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
What a convenient offer – and luv the ask Santa – hahah
Yvette, we had known about Global Entry for a while, but hadn’t gotten our act together to apply. We are so glad we did and wish we had applied earlier. This may have put us on Santa’s “nice” list. 🙂 ~James
Well funny the timing – because just read about it in The Airbnb magazine (did u know they had one – well it is so good and this issue features Copenhagen – buts lots of misc travel tips) and they said two things:
Some credit companies reimburse for the fee of global entry
“In June of 2018, 93 percent of (global entry) passengers waited less than five minutes
I think many folks could
Benefit from this
Yvette, thanks for the stats. Less than 5 minutes has been our experience, and for me, that’s brilliant. No more miserable queues for me. I’ll check out the Airbnb magazine. Thanks. ~James
oh right on – and whew miserable is a good word to use!
safe travels to ya
And James – you both were already on the nice list because of the global outreach you do with your blog over the years! Ha
Thanks for the kind words Yvette. Global outreach … I like that, and I’m flattered. ~James
well you know it is true – and whenever I visit your blog I actually remember one of your posts about your “many” posts – not sure how long ago that was – but I still recall it…
wishing ya”ll a nice day
interesting. What is the different with ESTA? a couple years back we where in Miami and using the ESTA for visa and we went directly to the automatic machine (similar like the one on your photo) and not much queue there. It was very fast and a breeze than the normal immigration where you have your passport stamp by the officer.
Yunni, I didn’t know about ESTA and had to look it up. Not sure why we hadn’t heard of it. Anyway, this program is strictly for non-US citizens who enter the US from countries that don’t need a visa to visit. I’m glad to hear that it’s makes your trip through immigration quicker. Anything that helps shorten the wait in line is an improvement. Thanks for your question that enlightened me. ~James
You welcome James and have a great day:)
I love having global entry but the rest of my family doesn’t. When they travel more we will need to get it.
Nicole, my only complaint with Global Entry is that I didn’t apply sooner. How long it will take to clear immigration is always an unknown, and at least, Global Entry takes some of the hassle and uncertainty out of the process. I don’t know about your experience, but for us, the application and approval process wasn’t as much trouble as it sounded like it would be. I don’t say this often, but kudos to the US Government. ~ James
I wonder if they have something like that in Canada?
They do Leslie and it’s called NEXUS. I was going to discuss this program as well, but the post was running long. Here’s some info:
Thanks James, come to think of I remember hearing about it.
I had no idea! Will definitely be looking into this. Thanks!
LuAnn, we’ve used it a couple of times and each one has been a breeze. Best $100 I’ve ever spent. When the domestic Pre-check costs $85, this international Global Entry, that includes US pre-check, is a no-brainer. ~James
Well worth the cost if you do a lot of flying. I wish they would come up with something along those lines for for border crossings when driving. I was surprised on our trip to Alaska, we had more trouble getting back into the US than we did getting into Canada. I am not looking forward to our return to the lower 48 as I am planning on stopping in Haines. This means 2 extra crossings.
Laura, I learned early in my travel life that border crossings, no matter where and how, are an unknown. The ones that should go easy don’t necessarily, and vice versa. And I can imagine that crossing with all your worldly belongings in an RV would be nerve-wracking. I’ve been pulled out of line a couple of times and it’s no fun. My personal philosophy is to smile, be nice, answer their questions honestly, and other than that, keep my mouth shut. It works … most of the time. Best of luck in your crossing. ~James
Yes, no need to answer questions they don’t ask!
We were just talking about signing up for this. Thanks for the info!
Jeff, run do not walk to get your application going on Global Entry. We’ve breezed through JFK a couple of times and if you can get through this busy airport quickly, you can get through anywhere. ~James
I guess I’m one of those “early adopters;” I’ve now had my Global Entry so long I had to renew it a year or so ago! Within a short time of having it, I forced everyone in our family to get it (no fun flying through if everyone else is stuck!). I absolutely agree it’s the best travel money one could spend.
Clever girl Lexie. Ever since my first time of breezing through immigration after my approval, I’ve been kicking myself for not signing up sooner. BTW, when renewal time rolls around, what is the process? Is it a total reapply or just go online and pay a fee? ~James
I think there were a few questions but for the most part it was just paying the fee again and waiting for the approval of the renewal. You keep your same number. Hang onto your account log-in info! Happy travel and arrivals! 😀 I’m on my way back to the USA at the moment myself (writing this from Addis Ababa airport!).
Addis Ababa!? I was never there, but from what I know of it from my Sudan days, I wish you luck getting out. 🙂 ~James
You have nailed one of our items on our to-do list! We’ve been hearing good things about Global Entry but haven’t made ourselves get busy and get on it. Until now. Thanks for the easy steps and information. But mostly, thanks for your always friendly, laid-back dialogue that makes travel seem easier than we sometimes make it. Appreciate this post . . . a lot.
Rusha, thanks so much for your kind words. Obviously, we’re big believers in travel so anything we can do to encourage people to get out and go is a good thing. As for Global entry, as I said to Jeff, run do not walk to get your application going. Part of making travel easier is removing some of the hassle and uncertainty, and getting through immigration quickly is great peace of mind. BTW, our choices for interviews were Nashville and Cincy. So, this could be a great excuse for a weekender to Music City. 🙂 ~James
In Canada we have Nexus which has been the best money we have ever invested in travel. Couldn’t agree more with your tips.
Sue, from what I’ve read about Nexus it’s pretty much like Global Entry, but at $50 it’s an even better deal. But mind you, I’m not complaining. Most of our recent flights have been through JFK or Atlanta, both busy and a pain in the neck. But we breezed through no problems. Did you have the same experience in Canada? ~James
Oh yes it is a breeze! Well worth the money and I think recently the price has been increased. No matter it could be far pricier and we would think it was worth it. Nothing like returning home from an overseas flight at 1am and being out the other side in 10 minutes. Carry on and Nexus make a dandy travel combination.
I haven’t been back to the US in…I don’t know, maybe six or seven years. Never heard of this, but I guess once I start flying in, I’ll need it. Wonder if I can get it outside the US? They do have something they’re calling “pre-clearance” here; that might help, but I don’t know the procedure or efficacy.
BF, everything can be done online except for the a face-to-face interview that’s required to complete the approval process. Apparently, you can do the interview at some airports on entry into the US, but not all. So, depending on where you fly in, you might be able to pull it off. Here’s a link, but it may not be updated so check for the latest.
Every time we fly, we regret not having done this yet! Thanks for the information and testimonial that Global Entry is really worth it!
Kelly, it really is as good as it sounds, and you’ll be happy to have it. We’ve used it at JFK and Atlanta, and it was brilliant. I should have done it sooner, but I’m set for the next 5 years. Yay! ~James
A terrific program and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve patted ourselves on the back for taking the time to go through the process. We applied for and received our Global Entry Cards back in 2014 when we were living out of our suitcases. Our interviews took place in Denver where our son lives and I can’t remember the questions we answered so it must have gone quite smoothly. And the TSA pre-check is always a bonus whenever we’re flying in the US. A great post that is sure to be appreciated by many travelers! Anita
2014! Aren’t you clever! Ever since we got our Global Entry I’ve been kicking myself for not doing it sooner, and if I do anything beneficial today with the blog, it will be to convince travelers to get it. In addition to being more convenient for travelers, it’s got to make life easier for border agents. I’ve stood in many long immigration lines and said to myself: “Surely all these people can’t be trying to sneak into the country. There must be a better way to screen travelers.” And … taadaa … Global Entry is it. I admit in begrudgingly, but that’s government progress. ~James
Had no idea that this will save travelers so much time at the airport. I can’t wait to get Global Entry even if we only travel internationally once a year. Having to wait around after a 10 hour flight is now unnecessary.
Thanks for the comment Billy and for dropping by the blog. We’ve tested our Global Entry a couple of times and it worked perfectly. Each time, clearing immigration only took 5 minutes. Excellent! James
I thought we hadn’t read this one, but I remember quite well now. In fact, we may get with it and try your tips so we can breeze through the airports on the way to Vietnam in late January. Thanks for the tips!