Land Port of Entry  

by Brian Conway
U.S. Department of Homeland Security



A Land Port of Entry, also known as a border station, is a facility that provides controlled entry into or departure from the United States for persons and materials. It houses the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and other Federal Inspection Agencies responsible for the enforcement of federal laws pertaining to such activities. The Land Port of Entry consists of the land, buildings, and on-site roadways and parking lots that the Port of Entry occupies. The facility serves as a point of contact for travelers entering or leaving the country for the purposes of enforcement; prevention of illegal aliens from entering the country; collection of revenues; prevention of injurious plants, animal pests, human and animal diseases from entering the country; examination of export documents; registration of valuable articles being temporarily taken out of the country; and commercial transactions.

Located at land and inland water (river) boundaries with Canada and Mexico, land ports of entry have varying needs and requirements based on their location. For example, one land port of entry could be on a major shipping route and, therefore, process a high volume of commercial traffic and yet have virtually no pedestrian traffic. On the other hand, another land port of entry can process as many as 15,000 pedestrians each day. Beyond these obvious programmatic differences, the perceived threat at a land port of entry (e.g. terrorist and other illegal entry, drug smuggling, tax fraud, etc.) will have a significant impact on individual land port of entry design.

Point Roberts Port of Entry

Point Roberts Port of Entry connects the communities of Point Roberts, Washington and Tsawwassen, British Columbia, on the Canada-U.S. border. This crossing serves as the only land link for residents of Point Roberts between their homes and the U.S. It is a peninsula that is connected only to Canada, making it a pene-exclave of the U.S. The crossing is the westernmost on the border in the contiguous United States.
Photo Credit: U.S. General Services Administration

Typically, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) or one of the Federal Inspection Agencies owns and operates these land ports of entry, although they may be leased to the government by municipalities, other local governments, or private entities such as toll bridges. GSA, through their Public Buildings Service, is typically responsible for border station facility development and management. For more information, contact the GSA Border Station Program.

Building Attributes

A. Types of Spaces

A Land Port of Entry consists of a number of space types accommodating the functional needs of the primary federal inspection agencies that maintain staff on-site, including:

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—A branch of the Department of Homeland Security within the Border and Transportation Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security. CBP facilitates legitimate trade and travel while utilizing all of the resources at its disposal to protect and defend the United States from those who would do the United States harm. Generally, CBP conducts the primary inspection of goods and people seeking entry into the U.S. Depending on the need, either CBP, VS, or FDA may conduct a secondary inspection. CBP processes the majority of the vehicular and pedestrian traffic at the station. Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection (AQI), a program within CBP, conducts inspections to control the import of plant- and animal-based agricultural products into the U.S. at Land Ports of Entry. The U.S. Border Patrol is part of CBP, but does not participate in inspections.

  • USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)—USDA-APHIS conducts inspection of livestock imported into the U.S. and may be present at Land Ports of Entry.

  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—FDA conducts inspections to control the import of foods, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, biological products, animal feeds and drugs, and radiation-emitting instruments.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (F&WS)—FWS regulates the importation of birds protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 (WBCA).

  • General Services Administration (GSA), Public Buildings Service—GSA, through their Public Buildings Service, is responsible for facilities management, such as maintenance and repair, at land ports of entry.

Generally, CBP, APHIS, and FDA conduct the primary and secondary inspections of goods and people seeking entry into the U.S. CBP processes the majority of the vehicular and pedestrian traffic at the station.

The U.S. Land Port of Entry Design Guide (For Official Use Only) details the types of spaces found in land ports of entry. These include:

B. Important Design Considerations

With an appreciation of the fundamental differences between large and small ports of entry and facilities located on the northern or southern border, typical features of Land Ports of Entry include the list of applicable design objectives elements as outlined below. For a complete list and definitions of the design objectives within the context of whole building design, click on the titles below.

Calexico East U.S. Land Port of Entry,in Calexico, CA

The Calexico East U.S. Land Port of Entry, in Calexico, California is a border crossing between the U.S. and Mexico. The facility is constructed of tent-like canopies and includes a bridge that crosses the All American Canal. It is a "Class A" service port with a full range of cargo processing functions.
Photo Credit: Robert Reck


Land Ports of Entry are typically federally owned or leased buildings, so they must comply with the ABA Accessibility Standards (ABAAS). Under ABAAS, all public use areas, common use areas, and employee areas must be accessible, and accessible routes must connect all accessible spaces.


A Land Port of Entry should be:

  • Welcoming, but formal
  • Compatible with regional and local styles
  • Integrated with GSA's Art-in-Architecture program
  • Sensitive to existing historic structures
  • Respectful of local landscape and climate considerations

Cost Effective

  • Conduct a life-cycle cost analysis to ensure that long-term cost and performance goals are met.
  • Incorporate durable materials to reduce maintenance and replacement costs.

Functional / Operational

Be Planned, Designed, and Constructed with Scheduling and Phasing in Mind

  • Ensure continuity of operations.
  • Accommodate long-term development and growth.
  • Anticipate time required to procure and install regionally uncommon materials and equipment.
Alexandria Bay Land Port of Entry (LPOE)

Processing more than 200,000 commercial vehicles and just over 590,000 passenger vehicles, the Alexandria Bay Land Port of Entry (LPOE), is the sixth busiest crossing for U.S.-bound commercial vehicles along the U.S. border with Canada. The facility is over 40 years old, so providing a modern facility is critical to complete the mission. There is an insufficient amount of queuing space for the traffic that passes through the LPOE and the tenants conduct more and different inspections than the original Port was designed to accommodate. These problems will be resolved in a two-phase $215 million construction project that will feature larger queuing and secondary inspection areas, more inspection lanes, and better-defined truck queuing and maneuvering areas in addition to many other enhancements. The existing roadways will be shifted, lengthened, or altered to accommodate the new port operations.
Photograph courtesy of Revette Studio for the U.S. General Services Administration

Provide Clear Circulation Patterns

  • Offer simple, direct movement of traffic and staff
  • Locate service counters so that staff members are visible to the public
  • Consider the visual impact of approach sequence
  • Incorporate integrated signage

Accommodate Inspection of Four Basic Traffic Types

  • Pedestrians, typically at southern land ports of entry
  • Non-commercial vehicles, defined as traffic "not carrying materials for resale or use in manufacturing"
  • Commercial vehicles, defined as traffic "carrying goods and cargo for resale or use in manufacturing"
  • Buses, normally bus passengers disembark for inspection, then the bus is inspected before the passengers board again


Accommodate Technology and Change

  • Provide infrastructure necessary for current and future technology to be deployed at the port for inspection and security purposes.
  • Provide flexible architecture and planning that accommodate changes in function and capacity. See also WBDG Productive—Design for the Changing Workplace.

Provide Environmental and Workplace Quality

  • Avoid harsh lighting contrasts to encourage site surveillance
  • Consider acoustical problems associated with loud exhausts and canopies


Promote Security, Control, and Safety

  • Incorporate the necessary passive and active security features necessary to protect the occupants and assets housed at the port. The security features should not create a "fortress," but rather impart confidence and respect by welcoming travelers entering the U.S.
  • Minimize uncontrolled areas between the international border and the point of primary inspection.
  • Provide visual backup with inspection activities positioned so that other staff can observe inspectors who may encounter problems.
U.S. Land Port of Entry in Columbus, New Mexico
U.S. Land Port of Entry in Columbus, New Mexico

The U.S. Land Port of Entry in Columbus, New Mexico, designed by Richter Architects and MRWM Landscape Architects, achieved LEED Platinum Certification and is pursuing SITES Gold Certification. A series of roof monitors of solar arrays and clerestory windows oriented north and east diffuse abundant but controlled light into the work areas. Openness throughout the public and staff spaces enhances security and comfort. The design uses exclusively native and drought adapted plants, showcasing the beauty of Chihuahuan desert flora for all who pass through.
Photo Credits: Robert Reck Photography, Richter Architects


Incorporate Energy Efficient and Environmentally Responsive Design

Warroad Land Port of Entry along the Minnesota-Canadian border
Warroad Land Port of Entry native plantings
Warroad Land Port of Entry labled site and ecosystem

The Warroad Land Port of Entry is a 40,108-square-foot facility located along the Minnesota-Canadian border composed of three distinctly functioning buildings united by a continuous canopy that manages a complex set of operational issues including site circulation of commercial, private, and recreational vehicles, and state-of-the-art vehicle inspections. The 19-acre site is surrounded by and located in a wetland which was preserved and reconstructed to minimize the project's overall impact on the site ecology. Existing tree groves were considered in the orientation and placement of the buildings to minimize NW winter winds, and the buildings and canopy further created micro-climates to address the harsh winter climate. Restoration was achieved through native and/or adaptive plantings. Water filtration ponds capture site run off and utilize tall grasses, native sedges, and forbes that slow the flow of water and allow it to infiltrate the ground via a deep root system.
Photo Credits Top: Frank Ooms; Bottom: Julie Snow Architects, Inc.

Emerging Issues

CBP—One Face at the Border—U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, established a frontline officer position, the CBP Officer, to serve at the Nation's ports of entry and provide the American public, travelers, and the international trade community with "one face at the border." The CBP Officer unifies and integrates the work of approximately 18,000 inspectors who came together from three different agencies (U.S. Customs Service [USCS], Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS], and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [APHIS]) when CBP was formed on March 1, 2003.

Prototype Port—A prototype port design was established for small ports, primarily located on the northern border. This small port design is intended to be site adapted at up to 50 small ports, significantly reducing the planning and design effort and project execution time for completing the construction program for small ports.

Updating Technologies—Modernizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) automated systems and information technology is critical to the successful protection of the American people and the American economy in the 21st century. A number of programs utilizing technology to change inspection and enforcement processes include:

  • Automated Commercial Environment (ACE)—enhances border security and delivers efficiencies to the trade community and participating government agencies by providing interagency information sharing and real-time, cross-government access to more accurate trade information. By centralizing and integrating the collection and analysis of information, ACE enhances the ability to target illicit cargo, illegal persons, and unsafe conveyances. Trade data is analyzed prior to arrival of goods, allowing enhanced inter-agency assessment of risks and threats to determine which goods and people must be scrutinized.

  • Automated Manifest Systems (AMS)—allows the advanced transmission of electronic cargo information to CBP as required by the Trade Act of 2002-Advance Electronic Information.

  • NEXUS—This program is an alternative inspection program that allows pre-screened, low-risk travelers to be processed with little or no delay by United States and Canadian border officials. Approved applicants are issued a photo-identification/proximity card. Participants cross the border in a dedicated lane, where they present their membership identification and proximity card, and make a declaration. They are then released, unless chosen for a selective or random secondary referral. The NEXUS program will ultimately replace other frequent crosser programs such as the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers' Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) Program.

  • Container Security Initiative (CSI)—High-risk maritime cargo containers are identified and examined for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) at foreign ports before they are shipped to the United States. CSI consists of four core elements:

    1. Establish security criteria for identifying high-risk containers based on advance information.
    2. Pre-screen containers at the earliest possible point.
    3. Use technology to quickly pre-screen high-risk containers.
    4. Develop secure and "smart" containers.

    Under the CSI program, the screening for WMD in cargo containers is accomplished by teams of highly-skilled CBP officials deployed to work in concert with their equally proficient host nation counterparts.

  • FAST Driver Program—Commercial truck drivers who transport goods across U.S./foreign borders may apply for membership in the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Commercial Driver program. This program allows commercial drivers to use one application form to apply for expedited processing while transporting qualifying commercial shipments at the U.S./foreign border.

  • License Plate Reader Systems (LPR)—Installed prior to the primary inspection booth, license plate readers detect and read license plates from vehicles entering and departing from the United States. The information is then compared electronically with the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) databases for possible matches with potential criminal suspects. The license plate readers consist of infrared detectors, a compact strobe illuminator system, a video camera, processor, and a protocol converter that allows the LPR to interface with the TECS and NCIC databases.

  • Radiation Portal Monitors—Every port of entry utilizes radiation sensing equipment to detect radioactive and nuclear material that may be smuggled into the United States for construction of a weapon of mass destruction. Radiation Portal Monitors are being placed at each primary lane, where vehicles passing through the monitor are scanned for radioactive materials.

  • Radiation portal monitors at border

    The Department of Homeland Security's, Customs and Border Protection is improving radiation scanning equipment used at many ports of entry. Radiation portal monitors now better detect radiological threats while alarming much less frequently on non-threatening materials, resulting in significant cost savings.
    Photo Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

  • Vehicle and Cargo Inspection Systems (VACIS)—VACIS, a gamma ray imaging system, uses radiographic images to help Inspectors examine the contents of trucks, containers, cargo, and passenger vehicles for hidden compartments containing contraband.

Photo of typical license plate reader installation
Photo of VACIS System for inspecting trucks

Typical license plate reader installation

VACIS System for inspecting trucks

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—resulted in the need for highway expansions leading to and from the border, truck safety, and cargo search enforcement facilities which must be located on or near the land ports of entry.

Through the 1995 U.S./Canada Shared Border Accord, the U.S. and Canada agreed to establish a joint approach to managing the common border. Former President Clinton's commitment to the accord changed the way land ports of entry are built along the U.S. / Canadian border.

Relevant Codes and Standards

All ports of entry must be designed in accordance with the U.S. Land Port of Entry Design Guide (For Official Use Only).

GSA owned land ports of entry must be designed in accordance with GSA PBS-P100 Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service.

All land ports of entry must conform with a building code, either one adopted by the local jurisdiction providing fire emergency services, or one adopted by GSA.

Land Ports of Entry must also conform to state highway regulations.

Additional Resources



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