We've all suffered through slow-moving lines at Transportation Safety Administration checkpoints. Everyone waits while those at the head of the line remove their shoes, take out their laptops and liquids, and undergo a full-body scan.
But there's one airport line that might be even more miserable.
When your international flight ends, you'll frequently find yourself plodding through a maze with fellow jet-lagged passengers at U.S. Customs and Border Protection clearance.
What if you could get permission to skip both the longest U.S. Customs and TSA lines for a period of five years and at a cost of only $20/year?
How It Works
In simplest terms, you'll sign up for Global Entry, receive preliminary approval, and then be invited to a brief face-to-face interview that will include fingerprinting.
Once a member, you'll skip the main re-entry lines upon arrival home. You'll proceed to an electronic kiosk where you'll scan your passport, place your fingers on an electronic pad, and then proceed to baggage claim with a receipt printed at the kiosk showing you've been screened.
Forget that customs paperwork you fill out on the plane prior to arrival. You'll enter that information electronically at the kiosk.
Note that membership only expedites the process. You are not exempt you from regulations, and you'll still answer customs declaration questions as well as observe all the appropriate rules.
To start the application process, you'll need a valid passport and at least one other photo identification card. A driver's license will qualify as the second photo ID. You'll need to be a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. or resident of Holland, South Korea, Germany, Panama or Mexico. Canadian citizens and residents may enjoy Global Entry benefits through membership in the NEXUS program, an alternative inspection program that is harmonized with Global Entry and TSA Precheck.
According to the Global Entry rules, all of the following requirements must be met for your application to be approved:
- No criminal offense convictions in any country
- No previous violations of customs, immigration or agricultural laws
- No false or incomplete information provided on your application
- Not the subject of an investigation by any federal, state or local law enforcement agencies.
In addition, it states on the website that a traveler could be denied membership "if inadmissible to the U.S. under immigration regulation, including applicants with approved waivers of inadmissibility or parole documentation" or if the applicant "cannot satisfy U.S. Customs of their low-risk status."
After the background check, you'll need to be interviewed at one of 91 enrollment centers. These are located at selected international airports in the U.S., Qatar, and Canada.
Is It a Good Deal?
Global Entry is designed for travelers who leave the U.S. frequently. If you're only likely to take one or two international trips in the next five years, perhaps this isn't worth your money or your trouble.
I say perhaps because, for many of us, the frequency of our international travels is difficult to forecast. If I see a great airfare to a country outside the U.S., I might be making a trip on short notice a few months from now that I cannot anticipate today.
Another reason to say perhaps is this: TSA Precheck will cost $85 anyway -- so for an additional $15, you get both memberships.
TSA Precheck operates at 180 U.S. airports, with all 50 states represented. Beyond the airports, you must also look at the air carrier you'll be using.
The list of 37 participating airlines includes Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Lufthansa, Southwest Airlines, Spirit, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin America, and WestJet.
Think of it this way: if you travel within the United States by air at least twice a year, you'll have to pass through TSA checkpoints four times. Even at that low rate of travel, the privilege of a precheck that bypasses the longer lines would cost only $5 per screening. That's a good travel buy.