Traveling is great, but some aspects – like waiting in long lines for airport security or U.S. immigration – can be very un-fun. However, Global Entry and TSA PreCheck’s expedited security screening programs can definitely help lessen your travel hassle quotient.
These “trusted traveler” programs are designed for low-risk travelers – U. S. citizens or lawful permanent residents – who have been pre-approved after going through an application process (described below). And when you enroll in Global Entry, you automatically get TSA PreCheck.
The Reasons Why I Love Global Entry & TSA PreCheck
- At U.S. airports, there is often a separate – and usually much shorter – TSA PreCheck line for those of us with PreCheck listed on our boarding pass.
- With PreCheck security screening, I love not having to take off my shoes and walk around in my socks or bare feet.
- I also love not having to pull out my liquids (in a see-through toiletries kit) from my carry-on bag, which usually has the kit neatly packed at the bottom. Same goes for laptops!
- When coming home from an international trip, it’s a real thrill to bypass the often long U.S. immigration lines and walk right over to a Global Entry kiosk for a quick 2-minute transaction. Voila, you’re done and on to baggage claim.
- Global Entry also often speeds up your final exit at the customs check point with a separate line (also shorter). These benefits give me a small glimpse into what it must feel like to be a VIP in real life!
I first experienced the benefits of TSA PreCheck in 2013 during busy Christmas holiday travel. I was at the St. Louis airport, flying home to San Diego after visiting family. While standing in the long security line, I was motioned over into the PreCheck screening line and given a brochure about this relatively new program. Clearly, TSA was trying to promote it by giving out “free samples.”
And, yes, it worked – I was hooked! In mid-2014, I registered for Global Entry, calculating I would easily have enough domestic trips (TSA PreCheck) and international trips (Global Entry) to justify the $100 fee for a 5-year period.
TSA PreCheck – What You Need to Know
TSA PreCheck is available at more than 150 airports, when departing on flights (usually domestic) on the 12 participating airlines – many of the U.S. based carriers plus Air Canada. The TSA website has the list of airlines.
These airports often have separate TSA PreCheck lines, which can be much shorter. Once at the screening area, you usually don’t need to remove your shoes, belts, light jackets, your 3-1-1 liquids, or your laptops. Plus, you can pass through a metal detector instead of the standard full-body scanner. All very helpful!
Once enrolled in TSA PreCheck, you are given a “known traveler number” (KTN) to use when making flight reservations. To be eligible for the expedited screening, your boarding pass needs to say TSA PreCheck on it. Make sure the airlines you are flying have your KTN number recorded in their files and always double check your boarding pass for the designation. This very good article on the TSA blog gives you more specifics on how to do all of this.
Some final points to share from my experience: You can enroll in just the TSA PreCheck program, which costs $85 for 5 years, through the TSA. However, it’s a much better deal for active travelers to enroll in Global Entry (with PreCheck included) for $100 for the same 5-year period. Remember that PreCheck is primarily useful for flights between U.S. domestic cities and will not help you in going through security to board your international flight. Lastly, TSA PreCheck procedures can vary between airports, as well as times of day at the same airport, depending on passenger loads and TSA staffing.
More About Global Entry
Global Entry, on the other hand, is designed for U.S. travelers arriving back into the U.S. on an international flight. Instead of standing in often long immigration lines at particularly busy airports and during busy times, you go to a designated area (in immigration) where special automatic kiosks can quickly process your entry.
At these Global Entry kiosks, located at major U.S. airports, you scan your machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card and place your fingers on the scanner for fingerprint verification. After completing a customs declaration on the screen, the kiosk issues you a transaction receipt. You then show this receipt to the officer who checks it and directs you to baggage claim. Finally, it’s on to customs where there is usually a separate – and shorter – Global Entry line at the final exit. It’s all easy peasy – at least this part of travel!
How to Apply for Global Entry
The Global Entry program is administered by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. I found the online application process to be quite easy. You fill out the on-line form and pay your $100 fee (for the 5 years). The CBP website has clear instructions as well as valuable information about the program which you will want to read.
The website states that they do a “rigorous” background check before issuing your “conditional acceptance” (mine took only a week). You are then instructed to make an appointment at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers where you need to appear in-person for your “interview.” There, a CBP officer takes your photo, scans your fingerprints and asks you a few questions. It’s actually pretty painless!
Soon after you’ve been officially approved, you get additional paperwork and a Global Entry card in the mail. However, your Global Entry registration is tied to your passport (not the card), which is why the airport kiosk just needs your passport and matching fingerprints to approve your entry.
These enrollment centers are usually located at major airports. Here is a list of centers. However, in my home town of San Diego, our centers are located at CBP offices near the Mexican border (San Ysidro and Otay Mesa), which is just a half-hour drive. **2018 Update – CBP now has an office at the San Diego airport!
To give you a small sense of locations: In California, there are also centers in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. In Missouri, there is only one center in the state, located at the St. Louis airport and there are none in Kansas. So, yes, this can certainly pose a geographic hassle if you are not conveniently located near one of the centers. Perhaps, you can coordinate some planned future travel to a major U.S. city with an appointment for the short Global Entry interview while at that airport.
In closing, I know many of you have already enrolled in the Global Entry and TSA PreCheck programs. If not, I hope you found this information helpful and possibly inspiring to join our “trusted traveler” ranks. Please feel free to share this post with your other traveler friends who might benefit from a little less travel hassle at the airports.
Global Entry website – http://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry
TSA PreCheck website – https://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck
Comments: I’d love to hear your comments and experiences with the Global Entry program. (it’s probably best not to get into comments or rants about the TSA here!)