Of the many tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years by reading different websites and blogs, I think the one that has improved the quality of traveling the most for us is when we applied and were approved for Global Entry. There’s still confusion over the different programs available to make your travel experience less problematic so I’ll try to cover the basics of the differences between Global Entry and TSA Pre✓®
Getting approved for Global Entry has been one of the best things we’ve ever done because it’s made our travels so much easier. Applying for the program isn’t easy, but the forms and interview required are totally worth the benefits you get, once approved. If you’re ever going on a trip outside the U.S. you should apply for Global Entry. Here’s a description of the program:
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports.
At airports, program members proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.
Travelers must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before enrollment.
To apply for Global Entry, you need to fill out a lengthy application with a non-refundable $100 application fee that needs to be renewed every 5 years. There are several requirements and having any of these marks against you will make you ineligible and you shouldn’t bother to apply as it would most likely be a waste of your $100:
- Provide false or incomplete information on the application;
- Have been convicted of any criminal offense or have pending criminal charges or outstanding warrants (to include driving under the influence);
- Have been found in violation of any customs, immigration or agriculture regulations or laws in any country;
- Are the subject of an ongoing investigation by any federal, state or local law enforcement agency;
- Are inadmissible to the United States under immigration regulation, including applicants with approved waivers of inadmissibility or parole documentation; or
- Cannot satisfy CBP of your low-risk status.
If you think that you satisfy these rules, you can submit your application online at the GOES website. If your application is accepted, you then have to schedule an appointment for an interview at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers, usually located at airports.
Lucky for us, we live only 20 minutes away from Orlando International Airport and were able to make appointment times for about 2 weeks after our applications were approved. I’ve heard that people have waited for months for appointment times to be available. You have to schedule an appointment within 30 days after being approved but you’re able to change your appointment if another time becomes available. I’ve also read that if you’re going to be at the airport anyway, it’s possible to go as a walk-in but, of course, it’s not guaranteed they’ll be able to see you.
I’ve seen people are most often told at the interview that they’re approved and then are shown how to use the Global Entry Kiosk. For the initial setup, the machine gathers a full set of fingerprints. You are then shown how to scan your passport and have the kiosk get your fingerprints and take your photo. When returning to the U.S., you skip the line and go right to the kiosk. It scans your passport and matches your fingerprints and then it then takes your picture (Note from Sharon: or in my case, tries to take my picture…more on that in a second). It then prints out a receipt that you bring to an immigration official at a special Global Entry booth. They give a quick look to make sure you and your passport match and you’re on your way (Note from Sharon: unless you’re me and are too short for the camera and have to show your X’ed photo to the official, smile about how you’re too short and then be sent on your way. Yup, for reals). We’ve only used this about four times but have never waited more than 5 minutes to be through immigration.
That alone might be worth the $100 fee but we find the other benefit much more valuable. Once you are approved for Global Entry, you are also provided with a Known Traveler Number (or KTN). This number can be supplied when making any airline reservation and usually will give you access to the TSA Pre✓® lanes.
TSA Pre✓® is a totally different program run by the Transportation and Security Administration. These are the lines you’ll see off to the side when you are getting in line to X-ray your baggage at the airport.
You can apply for TSA Pre✓® separately (not with Global Entry) at this website and the cost is $85 for a 5 year membership. You still have to fill out an online application, go through a background check and, if approved, go for an in-person interview. If approved, you are provided a KTN (same as if approved for Global Entry) and can put that in your reservation to hopefully get access to the TSA Pre✓® lanes.
Once you’re approved for an Known Traveler Number, you’ll know because TSA PRE will show up on your boarding pass for your flights from participating airports and airlines (most domestic and some international airlines now participate). That means you can get into the much shorter TSA Pre✓® lanes. Besides just being shorter, they also move much faster because people in these lanes don’t have to get undressed and can leave items in their bags (much like security for airlines used to be). I can say that the longest we’ve waited in line since we’ve been approved for TSA Pre✓® is about 15 minutes.
IMHO, for the extra $15 it’s worth getting Global Entry over TSA Pre✓® even if you only make one international trip in the 5 years. If you’ve ever made a 12 hour transpacific flight only to be greeted by a huge line at immigration with guards yelling instructions at you while you see panoramic scenes of the USA while listening to inspirational American anthems (including, sometimes, “Golden Dream” from the American Adventure at Epcot…does Disney know they’re doing that?;-)), you’ll agree that it’s a $15 well spent to skip that experience.
Now, these are not the only programs available to frequent travelers. For people who travel frequently between the US and Canada, there’s a program for expedited entry called NEXUS that also includes Global Entry and TSA Pre✓® benefits for $50. Enrollment for this program consists of going to an enrollment center in Canada for an iris scan if you want to use it at Canadian airports (U.S. centers do not offer this technology) or a city near the border to get approved for land crossings.
One additional program that offers Global Entry and TSA Pre✓® is SENTRI. This is the program that gives expedited crossings between USA and Mexico. The cost for this program is $122.25 and you have to go to an enrollment center in Arizona, California or Texas. It’s the most expensive way to get TSA Pre✓® but would be worth it if you make frequent land crossings between the U.S. and Mexico.
I’d recommend for anyone who is going to fly out of a U.S. airport to sign up for TSA Pre✓®. However since it is only an extra $15 to get Global Entry, I’d go for that one if you even think there is a chance you’ll be taking a trip outside the United States in the next 5 years. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Do you have TSA Pre✓®, Global Entry, SENTRI or NEXUS? Do you think it is worth the money and hassle to sign up for these programs? Let us know in the comments.
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