Welcome Back to the U.S.A!

Recently by P. T. Freeman: The Tax Hazards of a U.S. Passport

Recently, I returned to the United States for a family visit. Clearing U.S. Customs and Border Protection was easy, with just one question: “I see you’re born in the United States. Where’s your U.S. passport?”

When I explained that I no longer had a U.S. passport because I am no longer a U.S. citizen, the inspector looked at my multiple entry U.S. visa and admitted me. (If you have a passport from the Commonwealth of Dominica as I do, you may be eligible for a five-year or 10-year multiple entry U.S. visa).

The ease of entering the United States in this manner is typical. Rarely, if ever have I had a problem.

I can’t say the same for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It seems like I always have a problem there… or maybe they always have a problem with me.

Because I suffer from sleep apnea, I carry a small, portable Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine that enables me to breathe at night when I sleep. I never place this in my checked luggage to make certain I have it with me in case my bags are lost or stolen.

In the seven years I have used this device, I have travelled to dozens of different countries with it. This includes Russia, China, India, Vietnam, Singapore, Cuba, Colombia, Myanmar, Canada, the Caribbean, and several European countries. Typically, when I present my carry-on bag at the airport security station, the screener simply waves me through. Some screeners may look a little closer at their X-ray screen, but only once at Mexico City’s Airport, did a screener ask me what it was.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the United States. When I go through a U.S. security checkpoint, TSA officials always require me to remove the machine from its case and screen it separately, like a laptop computer. After that, they usually swab it for bomb and chemical residue. In my most recent visit, the screeners literally required me to disassemble the machine. In virtually every transit through U.S. airports, I’m delayed at the screening checkpoint while other travelers pass by.

What’s truly idiotic is that the screeners all know what this machine is and what it does. “That’s a CPAP machine. We have to do a bomb test. It’s TSA policy. If you don’t like it, fill out a comment form.” Only in the United States is this lifesaving device treated differently, despite its routine use throughout the world.

My experience with the CPAP device is just another illustration of the paranoia of the U.S. government. I’m glad I voted with my feet and expatriated. Not only am I no longer subject to TSA busybodies, but the entire bevy of U.S. government agencies, starting with the IRS.

Due to these ongoing hassles with the TSA, I now make it a routine practice to avoid transits through the United States. If you live outside the United States, I recommend that you do the same. For instance, when travelling from the Caribbean to Asia, I transit through Mexico, South America, or Canada. When travelling to Europe, I transit through Aruba, the Bahamas, or Cuba.

Of course, if there’s a compelling reason to visit the United States for business or to visit my family, I won’t hesitate to do so. Occasionally I’ll also transit the United States to take advantage of an exceptionally low fare or frequent flyer points. But otherwise, I try and find a better route, to avoid TSA hassles. I recommend that you do the same.

Reprinted with permission from The Nestmann Group, Ltd.

P.T. Freeman is a pseudonym for a former U.S. citizen and friend of Mark Nestmann.