My New Advice When Choosing Between TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are the two main options you have to choose from if you want to get precertified for expedited treatment at U.S. Government checkpoints. Both of the services give access to the TSA PreCheck lanes at U.S. airports. This means you don’t have to go through the whole security theater of taking off your shoes and belt and removing your iPad and liquids from your bag. Most of the time you’ll also avoid going through TSA’s nude-o-scope and only need to pass through an old fashioned metal detector.

Global Entry, while a more lengthy process, also gives you expedited passage through U.S. Customs and Border Protection lanes when re-entering the United States. Just go to a Global Entry kiosk and enter your travel info, answer the usual questions and get your picture taken. Go to meet an agent and you’re on your way.

If you had asked me up until now, I would have told you to go for Global Entry. In fact, I did say exactly that in my article comparing the services:

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.

I’m invoking my privilege as a blogger to change my mind about my decision. If you’d ask me right now, for most travelers I’d advise just signing up for TSA Precheck.

What’s different now from when I wrote the above? In short, the government changed.

Wait before you comment, please. Or not, whatever. I’m going to explain what I mean anyway.

Up until now, it was time-consuming to get a Global Entry interview but not impossible. Once receiving preliminary approval, people in major cities often had to wait for months for appointments. That did prevent you from getting your final approval and your Known Traveler Number, which is needed for TSA PreCheck.

Reports are now that appointments are impossible to find. Even the CBP website says so.

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The extended partial government shutdown has resulted in a substantial backlog of CBP’s Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) applications and renewals.
Applicants for Global Entry (GE), SENTRI, NEXUS and FAST should expect significant delays in application processing times and limited appointment availability at TTP enrollment centers.
Conditionally approved GE members should seek to complete their GE interviews without an appointment upon arrival from an international flight at any of the 49 airports participating in CBP’s Enrollment on Arrival (EoA) program

So the delay is being blamed on the government shutdown earlier in the year but no matter the reason, they’re significant delays in getting an interview.

So what option do you have if you really want Global Entry?

GlobalEntry

The solution from Customs and Border Protection is to go for your appointment when you’re returning to the United States. The Enrollment on Arrival program lets you go for your Global Entry interview when you’re arriving from a flight outside the U.S. Yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do when arriving from a long flight, getting interviewed by a Border Patrol agent.

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Enrollment on Arrival is a program operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to allow Global Entry applicants who are conditionally approved to complete their interviews upon arrival into the United States. The Enrollment on Arrival program eliminates the need for a Global Entry applicant to schedule an interview at an enrollment center to complete the application process.

Participating Enrollment on Arrival locations can be found on the Customs and Border Protection website at https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry/enrollment-arrival/locations

If you’re a frequent international traveler, this would probably still be the best bet for you. You have the most to gain from getting approved as quickly as possible.

For everyone else, there are other options.

While I’ve said before it made sense to get Global Entry if you’re even going to use it once in the five years. Right now, if that were the case, I’d just apply for TSA PreCheck. Why? Because the TSA isn’t subject to the same government pressures Customs and Border Protection is currently facing. All of TSA’s offices are open for interviews and it’s much easier to get your interview and be approved for your membership.

So what about when you’re arriving from outside the U.S.? Do you just have to stand in line? Not necessarily.

Mobile Passport App

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If you’re only an infrequent international traveler, you can use the Mobile Passport app on your phone to get through the US border.

Mobile Passport is available at 26 major U.S. Airports and 3 seaports of entry. The process is similar to Global Entry. Once you land, you enter your passport and flight (or cruise) information into the app. After answering the questions, you’re given a QR code which can be scanned by a CBP officer. The Mobile Passport lanes are often the same ones used by Global Entry so it’s about the same amount of time to use either one.

Now the Mobile Passport app is run by a third party and they got some grief earlier this year when they moved the ability to store your information behind a paywall so it’s necessary to type in the passport info every time if you’re using the free version. However, if you’re only an occasional (less than once a year) international traveler this wouldn’t be such a big inconvenience.

Final Thoughts

Since there are several credit cards that pay for both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck enrollment fees, hopefully, you’ll be able to get reimbursed no matter which one you sign up for. Until the government gets its act together works through the backlog of applications and interviews, for most travelers it would make sense to sign up for the TSA PreCheck program. Frequent international travelers should still sign up for Global Entry and possibly go for an interview upon arrival at a participating US airport.

If you really want, you can sign up for both. If you have multiple cards that cover the entry fee, that might actually make sense. You can get approved for TSA PreCheck sooner and take advantage on your domestic flights. Then when you’re approved for Global Entry you can wait until you’re able to get an interview at your local airport or if you’re going on an international flight you’d be able to go for your interview on arrival.

Which one of these options you choose will depend on your travel patterns and how many cards you hold that reimburse your enrollment fees. As usual, Your Mileage May Vary. 

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

27 thoughts on “My New Advice When Choosing Between TSA PreCheck or Global Entry”

  1. How does interview on arrival work? Landing at jfk at 11pm, they escort you rather rapidly out of the terminal and without a ticket in that terminal you can’t get back in. Is it rather self explanatory when you get there? Thanks for the info

    1. You have to go through customs so you let them know you have a conditional approval and they do your interview at that time. Not all airports offer interview on arrival though.

      1. I tried the interview on arrival at zo’Hare and the office was closed. Go as a Walk In – see my comment below.

  2. I had a several month wait facing me after I was conditionally approved for Global Entry but just checked the website every day for a cancellation and got my interview in a little over a month. There was one day I checked and I could have had an appointment that same day only my own schedule didn’t permit.

    1. The website is clogged up with booked appts but lots of people are No Shows. Just go in person as a Walk In. I did it and so did my friend. We both got through the whole process in less than 2 weeks. We had scheduled appts hat were 4-5 months away. After we got our cards on the mail, which was 4 days post interview in my case, 6 days for hers, we made sure to go online & cancel our original time slot.

    2. Lol. Nude-o-scope.
      It doesn’t even work like that. It bounces waves off the body and it’s just boxes projected onto an avatar.

    3. We needed 3 appointments together, it was impossible to get it on web site. I called Detroit Metro Near our home. We were given an appointment to come in the next week. We also can use global to expedite coming back into the states from Canada Global entry is well worth it.

  3. Hm I would still say global entry, it might say that crap on the website, but it never changed application time etc. I can verify because my husband applied, we just booked the interview a couple of days ago for October. So I’m not sure where you are getting this information, but I suggest you take it down so as not to give more people false information.

    1. In most markets the background and provisional approval aren’t taking any longer but in quite a few markets the wait time for an interview is is 8 mo to a year. I got my provisional approval very quickly but there was an 8 1/2 mo wait for an interview. I just checked the website every day though for cancellation. Often there were none but I did end up getting one for next week. The advice here is actually good though because with the wait times for an appointment it is often easier to just us the mobile passport app. It’s free and easy to use and gets you through customs just as fast. My son and daughter-in-law already had TSA Pre check and they use the mobile passport app for international travel.

  4. My wife and I signed up for our Global Entry renewals in June, but are still awaiting conditional approval. The program has been wonderful for us, but waiting this long just for a renewal is pretty awful. As to interviews, if you’re flexible and live reasonably near an interview location, you should be fine.

  5. My travel agent told me a little secret & it worked for me!! I did the Global Entry application process online, I signed up for the 1st available interview appt (which was in Oct!), printed out my interview appt confirmation and showed up as a Walk In. You’re taking your chances but here’s the secret — there are lots of No Shows! The office at the Memphis airport is only open on Mon & Tues from 10-2. I got there on July 8th at 10:45 ish, there were 6 No Shows. So they called out for any Walk Ins, I went through the interview & fingerprint process and was done by 12:15 on Mon, July 8th. On Fri, July 12th received my ID card in the mail. That’s only 4 days!! My friend followed the same process and she got hers done in 2 weeks!

  6. It’s been 12 weeks since I applied for Global Entry, and my application is still in the pending review stage.

  7. I heard a few months ago mobile passport is being phased out. There’s already several airports that don’t have there lines anymore.

  8. Just so you have your facts straight: TSA does not use , as you referenced, “nude o scan”. The machines use milimeter radio waves, similar to cell phone technology. And the amount of radiation you receive from a scan is no more than what you receive sitting in front of your tv, or the 2 hr flight your about to board. Just thought you should know.

  9. Lori, Sorry, I read your article and I was renewing my Global entry during the shut down, after 2 cancelled appointments, I went to the airport and easily renewed with no wait. I firmly believe global entry is better than just precheck for the international travelers. The App just sounds like a major headache. Global entry is worth the time,effort and money for the simply easy minutes it takes to get back to the US.

  10. If you live near the Canadian border, the best option is the Nexus card. It only cost $50 and enables you to go through immigration in both the United States or Canada on an expedited basis. You can also breeze through airport screening in Canada like TSAPre in the U.S. If you get a Nexus card it also includes TSA Pre and Global Entry so it is really a great option. My wife and I spend the summers in Northern New York and frequently fly into and out of Montreal. Previously we would get tied up at Canadian immigration on our return. With the Nexus card we simply go to the kiosk and 30 seconds later we are on our way without even seeing an immigration agent. Go to the Nexus link at either the U.S. or Canadian immigration websites to learn more.

  11. Your interview for Global Entry is not with Border Patrol. It is with the Customs side of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

  12. I understand the Los Angeles office has closed to reposition staff at the Border. Waiting for conditional approval in a renewal for over 5 months.

  13. I actually had some luck with getting my interview a few months ago in DC – not at the airport – but at the Ronald Reagan Bldg. I made an appointment when I had some business in DC. It was quick, in and out in about 20 minutes and there was no line and I was the only applicant in the office with three CBP agents. Could have just be lucky but it’s woerh exploring if your travels take you out there.

  14. Appointment was months out. Did interview on return to the states instead. You let them know when entering customs; wife and I directed to the side to a small makeshift station. Both interviewed and on our way to connecting flight in 20-25 min.
    If you’re returning from Dublin, you definitely want GE. Dublin is unusual in that you do security, US passport, and US customs prior to boarding flights to the US. PreTSA and mobile passport don’t exist. Regular line take 2-3 hours to get through to get to the gate. GE is a breeze through (don’t know time since I didn’t have it then, but saw GE holders walk past us to GE station, enter info then walk up to booths). The positive with Dublin, once you land in the US you exit into the gate area of the terminal; made close connection (due to flight delay) six gates away.

  15. In Kansas City we had to wait 4 months to get an interview that lasted just 15 minutes to get our global entry. Then last weekend we came back from overseas through Minneapolis. We used mobile passport and found out that Global Entry is faster – in fact if you use mobile passport you can end up waiting in a long line with everyone else who doesn’t use mobile passport according to the Customs agent at MSP. At MSP global entry is faster

  16. We applied for GE online in June, received conditional approval in 5 days. When trying to book an interview, I found St Louis had no interviews for the next year – past the 365 day requirement. So I looked at other airports. Found quite a few with open dates. We discussed flying to Las Vegas (they had dates in July) & then play for a few days – too HOT in July! Or we could drive 3 hours (or fly) to Kansas City, they had dates in Sept. Then found Peoria, IL on the list! Never occurred to me that Peoria had an international airport! They had quite a few openings, so later in August we will drive, only 3 hours, there for the interview. Then spend a couple of nights and relax in Peoria! But we’re retired, so time is not a problem for us.

  17. Signed up on line for GE last August. Could have had interview next day in Detroit if my schedule allowed. As it was, it was two weeks later, admittedly well before the big backlog. A walk-in arrived just before us and got right in. Agent told us our KTN was good for PreCheck right away, no waiting for a card in the mail. GE was well worth the process and the 3 hour travel each way to DTW. Returning from European trip in October: 30 seconds at a GE kiosk and a 30-second walk directly to a customs agent to show my printout. Done!

  18. I did my interview upon entry at San Fran airport. It was not clear to me where to go at the time, so I got into the Global Entry lane and it worked. The “interview” was basically “What’s your name?” and “What’s your DOB”. Quick and easy.

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