If you’re an international traveler, make your trips through U.S. airports a breeze by registering for the Global Entry program. Discover its key benefits—perks like expedited service through immigration and customs and free enrollment in TSA PreCheck—as well as how Global Entry stacks up against CLEAR.
Finally—you’ve landed at the airport after a long flight back from your fantastic international travels. You’re excited to grab your suitcase from the baggage claim and head to the exit, as a hot shower is calling your name at home. But wait! There’s a line hundreds of people long waiting to get through U.S. Immigration and Customs, and you’re going to be stuck in it for an hour or two. Luckily, a program for travelers from certain countries allows you to skip the lines: Global Entry.
What is Global Entry?
Global Entry is a “Trusted Traveler” program sponsored by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows low-risk travelers from specific countries to participate in expedited entry into the United States.
Long story short, it means you get to skip the long lines at immigration and customs. A number of airports across the U.S., as well as a select few abroad, offer preclearance and special lanes for Global Entry travelers. It's a huge advantage that you can simply scan your passport at a kiosk, take a photo, answer a few questions before heading to a CBP agent reserved specifically for those in the program.
Main Benefits of Global Entry
The primary benefit to Global Entry is being able to skip the long lines at airport passport control when entering the United States—this key perk allows you priority access via separate queues. But the next biggest advantage is that U.S. citizens and residents who enroll in Global Entry are also enrolled in TSA PreCheck for free. (Unfortunately other nationals are not eligible for this perk.) TSA PreCheck works on the other side of the airport, at security. Participants in the program are not only able to bypass the regular security line for an expedited one, but two key benefits is that they’re also allowed to keep their shoes and belts on as they go through the metal detector, and they don't have to remove laptops and liquids from their carry-on bags before they are scanned by the X-ray machine.
Here's the full rundown of Global Entry benefits you can take advantage of the moment you're approved:
- Clear customs before you arrive in the U.S. at some airports.
- Say adieu to messy paperwork and forms on arrival.
- Use dedicated queues and facial recognition technology to skip long lines when returning to to the United States.
- Use TSA PreCheck at U.S. Airports to bypass general security lines when you're leaving for your trip.
- Leave your shoes, jackets, and belt on when passing through TSA (thanks to TSA PreCheck).
- Sail through the X-Ray machine with your liquids and laptop still in your bag.
- Enjoy it for free if you have a travel rewards credit card that offers this perk.
In short, the best benefit of Global Entry is that it makes airport security much, much easier and far less stressful on both sides of your trip—leaving and returning. And you can enjoy these perks for five years before reapplying.
Global Entry Requirements
U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents ages 18 and older are eligible to apply for Global Entry. You must also not have been convicted of any criminal offenses or have pending criminal charges. In essence, you must be able to demonstrate your low-risk status as an international traveler. Citizens of the following countries who meet the same requirements are also able to apply for Global Entry:
- South Korea
Canadian citizens have their own Trusted Traveler program called NEXUS, which offers Global Entry benefits in addition to priority access when entering Canada.
How to Apply for Global Entry
Applying for Global Entry is simple—head to the Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler website and submit your application online. You’ll be asked for details regarding your travel history, employment history, and residential history, as well as for scans of a government-issued ID.
Once your Global Entry application is conditionally approved, you’ll need to make an appointment at an enrollment center (they’re located in major cities and major international airports across the U.S.) for an in-person interview, and you’ll need to pay the $100 fee.
As soon as you’ve been interviewed, you’re good to go! Your official Global Entry card, which comes with a paper RFID wallet, will be mailed to you within two weeks, though you’ll be able to start using the kiosks at the airport immediately.
TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry vs. CLEAR
Global Entry isn’t the only program to help expedite airport processes. There’s the aforementioned TSA PreCheck, as well as a newer program called CLEAR. Each offers different benefits.
- Global Entry is for the immigration and customs side of the airport and is open to nationals of select countries. It costs $100, lasts for five years, and includes TSA PreCheck for U.S. citizens and residents. Most major international airports in the U.S., as well as a select few abroad, have Global Entry lanes. You can use it regardless of which airline you fly.
- TSA PreCheck is for the security side of the airport, and it is only open to U.S. citizens and residents. It costs $85 and lasts for five years. Most major airports in the U.S. have PreCheck lanes, but only certain airlines participate in the program.
- CLEAR is an expedited security program offered by a private company rather than CBP. It uses biometrics to verify your identity as you go through airport security—the lines are far shorter than those for regular security and TSA PreCheck security. It costs $179 per year, though there are special prices for passengers who are part of Delta’s SkyMiles program. CLEAR is only offered in select airports across the country. You can use it regardless of which airline you fly.
Many frequent travelers sign up for all three programs (using the two-for-one deal for Global Entry and PreCheck) for the easiest transitions through airports.
Tips and Tricks for Using Global Entry
- Global Entry is good for five years. If you get a new passport during that time, you can simply enter your new information on the Trusted Traveler website.
- If you're just signing up for the program, consider using the Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival program. Rather than scheduling a one-off interview you can time your interview to your next international arrival.
- Check to see if your credit card provider offers reimbursement for your application; some travel-oriented credit cards like Chase Sapphire Reserve and Capital One Venture Rewards offer a credit that covers the application fee.
- Always declare any food item that you’re bringing across the border, even if it’s as simple as Tim Tams from Australia or green tea KitKats from Japan. Declaring an item doesn’t mean you’ll get it taken away—most foods are allowed into the U.S. If you fail to declare an item and you’re caught by CBP agents, you’ll be fined and you may even get your Global Entry privileges taken away for good.
- In short, if you plan on flying internationally at least once a year, or if you're booking a round the world trip, it’s an excellent idea to sign up for Global Entry, as you’ll drastically cut down the time you spend waiting in lines at passport control. Plus, you’ll get the additional benefits of TSA PreCheck, making the security process for both international and domestic flights a breeze, too.
Go ahead, secure Global Entry, then pick out a great backpack and pack your bags for your next adventure.
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By Stefanie Waldek
Stefanie Waldek is a New York–based writer covering travel, architecture and design, and science. Her words have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest, and Popular Science, among other publications. Follow her on Instagram or visit her website at stefaniewaldek.com.