International travel tips

These tips are meant to help facilitate your entry into the United States. This is not legal advice, nor should they replace any advice you received from a lawyer.

Documents and Contacts

  1. Print out the following documents, carry them with you — not in your luggage — during travel, and provide them to CBP if you are asked about your purpose for traveling:
    • Your official invitation email from SXSW;
    • SXSW Support Letter (If you are an International Artist, the Support Letter is found in Artist Admin within the “Members” section after each member’s required information is added).
    • SXSW Entry Letter for International Artists entering with a B visa or under the VWP (found in Artist Admin under “Members” section after each member’s required information is added). This should print out along with your Support Letter. Please double-check to ensure that you have both letters.
  2. Have the contact information for the following people printed out and with you, as well as stored in your cell phone:
    • Your U.S. stateside representative, or another contact who is not traveling with you;
    • Alicia Zertuche, SXSW Visa Supervisor: Alicia@sxsw.com or 512-467-7979  (available during normal business hours: 8AM-6PM CT); and
    • The Texas Immigrant Rights Hotline: 1-888-507-2970.
  3. Know where you are staying in Austin, and have the address and phone number easily accessible. 

Travel in General

  1. If a CBP inspector asks for the purpose of your visit, explain that you are travelling to Austin to attend the SXSW Conference. Of course, if you have secondary reasons for being in the U.S. as a tourist or business visitor, explain them, but your primary purpose is to attend SXSW.
  2. If you are coming to participate in a SXSW Showcase and you are asked whether you will be performing (or working) while in the U.S., explain that you are attending SXSW at the official invitation of SXSW. While there, you will participate in a limited “showcase” designed only to audition your talents to music industry professionals in attendance so they may consider contracting with you in the future. If asked for further detail, you can explain that you are not being paid to perform, nor are you receiving any other form of compensation. Remember to provide CBP with your SXSW Support Letter.
  3. Make sure your cell phone battery is fully charged. Once you leave the plane, set your phone on vibrate.
  4. A tidy appearance is encouraged and may work in your favor.
  5. Arrive during normal business hours (8AM-6PM CT) to make it easier to reach your contacts if an issue arises.
  6. Direct travel to Texas airports is encouraged due to the state’s familiarity with the event. 

Customs & Border Protection

  1. CBP has broad and final decision-making authority at the port of entry.
  2. CBP inspectors in general, and supervisors in “secondary” inspection, may act assertively, especially if they think you are not telling the truth or are fearful. Try not to let this frustrate you. Please understand that CBP officials frequently handle high pressure situations.
  3. Once you are near the first CBP inspector, and until you leave the secure area, do not speak on the phone.
  4. If you need to contact someone for help, discreetly use texting only. Be sure to give CBP officials your full attention, and avoid using your phone while speaking to them.
  5. The first CBP inspector you encounter will make a quick decision whether to admit you or to refer you to "secondary inspection," which means you will be sent to another room within the secure area, where you will have to await questioning by a CBP supervisor.
  6. Be aware that CBP has the right to examine your computer, smartphone and any external drives for data, and may ask for passwords, too. 

Communicating with CBP

  1. Stay calm, make eye contact and answer all questions truthfully. Be polite, smile, and be confident in your answers.
  2. Do not wear sunglasses when approaching and/or speaking to CBP.
  3. Approach the counter to speak to the CBP officer alone, not as a group.
  4. Think before speaking, and do not continue talking just because the CBP official remains quiet. Don't talk just because you're nervous.
  5. Be thoughtful with your responses and answer only what is being asked.
  6. You don't have to say “yes” or agree with the CBP official just because you think that is the polite thing to do. It is perfectly acceptable to respectfully disagree with a CBP inspector if that is justified.
  7. If you don't know the answer to a question, say you don't know. Do not guess.
  8. If you are asked to sign a statement at secondary inspection, be sure you read it carefully first and agree that it is accurate. If you do not understand English well enough for this purpose, ask for a translator. Do not sign any document unless you are confident that you understand what it says. 

General Information

  1. Remember that even if you obtain a visa, the CBP official at the port of entry has complete discretion whether to allow your entry into the U.S.
  2. If you are planning to enter the U.S. using the VWP, please review and regularly check the Visa Waiver Program page on the Department of Homeland Security website prior to your departure date. Remember, your ESTA status may change at any time, even during travel.
  3. If you have any U.S. engagements besides official SXSW Showcases or speaking sessions and you try to enter using ESTA or a B visa, you may be violating U.S. immigration regulations.
  4. As of September 25, 2017, please keep in mind that due to President Trump's Executive Order, until further notice, foreign nationals from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Chad, North Korea and certain officials from Venezuela are not eligible to travel to the United States unless they meet strict guidelines. Please review the Department of Homeland Security website available here and be sure to watch for updates to this information.

If you have any questions about this list or about your travel to SXSW, please contact Alicia Zertuche at Alicia@sxsw.com.

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