Global Entry and TSA PreCheck have changed the way we travel. As Michael would say, “Do you remember a time”……when you didn’t have to bring a ziplock bag with you to the airport? Or when you didn’t have to unlace your boots to walk through the weird, scanny machine? Well, with TSA PreCheck you can time machine yourself back to pre-2001 airport security. There is also the added bonus of feeling extra cool when you get to walk to the left instead of standing in the long line to the right.
PreCheck is a TSA program that allows certain passengers, previously deemed to be ‘low risk,’ to have an expedited airport experience. This means you do not have to take off your shoes or hoodies, and you do not have to pull out your liquids or laptops. As a result, the line moves much faster and you won’t be frantically grabbing things out of your bag.
Costs of the programs
In exchange for this swiftness, Big Brother gets a little more information about you. To become a member of the PreCheck club, you have to fill out an application that asks basic questions about where you have worked and lived for the past few years. For people like B, this was relatively easy. For people like me, with a bit more transient of a lifestyle, this took some thought and some mapping things out on paper. Once you hit ‘submit’ on the application, you can then set up an appointment to meet with a TSA agent for an interview. At the interview, you will pay the $85 application fee, answer a few questions and become officially prechecked.
B and I made it to the set-up-an-interview point in the process when—hold the phone—we were told about an even more magical program called Global Entry. With Global Entry, you get the TSA PreCheck status but with the added bonus of expedited re-entry into the U.S.A. This means that when you get off that awful, 15-hour flight from Australia and you stumble into the customs room with all of the zig-zag rows of other jet-lagged passengers, you get to bypass the never-ending line and instead go to the cool kiosk machine. There you insert your passport, scan your fingerprints, take a quick picture and you are on your way. It really is that easy.
Getting Global Entry basics
The Global Entry application questions are similar to the TSA PreCheck application questions. You set up an account, fill out an application listing your past work and residential history, pay a $100 application fee, and then wait for an email stating that you’ve been ‘conditionally approved.’ This took no time at all for B. (I’m assuming it was an automated process because she submitted her application and received conditional approval over the weekend.) I took a while longer, most likely because I’m self-employed, but received an approval about a week later.
Tip: Find a small airport
Once you receive your conditional approval, you log into the Global Entry website and select a location where you want to get interviewed. This program must be very popular because locations are booked months in advance. Most of the bigger airports all have interview locations and the program seems to be expanding into new locations—since completing our interview, our hometown airport is now one of the new locations. Out of the way locations are less busy and easier to schedule an interview at. Since we knew we were going on a trip to Hawaii, we went ahead and reserved interview slots at the Honolulu International Airport.
At the interview, you want to be prepared with your passport and Global Entry conditional approval letter. I didn’t actually have my letter but was able to take a screenshot of my approval number and show it to the border patrol agent interviewing us. (Oh yes, I say ’us’ because in Honolulu they are very chill and let me crash B’s time slot so we didn’t have to come back later for my time slot. Recommendation: do your interview in Hawaii. As a bonus, you GET TO BE IN HAWAII!)
Before our interview, we hit the interweb to see how the Global Entry interview experience was for others. We also talked to some people who had gone through the process. There were mixed results. Some people had an all-out interview where they were asked about their history. Others had to have proof of residency, like a bill that went to their address. Our interview was simple; we gave the patrol agent our passports and our current addresses and showed him our conditional approval letter. He then took a picture of us and gave us a portable DVD player to watch a quick video about how to go through customs. Then he sent us on our way. They do a background check on you at this point, so if that’s a problem, Global Entry might not be the program for you.
A few weeks later we received our Global Entry cards (complete with seriously funny pictures of us on them—they made the DMV look like professional photographers) to take with us when we visit Canada or Mexico. On our last trip to Vancouver, Canada, we pulled out this handy little card and got to bypass the longer Canadian customs line for a much shorter line—much like TSA PreCheck in the U.S. Only select countries allow Global Entry passengers to do this from their airports, so you don’t need to take the card with you everywhere you go.
Along with the card you will receive your official letter with your PASS ID number. This is the same number you received in the conditionally approved letter. From now on, when you are booking or checking into a flight, you will enter your magic number into the ‘Known Traveler Number’ box. Then, when you get your boarding pass, it will have that awesome little TSA PreCheck icon on it. (By the way, it never gets old seeing that thing.) And that’s it! You will then be free to pass through security like it was 1999.
Things to know
- TSA PreCheck is run by the TSA. You can get more info about it here.
- Global Entry is run by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. You can get more info about it here.
- When you are booking travel, your name must match the name on your passport. This means R has to include her middle name every time. Otherwise, the automated system can’t match the Known Traveler to the booking passenger and the result = no PreCheck for you (insert frowny-face emoji here).
- TSA PreCheck is not guaranteed every time you book travel. However, we and everyone we know has received it every time they’ve used it. Coincidence? Hmm……
- TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are both good for five years.
Cough up the money for Global Entry. It only costs $15 more than the TSA PreCheck program and you get to zip through customs when you return to the U.S. Doing this once might just be worth the extra $15 bones.
We have used Global Entry numerous times and have found it to be well worth the investment. When we returned to the states from a recent trip to the Azores, B opted to try out the Mobile Passport app. I made it through customs much quicker than she did. She concluded it was a better option than nothing, but felt Global Entry was the superior choice.