There are so many stories online of horror airport immigration experiences that you could start a Tumblr and never run out material (http://shittyairportexperiences.tumblr.com/ is free if you want to be the person to start that Tumblr). In my years of international travel I’ve had some memorably bad border control experiences (some of which were my own fault) which I could add to said Tumblr.
Most of the time though immigration experiences are uneventful. You are usually greeted with an officer looking to assert their authority on the situation and only the most sober yes/no answers will do. Fair enough I suppose. They must encounter an untold amount of people who think they are comedians or don’t answer the questions correctly. I’m usually just happy to have my passport stamped as quickly as possible and with little fuss, and be on my way.
That is how I expect an immigration officer to be, which is why I was slightly unnerved (in a good way) with last airport immigration experience Singapore Changi.
Upon arrival I did what I usually do and walked briskly to immigration to try and beat the crowds. This time I thought I must have walked a little too briskly as I arrived at the immigration hall to an empty space (see above photo). It was a ghost town, and I was wondering if I was in the right hall. I’ve waited up to an hour at Singapore on previous occasions so I felt like I might have walked to the wrong place.
I picked a counter and was greeted by a man with a broad smile and bright eyes. He said hello and asked how I was. There was a tray of Singapore Changi branded sweets in front of him and he offered me one. I took one – not wanting to turn down the offer – and figured I should wait until business is done before eating it. At this point I was still not believing what was happening and I thought this might have been a trap. Perhaps every seventh sweet was a chewing gum, and a siren would go off and I would be detained and then deported. Yes, these are the things I think of while going through customs and immigration.
We engaged in some delightful small talk regarding my travels to Sri Lanka, and I waxed on about how I enjoy my stopover visits to Singapore (which I do). He thoughtfully found a spare space at the front of my passport instead of stamping a new page. Then – get this – he handed back my passport with both hands, like someone handing you a Chinese New Year card filled with cash.
After getting my passport there was a customer satisfaction survey to rank your experience with the immigration officer, with 😀 being excellent and 🙁 being very poor. I of course gave him a 😀 .
He was easily the friendliest immigration office I’ve ever encountered. Perhaps he was a few 😀 ratings short of the monthly bonus and was going over the top to earn them. Perhaps he, too, was happy that there was no queue. Or perhaps he is always such a nice guy. Whatever the case, I left feeling wonderful for being back in Singapore and being welcomed like an honoured guest.
Singapore was already my favourite airport (and a great airport to overnight at), so this little experience has cemented its place for another year as my top rated airport.
One extra reason to love Changi airport! I really wish it was always like that. I’m scared of flying and generally get really restless in airports. I understand the position of immigration officers, but their grumpy faces don’t help my already miserable mood. In Singapore everything is always smooth. Immigration is nice, there is relaxing music, gardens, everything is spotless…the perfect airport!
I couldn’t agree more! Kudos to Singapore Changi International Airport. My first oversea travel was to Singapore and it was nice to have that kind of world class experience in a world class airport.
Changi is by far my favorite airport. I’ve written about it before. I love that they have customer satisfaction portals all over. Great airport!
Glad to hear immigration at Singapore is good. I’ll be traveling there next month hopefully there will be the same experience on my end.
Agree Singapore has the best immigration procedures and one of a very few where the officers acknowledge you as a human and actually smile.
I dont buy the whole “They must encounter an untold amount of people who think they are comedians or don’t answer the questions correctly”. This is their chosen profession which involves dealing with the public…if you dont like your job and are miserable all day… then it’s time to become a digital nomad 🙂
Singapore gets so many things right … just don’t accidentally forget about a special cigarette in your things, and you should be fine!
My best airport immigration experience so far has been Buenos Aires.
The beautiful tattooed girl that checked my passport didn’t look like an officer at all 🙂
My weirdest experience was in Yangon: the officer added me to Facebook as his friend.
My scariest experience was in Riyadh, entering Saudi Arabia with two Israeli stamps in my passport.
I so agree about Changai – I have a picture which is very similar, and like you have been through Singapore many times and rarely do I have to wait. I’ve always found them friendly – and they actually look you in the eye which is very unusual! 🙂 Plus they seem a lot more efficient and you don’t have to wait as long for your bag.
Brian Hill says
I just got back from Costa Rica. The food court at the Juan Santa Maria airport does not even open until 3 pm. Flew to Ft. Lauderdale airport. Took 1 1/2 hours to get through immigration and customs. Basically airports suck for many reasons. The worst reason is called entrapment. It is illegal except apparently at airports. You have gone through security and are trapped in the airport. Now they charge you $3.00 for bad coffee and $10.00 for a bad sandwich. Go sit in the waiting area and put your coffee on the rug and your sandwich in your lap. I will not be convinced that Changi Airport does not have problems. I also believe that there are far more grumpy travelers than immigration or customs officers. The FAA is a joke. Congress needs to get their act together and straighten out the airport mess. The only thing I do not have a problem with is the TSA. At the Orlando International maybe 15, 20 minutes. Gee, that sure beats 2 hours to get through immigration and customs at Houston. Missed my plane and had to go get a hotel. Houston has lots of good food courts though. And on and on. Brian.
Steve smith says
I completely agree with you. Its current best airport in the world and you can enjoy tax-free shopping as well.
Oddly, the nicest ones I’ve had were Australian and Kiwi immigration. Once I arrived at Melbourne early in the morning. This lady immigration officer kept on winking at me after every response. Not that it felt inappropriate. I guess she was just trying to break the tension. On the way out at Sydney, the immigration officer questioned me about the origin of my surname. It wasn’t an interrogation. He was just genuinely curious. The Kiwi ones were more friendly. Since there wasn’t anyone after me, the one at Auckland arrivals gave me all the travel trips he could muster.
In Changi, they had those candies way back in 06. A great airport through and through.
Edy Rohadi says
It has been almost three years since the article on how good is Singapore Customs service was published. I’ll be making my first overseas travel this year and I hope the situation is much better in Singapore airport. I think that will be my first challenge abroad.