I HATE waiting in lines at airports. It took wasting about 10 hours of my life in various security and immigration lines during multiple trips throughout 2011 to realize that I needed Global Entry.
What is It?
Global Entry is a Trusted Traveller Program that allows US Department of Homeland Security (USDHS) officials to expedite their immigration screening process for vetted travelers at US Ports of Entry to include major US airports, border crossings, and select airports around the world that have US pre-clearance. USDHS screens eligible applicants via an online application process and subsequent in-person interview.
How Does It Work?
Global Entry enables you to skip the nuisance of filling out a Customs form and waiting in line with the masses when you arrive from an international flight at most airports in the US and some airports abroad that have US Immigration PreClearance. Instead of waiting in line with everyone else, you proceed to a kiosk to answer a few quick questions, take a picture, then talk very briefly to a USDHS agent who will quickly send you on your way. There are almost never any lines and I’ve never had to wait more than 5 minutes from arrival at immigration to heading off my merry way.
The online application process is not difficult. There are just a lot of questions to answer. If you have traveled a lot, it will take longer to complete the application because you are required to list every place you have been.
There is a $100 non-refundable application fee to apply. You have to pay the $100 by credit or debit card just to submit the application. If USDHS deems you ineligible, you WILL NOT receive your $100 back. Certain premium US credit cards will rebate your Global Entry Application fee such as all AMEX Platinum (including Business and consumer cards) and the Ritz Carlton Visa from Chase. Other airline elite memberships such as United Premier 1 K and Premier Platinum, as well as Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion members can also have their application fees waived.
The interview that takes place after your online application is approved is very easy. They’ll ask why you want to be in the program and may ask a few questions about the places you’ve been. Joy and I were both asked why we’ve traveled so much and both agents seemed content with the answer “because we enjoy seeing new places.” When J had his interview as a 14 month old, they obviously didn’t ask any questions because he couldn’t talk yet. They really didn’t ask me any questions since they saw that he was getting it to avoid being the millstone that would prevent our entire family from using it if he didn’t have it.
Getting the interview can be the hard part depending on where you live. There are only a limited number of appointments at smaller international airports like San Antonio or Austin. I got mine in Seattle and it was hard to get an appointment there. Joy and J got theirs in Miami and there were lots of appointments available there. You can view the list of enrollment centers where you can schedule an interview here.
Length of Validity
Global Entry is good for 5 years from the time you are approved. If you get a new passport, you have to go to one of the interview centers to get your information changed. You don’t need an appointment to do this.
Access to TSA PreCheck
Once you are approved from Global Entry, you are given a Known Traveler Number that gives you access to the TSA PreCheck Program. This program allows you to keep your shoes on and keep your liquids, gels, and laptops in your bag. You also go through a metal detector instead of the “bare-all” scanner, which takes more time. Note that TSA PreCheck costs $85 and is valid for 5 years on its own.
Restrictions for Families
If you are traveling with your family and want to use the Global Entry Line, EVERYONE in your family must be approved and enrolled in Global Entry. That means that even the kids must apply, pay $100, and pass the interview. We watched a family of 6 get publicly humiliated by the USDHS officer where they tried to pass through immigration using the Global Entry lane when only the parents had Global Entry. It was embarrassing for them and they made matters worse because they played dumb with the officer by acting like they didn’t know. It may seem steep to pay $100 per person for a child, but remember, you’re buying your time back and limiting the inconvenience of your children getting cranky in endless lines.
- Expedited Customs – Customs lines can often be as lengthy as immigration lines. You’ll be able to use the expedited line as well. This has been extremely helpful in places like Aruba and Houston where the customs lines that we bypassed were 45 minutes long.
- Expedited entry when driving into Canada and Mexico – There are special entry lanes for driving across the border the way there are at airports. Again, everyone in the car needs to have Global Entry for you to use these lanes.
- Your Global Entry card serves as an official government ID – you can use this ID anywhere you need to produce a form of government ID.
Our family has saved many hours skipping lines when arriving international using Global Entry and on all domestic flights through the associated benefit of TSA PreCheck. I can’t imagine traveling without these benefits and having to stand in line for hours. Most recently, it gave us an extra hour on the beach the morning of our departure from Aruba since we were able to show up at the airport only 2 hours in advance instead of 3. $20 per year per person these for benefits are certainly worth it!