It’s not usually a nightmare, but it can certainly be an American traveler’s bad dream: clearing immigration at the airport when returning to the US.
You know the drill; the queue is wrapped like a jet-lagged snake in a long, crowded, zig-zagged rope line leading to what never seems like enough border agents.
It’s the last thing you need at the end of a long flight, and it never seems to change. Until, of course, something miraculously happens that makes life easier – not only for the poor travelers who just want to get home, but also for the overworked border agents as well.
Well it’s here folks and it’s called “Global Entry.”
So what is this quantum leap in efficient passenger screening and immigration? In the words of the US government:
“Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports.”
Global Entry has been around for a few years, so there’s lots of information on the web to help you through the process. Conde Nast Traveler has a comprehensive article with all the details, and of course, there’s also the US Customs Department.
The $100 fee gets you 5 years of hassle-free Global Entry. It must be the best-value travel dollars we’ve ever spent. And immediately after being approved, we put it to the test on a flight into the infamously crowded JFK airport in New York.
Given our past experiences at JFK we were dubious … then happily surprised. We strolled off our London Gatwick flight with passports in hand, and walked right around 200 regular Joes and Janes to four ATM-looking, Global Entry kiosks against the wall where we:
- scanned our passports
- tapped the screen to answer a few yes/no questions
- put 4 fingers of one hand on a scanner for fingerprints
- bent at the waist to snap a photo
- received a small ticket-sized printout which we handed to an immigration officer who smiled and said “Welcome back.”
And this whole process, start to finish, took no longer than 5 minutes – Hallelujah!
As for the application and approval process, we made it through just fine, but that’s not to say there weren’t a few wrinkles. Keep these 5 tips in mind when you apply.
1. Do your application homework.
The questions on the online application are what you’d expect, but some preparation helps. You’ll need your passport, driver’s license, and previous home addresses, as well as employer information for the past 5 years. If you can remember these details, you’re good to go. Me, I needed to look it all up to be sure.
Also, you’ll need a list of all the countries you’ve visited in the past 5 years. Our 5-year lookback included the tail end of a Round-the-World Trip, so we were a little worried that having 20 countries on our list would set off some alarms. But the officer had no questions about our travel history. However, we read online accounts of folks who were asked about their travel, so be thorough when preparing this list.
2. Schedule the interview
After you’re notified that your online application is conditionally approved, a face-to-face interview is required prior to final approval. Depending on where you live and where the closest Global Entry Enrollment Center is, this meeting can take a bit of time to set up. Our closest center was 100 miles away and we had to schedule our appointments two months later.
One way to shorten the wait for your interview is to make a stop in an airport that’s a Global Entry Enrollment Center, and complete your interview as a walk-up. We connected in Atlanta on our way back from Mexico City, and because we had our Global Entry documents with us, we were able to complete our interviews there. There’s no guarantee that being a walk-up will always work, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re traveling through any of the enrollment center cities.
3. Complete your Interview.
The agent that interviewed us was pleasant, thorough, and a little bit cagey. He confirmed a few things that were on the application, but he also smoothly worked in a few that weren’t. He caught Terri off guard when he asked the name of the county in Indiana where she was born. This stumped her for a few seconds since she moved away when she was a baby.
4. Leave your Global Entry card at home.
At the interview, the CBP officer will give you final approval and assign a “PASSID” number which is your Global Entry number. A few weeks later, you’ll get your “Trusted Traveler Card” in the mail. Your PASSID/Trusted Traveler Number will be in the CBP system tied to your passport, and therefore, you don’t need to show this card when you travel. Just use your passport like always, and leave the card at home!
5. Register with airlines for TSA Pre✓ when flying domestically in the US.
Another primo benefit included in Global Entry is elgibility for TSA Pre✓ when flying domestically in the US. But, in order to qualify for this expedited clearance at security, you must notify your airline of your Trusted Traveler number when you purchase your ticket or check in for your flight. If you’re a frequent flyer, the airline will add this to your account, and it will appear automatically on your boarding pass. Sweet!
Writing posts critical of air travel these days is like shooting fish in a barrel. But this time, kudos go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency for doing us all a big favor. And bottom line, for us, the $100 fee for 5 years of Global Entry was a total no-brainer. Even if you just travel internationally once a year, surely it’s worth 20 bucks to avoid a hassle at the border, and this doesn’t even count the domestic TSA Pre✓.
Do yourself a favor. Go to the Customs Department website and get started. Hey, and if you don’t believe me, ask Santa.
James & Terri