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4 Things Every Traveler Should Know About Global Entry

You can zip through security for just a $100 fee, but is the enrollment process worth it?    

U.S. News & World Report

4 Things Every Traveler Should Know About Global Entry

Businessman holding his passport and luggage at airport.

Travelers can skip the slow-moving immigration lines and go directly to a kiosk to punch in their Trusted Traveler information and scan their passport.(Getty Images)

If you're a frequent international flier, the chance to breeze through airport security lines, hold onto your shoes and keep your sanity intact might be enough selling points to pay the $100 Global Entry fee. Still, enrollment in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler program can be a time-consuming process, and there are some caveats, including recent changes to the visa-waiver program that make it increasingly difficult for travelers outside the U.S. to enter the country. To help you weigh your options and decide whether it's a worthwhile investment, U.S. News solicited expert advice to identify the top factors travelers should consider before applying to Global Entry, along with key benefits of the program.

Consider Your Travel Patterns

Global Entry membership grants travelers a five-year enrollment period, enabling them to skip the slow-moving immigration lines and go directly to a kiosk to punch in their Trusted Traveler information and scan their passport. After a quick fingerprint scan, you're cleared, saving you countless hours at security. Naturally, this is an enticing proposition for road warriors who log hundreds of international flights each year. "It's designed, really, for the frequent traveler," says John Wagner, deputy assistant commissioner, Office of Field Operations for Customs and Border Protection. While he emphasizes that enrolling helps everyone – you save time with a safe and speedy security screening, and CBP can allocate staff to focus on security measures that are of higher value to the protection program – he admits that the program offers the highest incentive to the business traveler.

Wagner points to other valuable resources available for casual, leisure travelers like the CBP's self-serve Automated Passport Control program. These kiosks lower interaction time and minimize congestion, Wagner explains, and they are available at major hubs, including Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Washington-Dulles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport. And visitors arriving in the U.S. from international countries with visa-free status can use APC kiosks for expedited clearance.

Know What's Involved

Both frequent fliers and leisure travelers must decide for themselves whether the long vetting process and fee is worthwhile. For Sondra Wilson, president of the Columbia Basin Travel Leaders branch of Travel Leaders Group, the process was a cinch. "My in-person interview took place at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is a 200-mile drive from where I live," she says. "I had a scheduled appointment time, and some of the questions I was asked were about my background and frequency of travel. It was very friendly and lasted about 15 minutes," she adds, recalling that she was fingerprinted and her Global Online Enrollment System number was issued quickly. "Ultimately, I am glad I did it," she adds, praising the efficient immigration line processing, while noting that there can still be significant wait times for an available machine at the customs checkpoint.

Though there are steps to register in the program, with enrollment centers across the country, the process and cost are worthwhile for many travelers, Wagner says. To find an enrollment center near you, consult the CBP website's Global Entry page, which lists centers by state.

You'll Automatically Be Enrolled in PreCheck, But Consider All Options

Beyond the benefit of a speedy security screening, travelers with Global Entry are also automatically enrolled in TSA PreCheck, the expedited security option that costs $85 and gets you through more than 150 airports quicker. Especially catering to infrequent travelers who like the prospect of leaving their belts, shoes and jackets on and their laptops and liquids stowed away in their carry on bag, TSA PreCheck is an ideal option for casual fliers craving convenience and less wait time.

That said, it's important to keep in mind that travelers are not ensured expedited security simply for having TSA PreCheck, but members of CBP's Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry, NEXUS (expedited security clearance to Canada for a $50 fee) and SENTRI, have the benefit of better odds for expedited screening. Simply add your Known Traveler Number (also known as a PASS ID) when you book your flight, and you'll up your chances of speedy security clearance. And if you're willing to splurge for priority security clearance, consider enrolling in CLEAR, a privately-managed company that allows you to register at an enrollment center, where you'll provide a government-issued ID, an eye scan and your fingerprints, and (upon approval and a $179 annual fee) allows you to go to a CLEAR kiosk each time you fly. After printing out your boarding pass, a CLEAR representative escorts you to the front of the security line so you can bypass a lengthy screening. The Secret to Expedited Security Screenings Is Out

Another important factor to consider: the total amount of time (and stress) you'll save, says Tom Spagnola, senior vice president, supplier relations at CheapOair. With a record-breaking number of travelers flying domestically and internationally , there will be much more scrutiny for fliers, he explains. "It's the advantage or being able to become a priority traveler with minimal screening," he says. But with Global Entry automatically qualifying travelers for TSA PreCheck, "it's not that much of a secret anymore," he adds. And if you're, say, a dual-based citizen who travels abroad often to visit family, having the government-issued ID given after a detailed background check and the basis of being a permanent lawful resident, Global Entry is a huge asset, he says.

And apart from contending with other preapproved travelers at PreCheck at the customs area kiosks, keep in mind the shifting security measures associated with the REAL ID Act. The act requires travelers from certain states and territories to renew their driver's license and provide a form of identification that adheres to federal guidelines set forth in the act. This could help expedite the security process and improve safety or spell additional identification requirements for Trusted Traveler programs. Overall, it's a positive change for the industry, Spagnola says.

It's also important to note that recent visa-waiver changes will make it more challenging for certain Europeans to come to the U.S. European visitors who are dual-citizens of or have traveled to Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Iran or Iraq in the previous five years will undergo a more arduous process to be granted access to the U.S. While the travelers who meet this conditions may be impacted and have a more rigorous screening process for Global Entry, many dual-citizens may be granted waivers, Wagner explains. "It really all depends on your personal status," he adds.

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