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What’s your least favorite part of traveling? I bet it has something to do with either airports or flying.
Is it standing in lines at the airport? If it’s not your least favorite part, it’s gotta rank pretty high on your list. It’s a necessary evil you have to deal with when traveling, but there is a way to significantly reduce that wait time and it doesn’t cost too much money…
Most Americans are familiar with TSA Pre-Check and the benefits for domestic travel, but are fuzzy about what Global Entry gets you and how the two programs are related.
Admittedly, the programs haven’t done a great job at promoting themselves, which has created some confusion, so I’ve broken out the cost, benefits, and how to sign up in this post.
One of the biggest misunderstandings is the cost. The below costs are one-time payments that are good for FIVE years, NOT an annual cost:
TSA Pre-Check – $85 for 5 years
Global Entry – $100 for 5 years *which INCLUDES TSA Pre-Check*
Would you VIP yourself for $17 – $20 per year? Seems like a no-brainer to me, even if you don’t travel frequently!
Some credit cards even cover the cost of the program! As I mentioned in my post on choosing the right travel credit card, it may be worth the annual fee for the card in order to get extra perks like this and lounge access with a premium card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or some AMEX cards. Trust me, lounges are another amazing way to make airports a lot more tolerable!
So now that we’ve established that it’s not a lot of money, let’s talk about what that $85-$100 gets you…
TSA Pre-Check Benefits
The biggest benefits to the program for DOMESTIC travel are:
- Faster security lines
- You don’t have to take your laptop or liquids out of your bag
- You don’t have to take off your shoes, belt, or light jacket
I’ve participated in the program for several years and here are a few caveats to be aware of, some of which I learned the hard way:
- Not all airports in the US have TSA pre-check. Most do at this point in time, but not all. Some airports may have a pseudo TSA pre-check where you have to stand in the regular security line but they give you a piece of paper that says you don’t have to take off your shoes. You still have to take your laptop out, so in my mind it’s pointless. Check the participating airports here.
- Airports with TSA pre-check don’t always keep the pre-check line open at all hours. I very rarely encounter this issue since I typically travel through larger airports, but you can check the TSA Pre-Check line hours here to be sure.
- Not all airlines are a part of the TSA pre-check program; some low cost carriers and foreign airlines do not participate. Therefore, if you’re flying on one of those airlines in the US then you’re stuck standing in the regular security line. Womp Womp. Check the participating airlines here.
- And don’t try to go in the Pre-Check line even if you have your TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry card with you – you’ll get a HARD NO and have to sheepishly go back to the regular security line…speaking from experience.
- You have to make sure your “Known Traveler Number” (KTN) is added for each and every flight departing from the US. You can add your KTN to your airline loyalty profiles so it’s added automatically when booking flights through their site when logged into your account. If you’re flying an airline you don’t normally fly or have an account with, then you need to enter your KTN when booking your flight. ALWAYS check your boarding pass when you check in online to make sure it has the “TSA Pre-Check” symbol. That way you can make adjustments before you even get to the airport. If the symbol isn’t on your boarding pass, then you’re not going through the Pre-Check line.
- Another lesson learned the hard way a couple years ago – Alaska Airlines unsuccessfully tried adding my KTN multiple times while at the airport in Maui (the regular security line was INSANE). I assume that “tampering” flagged me as a security risk, so they wouldn’t let me board the plane! I had to get rebooked on another flight. Please don’t let that happen to you – be sure to add your KTN well in advance!
- Everyone 13 or older needs their own Known Traveler Number. If you are traveling with your children that are 12 or under they can go with you in the Pre-Check line. Just keep that age limit in mind as your kids get older so you don’t have to get stuck in the regular security line when they turn 13!
Global Entry Benefits
Global Entry gives you expedited immigration screening when you return back to the US from INTERNATIONAL trips. Here are the benefits of the program:
- You don’t have to fill out the US immigration form
- You don’t have to talk to an immigrations officer – you simply go to a computer kiosk, scan your passport, answer the typical immigration questions on the screen (e.g. what you’re bringing into the country, exposure to agriculture, etc.), it takes your picture, and you get a receipt that you hand to customs on your way out after baggage claim.
- There is little to no line for the Global Entry kiosks – it saves SO much time, which is glorious after a long flight!
- There are some non-US airports that have Global Entry kiosks that allow for “Pre-Clearance,” which means that you go through US immigration before you board the plane and arrive just as a domestic flight with no additional screening. This is currently in multiple airports in Canada, Ireland, Bahamas, Aruba, and even Abu Dhabi!
Here are the caveats for Global Entry:
- Not all airports in the US have Global Entry kiosks – here is a list of participating airports
- If your receipt prints out with a big black X, then you do have to talk to an immigration officer. This happened to Jan after our round the world trip. Eyebrows were raised at the number of countries we went to prior to returning home, but it was a relatively quick talk before he was cleared.
- Children of all ages need to be enrolled in Global Entry – unlike TSA Pre-Check, they can’t go in the Global Entry line with you unless they are also enrolled. Children under 18 need permission from a guardian to apply.
- This program only helps you with immigration INTO the US. You still have to stand in the regular immigration line when entering other countries.
The Enrollment Process
- Choose which program you want to sign up for. I found this nice program comparison chart to help you decide which is best for you.
- This chart also includes details on NEXUS and SENTRI, which I did not cover above. NEXUS is helpful if you go to Canada a lot or if you’re a Canadian citizen coming to the States frequently. SENTRI is for non-US citizens that travel to the US.
- I will note there is one other non-government owned program, CLEAR, that offers extra expedited screening by skipping the TSA Pre-Check lines, but it’s only in 30 US airports right now and is $179 per year (or $15/month), so it’s really only worth it if you are a super frequent traveler that is based in one of those cities.
- Fill out the related application form and pay the required fee. These are the links to the TSA Pre-Check form and the Global Entry form, which will step you through the process.
- Schedule an in-person interview at an Enrollment Center. There are limited enrollment centers and they are generally only in major cities. You can look up where your nearest Enrollment Center is here. I’ve heard there can be long wait times in some cities, so beware the next open appointment may be weeks in the future.
- Go to your interview – If you’re applying for Global Entry, you’ll need to bring your passport and one other form of identification like a driver’s license. If you’re a permanent resident, then you need your permanent resident card. The interview is only 15 minutes and very painless. They ask you some questions, take your picture and fingerprints and then you’re good to go!
I hope this helps clarify the programs so you can get through airport lines much quicker and on to the fun part of your vacations!!
Comment below – what did you learn from this article? Are you still confused? Let me know how I can help!