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Global Entry is a program sponsored by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows trusted travelers to re-enter the U.S. with expedited clearance at customs after traveling abroad. TSA Precheck gives pre-approved travelers access to an expedited security line at the airport. Admission to either program is good for five years and requires an in-person interview and background check. Some credit cards will cover the application fee with a Global Entry credit.
Global Entry vs. TSA Precheck
Global Entry is best for international travelers who want to avoid spending their valuable time waiting in customs lines upon returning to the U.S. As a Global Entry member, the process for re-entering the U.S. is simple: go to a designated Global Entry kiosk at the airport, present your passport or permanent resident card and scan your fingerprints. You'll then be given a transaction receipt and directed toward the airport exit. Program membership—which is $100 and is valid for five years—also includes the TSA Precheck benefit.
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In comparison, TSA Precheck is designed to help both domestic and international travelers reduce the time they spend waiting in airport security lines. Members of the program get access to a special expedited security lane and can go through airport security without removing their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. TSA Precheck membership does not include access to the privileges of Global Entry when traveling internationally. To be a member, you must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national or a Canadian citizen enrolled in NEXUS.
Note that you don't have to be a U.S. citizen to be a member of the Global Entry program. Membership is also open to citizens of 11 other countries, which include: Argentina, Colombia, Germany, India, Mexico, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
In addition, the CBP has international arrangements that allow Global Entry members to get expedited entry into 14 countries other than the U.S.:
- New Zealand
- Republic of Korea
- United Kingdom
How to Use Global Entry
After you're approved as a Global Entry member, you'll be able to take advantage of the program every time you return to the U.S. for the next five years. To use the benefit and skip the customs line, all you need to do is find a Global Entry kiosk in the customs area and scan your fingerprints and passports. You'll then be asked to declare the goods and cash that you're bringing back into the country.
If you're carrying more than $10,000 in cash, or if your goods exceed the personal exemption amount, you'll have to wait in the regular inspection lane. Otherwise, you can confirm your flight information at the kiosk, take your receipt and show it to the CBP officer at the exit as you leave customs.
How to Use TSA Precheck
The first step to using TSA Precheck is to add your Known Traveler Number (KTN) to your reservation when you buy your ticket. This will put a Precheck indicator on your boarding pass and another special indicator in the barcode. After a TSA agent scans your pass at the first checkpoint, they'll direct you toward the expedited Precheck line. You can then go through security without removing your belt, shoes, laptop, liquids or light jacket.
To use TSA Precheck, you need to be flying on an airline that participates in the program. All of the major U.S. airlines currently take part in the program, and you can check for other airlines on the TSA's list of participating airlines.
How to Get Global Entry and TSA Precheck
The processes for getting Global Entry and TSA Precheck are simple and relatively similar. Both require you to submit an online application, which should take about five minutes, and appear in-person for an interview. Unless you've gotten into serious legal trouble or are the subject of a government investigation, you should have no problem getting approved for either program.
Global Entry Application Process
For Global Entry, the first step is to create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account. Once your account is established, log in, submit an application for Global Entry status and pay the $100 fee. After the CBP approves your application, you should set up an appointment at a Global Entry Enrollment Center—be sure to bring all valid passports and an additional form of ID. Through a program called Enrollment on Arrival, you also have the option of doing the interview at an airport anytime you return from a trip.
In most cases, you've been pre-approved for Global Entry if you make it to the interview phase of the application process. At the interview, you can expect to be asked basic biographical questions about your criminal history, job, and travel habits. You'll also have your fingerprints taken. After this appointment, you'll likely be verified as a Global Entry member, so long as you don't have a problematic criminal record, your application information is truthful and you've been confirmed as low-risk.
TSA Precheck Application Process
To become a TSA Precheck member, you need to fill out an online application, which should take roughly five minutes to complete. Next, set up an appointment at an enrollment center. Once you attend your appointment and are approved for Precheck, you can add your Known Traveler Number (KTN) to future ticket reservations and enjoy the benefits of expedited security.
Note that the appointment/interview for TSA Precheck is similar to the one for Global Entry. You'll be asked basic questions about yourself and have your fingerprints taken. If your criminal record is clean, there should be no problems. In total, the interview should take no longer than 10 to 15 minutes.
How Long Does It Take to be Approved for Global Entry and TSA Precheck?
For TSA Precheck, the application process should take no longer than a month. After submitting your application online, the TSA will take two to three weeks to review your documents. Once you're pre-approved, you'll go into an enrollment center for a quick background check and fingerprint scan. You'll be officially registered as a TSA Precheck member after this appointment.
For Global Entry, the CBP usually processes applications in three to four weeks. If you applied through the Trusted Traveler Program website, you can check on the status of your application on your dashboard. If the status reads "Pending Review," your application has been received by the CBP and is being processed. Once your status is updated to "Conditionally Approved," you'll receive a notification to schedule an appointment at an enrollment center.
Are Global Entry and TSA Precheck Worth It?
Both Global Entry and TSA Precheck are useful programs, but Global Entry is the better choice if you're deciding between the two—it's only $15 more ($100 rather than $85), and it gets you expedited customs clearance plus the expedited security access of TSA Precheck. Even if your international travel is infrequent, the small premium for Global Entry will save you both time and frustration when you do travel internationally. And if you don't want to pay this fee out of pocket, there are some credit cards that give Global Entry and TSA Precheck credits.
If you don't want to open a credit card, or if you don't travel internationally very often, you may be debating whether skipping the customs line is worth $100. First, consider that the Global Entry benefit is good for five years, so you're essentially paying $20 per year. And second, consider the fact that you could be waiting more than two hours to get through customs on any given afternoon, especially at a busier airport.