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Statue of Liberty

According to Reuters, a survey published today, which was conducted among 2,011 international travelers in 16 countries, points to some alarming image problems for the United States: USA was perceived to be the world’s most unfriendly country to visitors. Rude immigration officials and long delays in processing visas were cited as the main reasons.

More than 50% of the respondents said U.S. immigration officials were rude and two-thirds said they feared they would be detained on arriving in the United States for a simple mistake in their paper work or for saying the wrong thing to an immigration official.

The survey, which was conducted October 19th to November 9th this year by the polling firm RT Strategies for the Discover America Partnership, a group launched in September by some business leaders to promote travel to the United States and improve the country’s image abroad.

Security is of course extremely important, but should we allow it to become such an obsession that we forget about hospitality altogether? Does having rude immigration officers who instill fear in foreign visitors improve security? Or letting our bureaucrats treat foreign visa applicants with arrogance, hostility, and slow process? Well, probably not. But it could lead to a serious image problem that once it takes hold might become very difficult to change.

And we should also remember that what goes around comes around, so in addition to hurting our tourism industry, hostile treatment of foreign visitors could also make foreign territories less friendly and welcoming to American travelers. And really, do we want to be lumped into the same category as North Korea as far as immigration procedures for visitors go?

If nothing else the results of this study should be a huge red flag.



  • Judith

    Finally a study that proves what everyone knows. To enter the US as a foreigner is a traumatizing experience. If it weren’t for family matters, I wouldn’t get near US Immigration ever again. Most people I know don’t travel to America any more, BTW.

    Uneducated self-important morons are humiliating you every way they can, always insinuating that you are trying to sneak your way into PARADISE (these very people make in a week what I make in a day, and who knows whether they even have health insurance or a good pension like we do in Europe, so it really requires a lot of restraint on my part not to point this out to them. But they have the power to refuse me, so I always bite my tongue and feel terrible afterwards) or else insinuating that you are a terrorist.

    Entering the East Bloc was actually easier at the time, albeit not always more pleasant, although not worse either, and I guess that travelling to Nazi Germany must have felt the same.

    Unfortunately, nobody treats American tourists that way. I’d love it if they did, really.

  • Amy

    Hey guess what? Even if you are a US citizen, it sucks to travel in and out of the US. There have always been air travel personnel with “attitudes”, but things are much, much worse now. Actually, even traveling within the US is a drag, as these attitudes exist in every airport. Judith is correct, when one travels, one can expect lots of people with superior attitudes who are completely ignorant (I hate to generalize, and I know there are many decent people at work there as well, but in this case, there are too many bad apples making the travel experience a nightmare) and have the power to really screw with your travel experience.
    Also, I do not recommend anyone sending their minor children to travel alone- even if they are 1older teens, because you think it is difficult to travel as an adult, think about being a helpless minor, like my 17 year old, 6’6″ son was when they (he says purposely delayed his flight, and caused him an overnight stay (this is after breaking his guitar- ohyah, they think that’s funny!)- so where do these kids have to stay? Can you imagine your child forced to endure a nightmare at the hands of the types of knuckleheads working there, supposedly protecting the minor children, who are basically escorted like criminals, forced to stay in dirty, unpleasant rooms- and told if they leave they will be locked out- we could sue the airline for what he endured, as he ended up in MX, finally, the next day, traumatized (and he’s a really intelligent, calm, reasobnable person), basically having a nervous breakdown requiring immediate medical attention (which he received).
    Everyone I know dreads the next time I have to fly anywhere, in or out of the country. The bright side? At least they gave us something to complain about besides the completely absurd size of airplane seats…

  • Shokulan

    I’m an American citizen and I’ve always felt that immigration and customs were stressful. Now that I’ve a non-American husband, the whole business is a nightmare. I always go through the ‘alien’ line with him.

    Although some of those wielding the stamps are nice and have a sense of humor, I still feel I have to watch what I say and do.

    What I object to most is the assumption, clearly stated in the fingerprinting and photographing, that all foreigners are criminals.

    Yes, it is a horrible first experience of the US. Unfortunately, we went through the same thing to get my husband a US tourist visa.

  • I’m from the US, and I’ve traveled abroad several times. I’ve never had a negative experience entering a country. Schipol airport in Amsterdam was the only place I was asked any lengthy questions, and that took all of 1 minute.

    Believe me, there are times that I am not proud to be an American, and this story is one of them.

  • delia

    Yeah, tell me about it. Got stuck in Hawaii on my way home to Canada from Australia. From the boyz at Homeland Security, everything but a full body cavity search.

  • Dennis White

    When I lived in Europe during the mid 50s the general consensus was that the two countries with the worst reputation with regard to entry/customs/immigration were # 1 USA and #2 Spain (under Franco). We were not allowed to travel behind the Iron Curtain.
    I wonder what % of the US customs people have ever traveled to Europe?

    Dennis White
    Sunnyvale California

  • Rory

    To respond to Judith:
    I am fortunate enough to come from an extremely affluent family, who just so happens to live right here in the beautiful USA. I have traveled all around the world and spent 7 summers in France with my family. I am allowed a week out of every year to travel anywhere in the world I would like on top of the two weeks of every year spent in Carriacou in the West Indies where we own a cottage. So I know travel. I know wealth but unlike you I feel I understand people, of all kinds much better.

    “Uneducated self-important morons are humiliating you every way they can, always insinuating that you are trying to sneak your way into PARADISE (these very people make in a week what I make in a day, and who knows whether they even have health insurance or a good pension like we do in Europe”

    What you have stated was a bigotted rant. It was rude and inconsiderate. You use your education (im a current college student…getting mine) and the fact that you make a significant amount of money (my families net worth is somewhere in the billions) to justify your superiority over some people who don’t make quite that much and dont have as good of benefits. Did you ever take the time to think that maybe the amount they are paid and their lack of benefits might be the reason they act the way they do. So although I understand it is a hassle to get through US customs (even us americans must do it to return to our country) take a moment out of your day to think of what may cause these people to act the way they do. Smile at them…they say smiling is contagious….try it

  • BB

    I would wholeheartedly agree with all of those complaining about rude and intimidating US customs officials. I have to travel a lot between Canada and the US and believe me, it’s such a &$%45 hassle. Believe me, if I didn’t have to go there on business, I wouldn’t. It’s such a shame because I like the US and Americans once I get past the %^$&^$^& border. I have never run into ruder officials anywhere and I’ve been to over 20 countries. It’s getting worse too. Fingerprinting? Good god – at least they don’t do that to Canadians….yet. I’d love to see the Yanks get a taste of their own medicine and see how they like getting fingerprinted….and NO, I DON’T want to live in the Excited States – EVER.

  • Shelly Max

    For some reason, Reuters removed the news item from their website. The heading says “US most unfriendly country to visit”. May be under pressure from Federal Govt.

  • haroldzenner

    Rory your comment is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. There is simply no justification at all for the behaviour of the bulk US immigration officials. If they’re underpaid then lobby your government instead of taking it out of visiting travellers. The perception of their bad behaviour is almost universal in blogs and surveys. It really reflects very badly on your country (as your remarks reflect very badly on yourself).

    I’d always been well disposed to Americans and America in the past, excusing the occasional behaviour of the loud Yank as an aberration. I’m rapidly changing my mind and have started wondering if the attitude of the average American to other people (you know, those you and your kind dismiss as foreigners) is just typical of your arrogant hubris.

  • Mike

    There needs to be strict hiring standards for immigration and customs officials. Only people with very long and extensive experience in customer service / relations should be allowed to be hired. Trust me….there are 10’s of thousands of QUALIFIED customer-oriented people out there who could do the easy job of being an immigration officer or customs officer. I really don’t know why most immigration and customs officers act like jerks…perhaps our government encourages it….which is stupid, since a country’s initial impression is done by these people. The US government needs to do something IMMEDIATELY to improve the immigration/visa/customs experience, as foreign travel to the US is so important to our reputation and economy. We can still be secure, but go about it in a more positive way. Seeing how rude the the US is to foreign travelers makes me ashamed and embarrassed to be an American.
    Perhaps crusieship and Disney employees being hired to do the job of the current immigration and customs officers is the best way to improve the entire process.

  • Mark

    Unfortunately, at U.S. Customs, it’s almost as bad for Americans (especially if you don’t fit the typecast) as for foreigners. These border agents/guards, whatever you call them, are a disgrace. Rude, crude and nasty is the rule, not the exception. When traveling overseas, I almost expect other countries to be the same way, but they are usually professional and polite in the several foreign countries that I have visited. This being uncivil problem in the U.S. has been going on for decades and nobody in charge has improved things much, assuming they even tried (and that’s assuming a lot).