International Traveler? How to Get Through US Customs Quickly With Global Entry

by Janis on December 11, 2012

Global EntryObtaining Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check Was Our Best Travel Find of 2012

We typically fly internationally an average of two to six trips per year.

As much as we love to explore the world, we don’t love long immigration queues after international flights to re-enter the U.S.

Earlier this year, we spent $100 each to apply for Global Entry. It was the best decision we made. Even if we only left the country once every year or two, we would consider our Global Entry cards a fantastic deal at a cost of only $20 per year.

What’s Global Entry? 
“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. Though intended for frequent international travelers, there is no minimum number of trips necessary to qualify for the program.”

What this means is that if you apply for and are approved for Global Entry, you skip the regular Customs line when you enter the US and go to a special automated kiosks at select airports.  You scan your passport in the machine, put your fingers on the pad for fingerprint matching, smile for the camera, answer four questions, and then the machine spits out your clearance.  After collecting your bags, you go through another special line (past all those angry glares of those waiting in the long lines) and out you go, on your way.  There is always the possibility that you get an X on your form, which requires further screening, but it is still expedited.

We’ve used Global Entry twice since October, and couldn’t be more thrilled and amazed with the program.

Global Entry involves  a detailed application process and background check, with your fingerprints matched when you enter the country.  That’s okay, we wouldn’t want the approval process to be too easy.  But for those who are willing to pay the fee and submit to the background check, there are two fantastic benefits:

  • fast entry through Customs & Immigration
  • simultaneous approval for TSA PreCheck Expedited Screening Initiative

When approved for TSA PreCheck, you qualify for expedited screening through designated screening lanes at some U.S. airports.  When going through a TSA PreCheck screening lane, you generally DO NOT have to remove your shoes, light outwear/jacket, belt, nor do you have to remove your clear quart bag holding liquids nor your laptop from your carry-on luggage.

How to Apply For Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

To apply, you first register online, and fill out a somewhat extensive application that includes your work and international travel history over the past five years.

You pay a $100 fee. (Some airlines and hotel loyalty programs paid for the application fee of their best customers.) Once approved, Global Entry is good for five years, so for $20 a year, it’s a great deal.

Next in the process is the in-person interview and fingerprinting. The interviews are only conducted in select locations.

We live in Kansas City and our nearest location was Chicago.  However, while we were on a layover in Boston, we went by the office without an appointment, and since we had time to wait, they fit us in between other appointments.

Not Every Airline Participates in the TSA PreCheck Expedited Screening Initiative

Currently only five US airlines participate in TSA PreCheck Expedited Screening: Alaska, American, Delta, United and US Airways. Even when flying on these airlines, TSA PreCheck is only available at these selected airports.

TSA PreCheck isn’t a perfect solution:  even when you have qualified for TSA PreCheck and you are clearing security at a TSA PreCheck Airport i.e. Seattle, if your ticket is on Southwest, then you can’t use the PreCheck lines.

In addition, passengers are always subject to random, unpredictable screening measures.

These issues aside, we heartily applaud the Global Entry and TSA PreCheck initiatives.  If you travel internationally even one time a year, we recommend that you consider applying.

Are you already a Global Entry and/or a TSA PreCheck traveler?  What do you think about the programs? Please share your thoughts in comments below.

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