also be asked to take out and trash any restricted items in both carry-on luggage and check-in luggage. Hence, as said above, it is important to know what you can carry and what you can not carry as per airline guidelines.

Once you are clear of documents, things, and weight of your luggage, the airline staff will provide you the boarding pass. This boarding pass you will need to keep safe till the time you successfully exit from the destination airport with your luggage, which in my case was New York. Boarding pass also has the details of your flight seat number and flight boarding gate number.

Expert Tip: You must keep your boarding pass safe all the time along with passports. It is a good idea to buy a waist travel pouch that can help you keep things handy and safe from getting dropped.

Earlier you need to use small security tags for carry-on baggage that will be stamped by security and then only allowed to be carried on to the plane. However, recently I have seen that it is no longer required at least flying Air India airlines from New Delhi to the USA. You can ask the airline staff handing you over the boarding pass, about it to be on a safer side.

4. Immigration

Once you have the boarding pass, you will have to walk to the immigration section at the airport and get in the queue of Indian citizens departing India. The sad part is that you have to drop the luggage trolley and carry all your carry-on pieces of baggage yourself. It will be tiring afterward if there are many bags with you as a family (I carried six one time 🙁 🙁 ). If you are traveling with a kid, mostly there are separate queues for the people with kids. This is where Indian Immigration Officer will verify your passport and VISA of the visiting country and put the Indian country stamp on your passport stating that you are departing India on this date, before giving the passport back to you. He may ask you to look into the camera as well and also may ask a couple of questions about your visit abroad too.

Earlier there was an immigration form that had to be filled in and handed over to the Immigration Officer, however, in my last visit to India in December 2017, we were no longer required to fill the immigration form when we were returning back to the USA.

Expert Tip: If you are traveling with the family having kids, make sure to check for the separate line at Immigration and when boarding the flight. Usually there are separate lines for families with kids.

5. Security Checks

Once you have the immigration process done, you will move to the security section where you will be thoroughly checked along with your carry-on baggage. Look for the prohibited items and in case any, please trash or discard them before your turn. Your bags will be put through the x-ray scanners and you will be frisked by the security personnel. You will need to take out all electronic items including laptop, MacBooks, external hard drives, power banks, mobiles, etc.. in a tray box and put in the scanner. Even Jackets and coats, need to be separately put in the scanner, so beware of taking them back and not forgetting them. Jackets and coats are the most common things that people lose at the airports 🙂

In case of security find some suspicious object or electronic in the carry on baggage, they will thoroughly inspect the tagged bag again manually, item by item. This is where it takes time and hence, always good to reach the airport with buffer time on hand so that you can smoothly go through all these processes even if something unexpected happens. Once, all the bags are scanned, the security folks will put the security check stamp on your boarding pass. Make sure that the boarding pass has been stamped else you may miss the flight later as without it you will not be allowed to board the flight.

Expert Tip: Jackets or coats are one of the most common things which people forget at airpots especially after security checks, so make sure you carry yours back 🙂 :).

6. Walk through the duty-free shops and eat food, if required

Once you are through the security check, you will enter the mall like the area of the airport called duty free shops where you can purchase products without any duty. You can roam around and buy things. There is a food court and also some restaurants in that area where you can eat food while waiting for the announcement of your flight departure. This is when you can also use washrooms.

6. Boarding the flight

Once your flight departure announcement is made, you will need to reach the boarding gate of the flight, written on your boarding pass. In the flight from New Delhi to the USA, there will be an additional security check just before the boarding gate area. The security personnel will re-verify your documents, frisk you and check bags again. He may again ask you a few questions about the details of your trip to the USA. Once, the final security check is done you will enter the queue of boarding the flight. Again, there will be a separate queue to board the flight in case you are traveling with kids. Hence, look out for it.

As you enter the boarding gate, the airline staff will check your security stamp, tick mark your boarding and tear off the required portion from your boarding pass that they need to keep. Then, you will walk the passage or take the bus to enter the flight.

7. In-Flight Experience

Once you enter the flight, you need to arrange your carry-on pieces of baggage over the overhead cabins. When traveling with the family, it is an advantage to get in early so that you can arrange your pieces of baggage without rush or chaos just around or above you. When you enter late in the flight, usually you may need to keep the luggage somewhere away in case overhead cabin space above you is no longer available.

After you settle your luggage, make the phone calls to your family/friends that you have boarded the flight and switch off the phones till you land at your destination. You must make sure to turn off data of your phone because once you switch on your phone in the USA, the international data roaming will cost you a lot.

Expert Tip: Make sure you have switched off your data for the phone after making the phone call. This will save you a shocking bill as international data roaming costs a lot.

Finally, you can relax on your seat, put on the seatbelts and enjoy the movies/videos in the entertainment systems on the back of the seats in front of you. After the plane takes off, you will be served with drinks and food at fixed time intervals based on your food/drinks preferences. However, you can go to the pantry anytime to get some drinks or snacks in case needed.

Before landing at the USA airport, in the flight, you will be asked to fill up a customs declaration form where you need to write the things that you are carrying with you inside the USA including any food items with their tentative worth in US dollars. You should keep a pen handy in your travel pouch to fill it up. You should make sure you do not hide anything and I hope you are not carrying any prohibited or restricted items.

Step by Step Process at the USA Airport

I have covered in detail about the process that will happen at the airport in India and now its time to share with you the step by step process that would happen at the airport in the USA.

1. US Immigration Experience

Once your flight lands at the USA airport, you will deboard the flight with your carry-on baggage and follow the path at the New York airport based upon the VISA type you are traveling. There will be signs and boards directing you to follow the path based on your VISA types. Finally, following the path, you will arrive in the queue of non-US citizens at the Immigration section of the airport.

When your turn will come, US Immigration officer will call you and start the verification process. The officer will verify the VISA details and ask you several questions about your visit to the USA. You should provide the correct, short answers to the Immigration Officer. You will be asked to give your fingerprints for verification purposes and look in the camera too. Once the immigration officer is satisfied and checked your profile, he will either allow you the entry to the USA or deny it by stamping on the VISA. He may ask for the customs form as well that you filled in the flight or it will be asked before leaving the customs section.

The US VISA stamp on your passport will have a date on it which will define the period of your stay in the USA and it will actually reflect on your I94 document (more on it in the later articles of the series). Even if your US VISA is valid for three years, the immigration officer may give you an entry of less time as well. This date will define your length of stay in the USA and you will have to file an extension well in time of this date for the further stay in the USA legally. Hence, this stamping process is your most special moment of the trip 🙂 🙂 …

2. Checkin Luggage Pickup

Once you get the stamp of your stay in the USA by the immigration officer, you are asked to move the conveyor belt where your check-in luggage baggage will be available. When you reach the luggage belt, you will see all the bags revolving there turn by turn, take a space along the belt and watch for your pieces of check-in baggage. As soon as the piece of baggage come near you, pick it down from the belt and put it aside. Get all your pieces of check-in baggage in a similar fashion.

Due to the resemblance of luggage bags all over the world, it is always wise to put a differentiating ribbon or tag to identify your bags on the belt. Also, look at the airline tags to match your name on the bags. Hence, it is important to keep the boarding pass safe because your boarding pass will have stickers attached to it for your check-in luggage. In case of you losing/misplacing the luggage, the boarding pass will help you in providing the information to airlines.

Once you have picked up all your bags, you will have to get the trolley that can carry the luggage for you till outside of USA airport. Unlike India airport, the luggage trolleys are not free in the USA airport. So, you will have to pay $6 for each trolley you need or else rent a jumbo trolley where a person will put all your bags on it and charge for $1 per bag. You must tip him a couple of dollars for his service of carrying your luggage till outside the airport in addition to $1 per bag.

3. Customs and Exit Airport

Once you have the trolley for your luggage bags, it is time to exit the airport through customs. The customs officer might ask you what is in the bag and also may want to inspect the bags for the prohibited items. It all depends upon your luck on the day and things you are carrying. Sometimes you are not even stopped at the customs and they let you walk away as I believe the bags are already checked before and hence TSA locks helps you with such behind the scenes checking 🙂 …

Well, now that you have passed the customs you need to walk out of the final door to step the USA soil. Outside that door, you can find family/friends who will be waiting for your pickup or you rent a taxi or in case you know how to drive internationally with rules, you can also opt for some cheap self-drive rental cars from New York airport.WELCOME TO THE USA, the land of endless opportunities…


In the last three articles of this series on moving to USA from India, I shared with you the tips/guides on what to do in India before coming to the USA, what to buy and carry from India to the USA and finally this article on detailing the step by step process at the airports of India and USA. Now that you have landed in the USA and ready to start a new life in this dreamland, I will start sharing the numerous life hacks that I have learned over the last few years living here in the USA as a desi Indian.

I hope this article helps you in understanding the step by step process at the airports of India and USA especially if you are the first timer like me 🙂 🙂 … Feel free to post any questions or doubts you may have in the comments section of the article below. If any of your family or friends are moving to USA from India for the first time, do share this article with them and help them get accustomed to the process at the airport. I am working on an infographic too that I will post in coming days on the social media channels explaining the whole process at a glance 🙂 🙂 …

In my next article, I will share with you the list of most important “Things To Do After You Move to USA from India“. So, stay tuned on this blog to learn more about living a life of a desi Indian in the USA.


I am Dheeraj Sharma - a traveler, techie, and Himalayan lover. Since 2009, I have been helping thousands of travelers every year plan memorable & budget-friendly trips to the Himalayas - Smartly, Safely, and responsibly.

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