Should You Pick Global Entry or TSA Precheck?

These services make airport security and immigration much easier for travelers.

TSA Officials Highlight New Pre Application Program Center At LaGuardia Airport
John Moore / Getty Images

If you're a frequent traveler, whether you're crisscrossing the country or globetrotting, two must-have services will make your airport experience far better: TSA Precheck and Global Entry. Both expedite dreaded airport processes, with TSA Precheck speeding you through security and Global Entry ushering you through immigration. If you don't yet have these services and you travel at least a few times a year, it's likely worth the small investment for them. But should you get TSA Precheck or Global Entry? The answer: get both.

What is Precheck?

TSA PreCheck is a program run by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that allows pre-approved travelers to undergo expedited security screening at airports. When you have Precheck, you'll typically be ushered into a separate (sometimes shorter) line than standard security. (Fun fact: In June 2021, 97 percent of passengers who used TSA Precheck waited less than five minutes at airport security, according to NerdWallet). Besides enjoying a shorter line, Precheck passengers also get to keep their shoes on, their appropriately sized liquids in their bags, and their laptops in their bags, too. 

There are some stipulations. TSA agents can, for any reason, ask you to remove your shoes, liquids, and laptops if they deem it necessary. And sometimes, TSA Precheck security lines have different hours than the regular security lines. Also, you can't use TSA Precheck on every airline, though many participate in the program. (You can find the complete list here.)Too use TSA Precheck, you must enter your Known Traveler Number (KTN) into your flight reservation—it can be done online via your airline's website or app, or at the check-in desk at the airport.

TSA Precheck costs $78 for a five-year membership, after which you can renew at $70 per year. (Many credit cards will reimburse you for TSA Precheck as a benefit.) A bonus: TSA Precheck members can bring with them children under 12 without paying for extra memberships.

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a program run by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service, and it allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to breeze through immigration upon landing in the U.S., no matter which airline you've flown. As you approach border control, you can skip the long line of non–Global Entry folks and make your way to a kiosk. The machine will take your photo, process your information automatically, and then a CBP agent will call your name and let you into the country. There isn't usually a line, as the process is mainly automated and very speedy. 

Global Entry costs $100 per year (many credit cards offer reimbursement for it as a member benefit) and is valid for five years, after which you'll need to apply for renewal. And most importantly, it comes with TSA Precheck, so you get the best of both worlds! But do note that you won't be able to bring children with you—they need to apply for Global Entry separately.

Do I need both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck?

If you travel domestically and internationally regularly, it's worth getting both TSA Precheck and Global Entry. The good news is that Global Entry comes with TSA Precheck—but TSA Precheck does not come with Global Entry. If you plan on traveling internationally once a year or so, it's likely worth paying the extra $22 for Global Entry to get both Global Entry and TSA Precheck. If you never travel internationally, you can save money and just apply for TSA Precheck.

Can I go through TSA Precheck with my Global Entry card?

Global Entry includes TSA Precheck, but you don't need to show the physical ID card you receive with Global Entry at airport security. To use TSA Precheck, you must enter your KTN into your airline reservation, and your boarding pass must designate that you've done so (look for something that says TSA Precheck on your paper or digital boarding pass). As for using that Global Entry card, CBP agents can request that you show it, but it's not very common for them to do so. For that reason, keeping it on you while you travel is a good idea. Plus, Global Entry cards count as a Real ID for airport security.

How long does it take to get Global Entry?

Unfortunately, there's no definitive answer. As of late 2022, there are delays in Global Entry processing, and CBP says that new applications may take more than 90 days to process. The application process includes filling out information online, paying the fee, and submitting your information for a full background check. (On that note, you may not be approved for Global Entry if you have a criminal record, or if you've had issues with immigration before.) Once you're conditionally approved, you'll have to go for an in-person interview, where they'll take your fingerprints. Because interview appointments can be hard to come by, you can also do your interview upon arrival at certain airports in the U.S. and abroad (full list here). After the interview, you might have to wait a few more days (or longer...) to be fully approved. Altogether, you might have to wait six to 18 months for Global Entry Approval.

TSA Precheck, on the other hand, moves a lot faster. You'll typically receive approval in about three weeks or so—and you can even apply at Staples. The process is similar, however, and includes an in-person interview with fingerprinting.