What is with me and being detained at passport control this year? After a very scary experience in a Doha, something similar happened in Algiers on my way out of Houari Boumediene Airport.
Detained At Passport Control In Algiers Airport…Thanks To My Curious Passport?
First, let’s cut the suspense. I am fine. I was not arrested. I was not accused of having a fake passport, like in Doha. But I still was detained for over 10 minutes in an eerie replay of what happened earlier this year.
Time slows down when you are standing at a passport control counter. After picking up my ticket, I proceeded through the security checkpoint and to passport control. It was very quiet at this time of night since I had shown up a few hours early for my flight.
The immigration officer took my passport and looked at it. The cover. Every page. My Algerian visa.
That’s all well and good, but then he pulled out his mobile phone and opened some sort of app that had passport covers from around the world. He began scrolling through those.
About two minutes later, he called a colleague over. They both began scrolling through his phone looking (presumably?) for an example of a U.S. passport.
Here’s the odd thing. On many occasions, they passed the image of the U.S. passport (scrolled right by it). I was watching all of this from the other side of the plexiglass, still wondering what the heck was going on.
Not to be crude, but were these guys just idiots or did they need glasses? They pulled up an image of a Swedish passport, looked at it for several seconds, then shook their heads. Same thing with Australia. And Canada (all blue passports like the USA).
The only thing that made me feel more at ease was that this particular immigration agent had a box of pastries at his desk and kept munching on them. Colleagues kept coming over as well and munching on them.
My theory is as follows. I do not think Algeria receives many visitors from the USA. As such, a U.S. passport is a bit of a novelty. With nothing else to do and no line behind me, they probably just wanted to make sure it was real because they had no way of knowing otherwise.
Was I scared during these 10 minutes? Absolutely. Should I have spoken up? I don’t think so. In a country in which most only speak Arabic or French, no way was I going to make a potentially complicated matter even worse.
I know my bloated picture does not help, though this time they were not holding up the passport to my face with a skeptical look like the immigration officer in Doha.
I do not think it was my picture that may have “raised suspicions” this time, but I am seriously considering redoing my passports (I have two, one expires in 2024, the other in 2030, both with the same picture) with a fresh picture.
Anyway, the officer continued to look for an example of a U.S. passport on his passport app. Finally, after 10 minutes had passed, he gave up, literally shrugged, stamped my passport, and handed it back to me.
Another odd passport control encounter.
On to the lounge…
People’s because having Muslim names are held in American aeroports sometimes for hours and sometimes days, and on many occasions face expulsion. People with muslim names are advised no to take us planes when visiting America to avoid humiliation
I would say more than “bloated”, you bear a striking resemblance to Dieter from “Sprockets” in that photo. (If you’ve never seen the skit, Google it and I think you’ll agree. Boy do I miss Mike Myers on SNL.)
My wife had trouble at passport control twice because of a bad passport photo, including a kind of scary one at the cruise port in Istanbul. I insisted she get a new passport as soon as we got home from that trip. I think you’d be better off doing the same.
I think he looks like Arnold in The Terminator after he repairs/removes his eyeball…not that part of his face, but the rest, including the spiky/combdown hair look.
He’d need the round spectacles and drawn in cheeks to do Dieter from Sprockets (pr: shprockets). Matthew’s black turtleneck takes him a good way to Dieter, I agree
Seriously dude!! You’re complaining because you had to wait 10 minutes at passport control and call that a detention, it take me some time30 minutes to pass the US passport control. And you judge these dudes stupid because you think they’ve never seen a US passport???? There are thousands of Algerian Americans traveling to Algeria every year carrying their US passport , I was expecting to read about tourism in the beautiful Algiers, instead I read a piece of garbage written by a jerk.
Oh please. Stay tuned for my trip report, which will cover my remarkable two days in Algiers. I love your country and had a marvelous time.
But there wasn’t a line at passport control. I was held at the desk for 10 minutes while some guys tried to find out what a U.S. passport looked liked while munching on pastries. I’m so sick of the “but other countries do it too” defense. I don’t care. I wasn’t defending the U.S. approach to immigration, which I also condemn.
Sorry my commentary struck a nerve, but don’t take it so personally. Your country is lovely. I was thankful for my time there.
Matthew, I apologize for my comment , rereading it , it was a bit too harsh. Thanks for sharing looking forward to read more of your articles.
Mathew, I’m sorry this happened to you, i am an Algerian American and I went thru that airport dozens of times with my USA passport and there are a lot of US citizens that come to Algeria for work in the oil industry I’ve never had that issue before they check scan and stamp literally 3 to 4 minutes max, i think the picture is the issue on yours. Algerian police are usually very accommodating to U.S citizens.
Don’t be angry!!! He was right, the emigration officers in Algeria are idiots and stupid, most of Algerians are complaining about them it’s simply the truth
OMG Sprockets was the BEST. Now the catchphrase “do you want to touch my monkey?” Comes to mind.
I 100% agree your picture looks like the SNL character Dieter.
Your story has become tiresome. Now’s the time on Sprockets where we dance.
Reminds me of a colleague at work who had a bad experience like this. Made some unflattering remarks about the Singapore government and was detained upon arrival at Changi.
How did they know?
We are aware you are a far right wing Trumpist, you supported United when they dragged Dr Dao off the flight, you drive a truck, etc so you might be on some online database? They might be looking for people associated with Jan 6th…..
A lot of horribly wrong assumptions here.
Dude, take a Xanax. rationality aside, what does any of that have to do with the subject at hand?
It’s not a detention unless it includes a conscientious full body cavities exam. Otherwise,it’s just an airport employee looking for your picture in a quick hook up website. 🙂
How do you have two passports? Are both USA passports? Just curious.
Good timing getting that done before the lockdowns !
You’re fine. Remember that you were not arrested. You were not accused of having a fake passport. This “detention” is about as interesting as a 10 minute wait in the immigration line.
I’m curious how you came to have two passports with different expiration dates and the same photo. Is one mostly for your visas?
That passport picture looks horrible. I always make sure my document have a good picture, nicely dressed, hair cut, etc… You will have those for many years. Get a new one.
Speak for yourself. I find Matthew devastatingly handsome in that photo.
@Santastico, there’s a back story to that horrible photo. Check the two passport link.
How many minutes was this after you were warned not to take pictures in the airport? Coincidence? Honestly, good post. Definitely inflated the drama. Sounds much more like a couple bored arab dudes messing around with you. No harm no foul. You are in an Arab culture. Be a man already. If they were doing this to a woman I (might) think it was something more than just messing around. You’ve mentioned being a dual passport holder. Surprised that alone doesn’t cause your passport to get closer review in more countries. ps – not that hard to determine you are a “journalist”. That puts you slightly below a farm animal in the eyes of security personnel in nearly all of North Africa. Better off stating you work at a bank. No hassles.
I agree with you. You REALLY do need to take a new photo and get a new passport. If you don’t, you are going to encounter similar problems. So take your own advice – NOW!
Yeah, detained is a bit of an exaggeration…
Not sure if you realize, but your passport picture is the spitting image of Ferris Bueller. Better that of course than Abe Froman, The Sausage King of Chicago.
Try being a brown person going through US and European security. This “detention” won’t feel so odd then, but will instead just feel quite routine.
Who do you think you are you stupid American idiot Algeria is bigger than you
DO YOUR RESEARCH NEXT TIME ! ALGERIA IS NOT MORROCCO OR THE UAE.
What is your definition of detained? If an immigration officer asks you how long you are staying, does that 15 seconds count as a detention? Because I don’t really see the difference between that and your “detention”.
Detained? Seems a bit of an exaggeration. They took 10 min to examine your passport. A bit much for sure, not sure I’d call it detained. To each their own I suppose
Same question Different story: Did you have to go in person to get the visa?
You don’t have to, but I did.
Last November same kind of matter, coming from Rome by Ita to connect Af flight to Paris and then to Pax as one of luckiest not got cancelled Af error fare from Alg to Pdf in La Premiere, at passport control officer wondering why flying to Usa through Algier and ending calling like 10 colleagues including one Captain and one Colonel and only after almost 45 minutes of arguing with my dox in hands, only thanks to one woman officer and Air France representative that struggling against them for me, was finally cleared to proceed, no really scaring of situation because they were anyway very kindly but without woman intervention that was really open mind and invite me to visit her country when covid restrictions will be over, afraid no let me go over.
Border officers are not stupid as you mentioned in your post, they check the identity of any suspicious travelers and this is a routine procedure.
It is true that the entry visa to Algeria is sometimes difficult, but at least people who visit Algeria are not subjected to racial discrimination as Arabs are exposed to when they enter the United States and/or UK.
These guys must have seen multiple US passports during their career.
Where they looking for a payoff or bribe??? In so many words, a shakedown??
You stated no one was around but other Immigration agents.
I doubt these guys get paid much as government employees.
My practice is to look them in the eye as in: “Yep, won’t play the lead in the Bachelor”
Works every time!!
Sometimes passport control and visa/immigration control types just want to make people wait in order to make a point even if they don’t say a thing. Other times they make a point by saying something indicating a bit or more about why they want to make someone wait.
Years ago when I was applying for a Chinese visas in Denmark, the consular officials told me they were going to deliberately make sure to keep me waiting because of how “your country” — meaning the US — treats Chinese citizens seeking US visas. Everyone else was getting same day visas, but not me. They wanted to keep me waiting to just make a point. Fortunately, the Chinese embassy in Sweden wasn’t staffed with such “make a point” crusaders, and so I would default to getting the visas issued in Stockholm when not able to do it in the US. [They would only give me double entry visas at the time.] Fortunately, Chinese passport control at PVG and PEK never gave me any trouble.
I had UK passport control make an issue and delay me for no good reason, and that was even when I was basically not removable at the time. Canada sent me to secondary for being on mileage runs.
Travel enough, then weird or annoying things just may happen from time to time.
Anyway you’re welcome to visit Algeria.
Try to stay longer your next trip and maybe visit the fabulous Sahara.
yes you have to have visa to visit Algeria is not visa arrival to airport.
The immigration officer algerien did his job, like all the immigration officers in the world, even in America they do the same thing.
Don’t think that you hold an American passport, no one will stop you.
It’s not about that. The question is what the heck was he doing other than hassling me or being stupid?
My suspicion is that maybe they thought you were using some hypothetical, potential look-alike’e passport — or maybe a hypothetical sibling’s (or even maybe a son’s) passport — and buying time (to see if you would get nervous and spill something). It sounds like they let their colleagues have a chance to weigh in on whether you are indeed the person whose photograph is in the passport(s).
For some reason, women may be a bit better with matching fear in faces than men. Whether that is why the ALG border control guys went with the clear after their female colleague’s involvement in the matter, who knows. It could just be maybe she was the senior-most person on duty around that time and their way of avoiding being flagged for a mistake in allowing someone in on someone else’s passport.
Also, if your passport is like some of mine, they may find all the foreign stamps and inserted extra page supplements a novelty and want to share it for that reason. Even had friendly Danish passport control sort of surprised to still encounter in 2022 a US passport with extra page supplements legitimately inserted by the issuing US authority.
immigration officer he wasn’t stupid he was checking in passport photo
sounds like you lack traveling experience and very arrogant for assuming people are stupid. Get your self a good passport photo and learn some manners before you travel again.
I sent you a message about this, but to make sure…..
You may want to black out your personal info in the photo where you hold up your passport
Others may use it for nefarious purposes.
Yes, you’re right. They are idiots.
Reminds me of the time I was detained by US customs while INSIDE the US for having an empty bike rack on my car. If you’re within a 100 miles of a US boarder, you have no rights
The number of times we got humiliated at US airports as Algerians !! in one instance my mother syncoped in front my eyes and was sent to Mass General from Boston Logan, and police officers made fun of us.
So that makes it okay to hassle me in your great nation?
Do we live in a tit-for-tat world?
I think he means people who fly out of glass airports shouldn’t throw passports.
Or something like that.
How many hours before your scheduled departure out of ALG did you encounter the passport control checkers?
I am curious if they may have a limit of how many hours in advance they allow access there.
About three hours in advance.
Did you swipe Elon Musk’s picture to use for your passport?
From my personal experiences with world-wide travel over the past 40+ years this occurrence has happened occasionally to me. Of coarse at the time of the happening you get a bit scared especially if you can’t speak the language. On my first ever trip overseas to spend the summer with my relatives in the Black Forest in Germany, my brother and I decided we wanted to take a tour of Berlin. We booked a hotel and then bought a bus ticket from Karlsruhe to Berlin via Helmstedt. At Helmstedt the East German Vopo police kept our passports for more than an hour which got us scared (we were only 12 and 14). In the end they let us continue on to West Berlin. In my professional Foreign Service Diplomatic career I have many situations where some immigration officials had never seen a tourist, Official or Diplomatic passport. My double page passports were always full of stamps and sometimes these guys got a thrill out of going thru every page. In some cases searching for an Israeli or South African stamp. We always traveled with 5 passports. A tourist, two regular Diplomatic PPs and 1 Diplomatic for Israeli travel and another for South African travel. Or making me wait in an office at the airport while they checked me out. Or wanting to search me in a dark dirty room at the Entebbe airport in 1982. A lot of this was before cell phones and unless there was an embassy expediter at the gate to meet me I was on my own. I did 35 years of Diplomatic service flying into every dump airport around the world and in Africa sometimes with a mud hut for a terminal and a dirt runway. After retiring and back traveling on a tourist passport to BKK via PEK the Chinese immigration people took my PP and kept it for almost an hour. I thought I would never make my TG flight to BKK. I had made maybe more than 30 trips to china on Diplomatic business working at all the consulates and embassy. I thought for sure they were going to haul me off to a private room but they didn’t. Just made me wait at immigration. Also detained for 7 hours at the Minsk airport while the immigration officers waited till the Belarus embassy in Washington DC opened to verify that they issued our visas. I also had always a problem (1977, 78, 79, 80) arriving at Algiers airport. Those were the bad days when the US and Algerian Governments were not on friendly terms. We always were harassed at the airport. Today our relations with the Algerian government are good. I could go on and on about immigration situations in many countries where I travel to. I still travel every month somewhere in the world and occasionally an immigration officer gets a thrill and looking at my passport stamps. I am currently in Madrid and sure enough the immigration officer looked at every page in my PP!