Global Entry- Yes, You Should Get It, And Here's What To Expect.
For those of you who keep up with my blog, you know that I got Global Entry back in March. For those of you who don’t, I got Global Entry back in March… and it’s rocked my world. Seriously. As of yesterday, I officially made a flight that I would have missed had I not had TSA precheck.
So what is Global Entry anyway? What all does it entail? And who should apply? Glad you asked. I’m tackling these questions and more in this here blog post, so scroll down for a comprehensive guide.
TSA PRECHECK VS. GLOBAL ENTRY- A BREAKDOWN
For those of you that are familiar with TSA precheck, Global Entry is like that… but on international steroids. First, let me break down the difference between the two.
TSA Precheck is that super short line next to your monstrous line in airport security that you’ve probably begged the TSA agent to let you into when you’re running dreadfully late to your flight. TSA Precheck gives travelers an expedited security experience, allowing members to skip the long security lines, avoid having to unpack their carry-ons, and forgo the joys of halfway undressing (ha, it’s so true though…) as they pass through security. TSA Precheck can save you tons of time, especially during busy travel times like Thanksgiving, which almost makes the $85 price tag worth it in itself. The downside is that it TSA Precheck only works domestically, which means you can’t go through an expedited security line in, let’s say Istanbul, Turkey.
Global Entry, on the other hand, includes all the benefits of TSA Precheck and more- and for only $15 extra. Diverting your attention away from the fact that I sound like a washed up 2000’s infomercial host, I can’t adequately convey to you what a phenomenal value I’ve found Global Entry to be. So, breaking down all the benefits you get with your Global Entry membership:
5 year membership
TSA Precheck (expedited security experience)
Expedited Customs experience upon return home to USA
Negates the need to fill out customs forms on airplanes
Allows expedited airport experience in partner country’s airports
Works on all US borders, across all modes of transportation
Membership card serves as secondary form of government ID
But is it for me?
Essentially, if you’re a “time is money” kind of person, then Global Entry is right up your alley.
For everyone else, consider the amount of times you brave airport security (both internationally and domestically) and international customs, and figure a “price per use”. I’m about as frugal as can be when it comes to traveling (I talked myself out of Global Entry for 5 years straight until my incredible grandparents insisted on reimbursing me for it *cries*), so I understand the hesitation to fork out the big bucks.
For me, I figure I travel through US security 12 times per year, give or take, and US Customs and Border Patrol about 3 times. That’s about 15 interactions with TSA and CBP each year, so 75 times in the span of 5 years. Even if that’s a generous estimate, that’s roughly $1.30 for each interaction. 20 times (so 10 roundtrip domestic or international flights in the span of 5 years) would set you back a whopping total of $5.00 per interaction. That’s like the price of an airport water bottle. If you packed an empty reusable water bottle and filled it up instead of buying a water every time you flew, Global Entry would practically pay for itself.
And that’s just security lines at the beginning of your trip! If you’re returning from an international trip, Global Entry allows you to bypass those ridiculous re-entry customs and border patrol lines before you get to baggage claim. Basically, instead of going through the long and tedious process for regular international travelers, Global Entry members get an expedited experience. You scan your passport into a Global Entry kiosk, give your fingerprint, and then get a receipt to take to the agent.
Fin! That’s it!
The fine print- unlike TSA Precheck, small children must be enrolled in Global Entry to get the same benefits you would get as a member. TSA Precheck, however, (which, remember is included with Global Entry) has different rules that allow children under 18 to accompany Precheck members in the TSA Precheck line, even if they are not enrolled in TSA Precheck. Also, both programs require renewal after 5 years, which means forking out another $85 or $100 bucks, respectively. #worthit
WHAT TO EXPECT- THE APPLICATION PROCESS
I’m sold. How do I apply?
Easy as pie. Well all of it except the government login portal part, but that part is only slightly maddening. If you’re planning to apply for Global Entry, you can expect to do the following to get started:
Create a login on Gov. Site
make sure you write your login down somewhere- you’ll need it every time you login
provide your real live, functioning phone number- they’re going to blow it up every time you try to login with a text… and you’re going to have to copy and paste a new six digit code they send you every. single. time. you try to login. Oh, and it automatically times out your session after like, 10 minutes…. Me? Frustrated?? No…
Fill out the application, which takes about 30 minutes
Provide comprehensive list of countries you’ve visited in the past 5 years
Provide criminal background
pay $100 fee- aka the only fee you pay in the entire process
wait to be notified about your acceptance!
Some things to consider:
Lucky for me, I have a running list of most of the countries I’ve been to in the last 5 years. Just as I was about to submit my application, I recalled the extensive number of Central American countries I’d visited on cruises, like four and a half years ago. Thankfully, my mom came to the rescue and was able to provide me with the list of countries. You may want to take some time to think back to all the countries you’ve visited and make a comprehensive and complete list. I can’t imagine how much it would suck to be accused of lying on an application because you forgot to list a country.
The $100 fee is non-refundable, which means if you’re not approved, you won’t get it back. From what I understand, the only instances where people are denied membership are those in which the applicant lies on their application or where there’s history or criminal charges. So be warned of this before applying.
ALSO- travel hack of the day- some credit cards (like some AmEx cards) or corporate companies reimburse you for the $100 application fee, which means this entire service is like…you know, free.
Once you’re “Conditionally Approved”-
Yay! Your application checked out. A little forward planning (aka scheduling your interview) is all that’s keeping you from your coveted Global Entry membership! Now get to scheduling your interview asap.
Pick your office for the interview
You’re either going to make the drive to your local TSA office, or if you’re lucky, you can schedule an appointment at a TSA office in an airport during a layover.
Slots typically open up 1 month out in my experience, and some offices are booked further out than others. For example, I found the Mississippi office to have more availability than the Atlanta office.
Check back frequently for cancelations. I wound up booking a cancellation appointment and having my interview a few days upon being conditionally approved.
That said, rescheduling is NOT a big deal- don’t be afraid to take the earliest appointment you can get and then cancel and reschedule if ya have to!
Gather all documents you need for the interview-
TSA recommends Passport, ID, and the printed letter of conditional approval (if you’re having trouble opening it, try disabling your pop-up blocker)
It doesn’t hurt to print out gas bills, water bills, electric bills, etc- just in case.
The full list of things you can bring (and the combination of what to bring) is here.
During your in-person interview
I was super nervous for my interview, but it wound up being incredibly chill. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was the least intimidating experience I’ve had with a TSA officer.
If you have a flight scheduled in the future, be prepared to answer questions about that flight. I had my appointment a few days before a scheduled trip to Ireland, and my TSA agent knew exactly where I was going, down to the times I was going to be landing back in the states.
Wear whatever you’re comfortable in, but nothing slobby or too casual. Keep in mind you will have your picture taken for your membership card.
Arrive on time
Expect to buzz in and check in with a receptionist once you arrive. He or she will review all your documents to make sure you have everything for the interview.
Be punctual! You are assigned a specific time slot for a reason.
For commuters: since I was driving from Birmingham, I arrived to the ATL TSA office early because I wanted to give myself wiggle room for traffic. I called the office and was told I could wait inside, though that I’d be seen in the order of appointments.
The actual interview
In terms of documents, my particular agent only asked to see my passport, though he had a copy of my application with him. It varies for everyone, so your experience will likely be different than mine- come prepared with all docs.
Smile for your picture! My TSA agent took my picture while I was in mid laugh… that’s how informal this whole process was!!
I was asked application-related questions and the purposes of my travels (leisure for me!), though my agent seemed far more curious about asking how I funded my travels and if I made my parents nervous by traveling to certain countries than verifying the countries I had been to in the past. (psst… more on that here)
I was told that I had been approved on the spot!
My TSA agent gave me my Known Traveler Number (also abbreviated as KTN, aka the unique number associated with your Global Entry account that identifies you), explained how to use global entry for my upcoming flight, and asked if I had any questions.
I had my fingerprints taken, and then I was done! So easy.
And some other points worth noting about the Global Entry perks and process…
The membership card!!? Yes, you get a card- BUT you do NOT use it for air travel.. that’s what your fingerprints are for. Your card is mailed to you within a few weeks of your interview. The card is only used during border-crossings via car.
How soon can you use it? Once you’re officially approved, you can use Global Entry instantly for air travel (so you just need the approval email before you go through security. Mine came 20 mins after my interview)
Renewals You must renew Global Entry every five years. Mine expires on my birthday, which I’m not sure if that’s coincidental or by design. Either way, you go through the same process every 5 years, including the payment of the $100
Opting Out? You can opt to not use your TSA Precheck benefits when traveling with a friend or family member who does not have Precheck. Kids 12 and under can go through Precheck (domestic security lines) with you for free, but unless they are infants, they will not be allowed through Global Entry lines (when you return from international trips). Similarly, you can opt out of the expedited customs global entry kiosks when you return to the USA. The agents might ask, but they will be completely understanding according to my TSA agent.
Reaping TSA benefits- must include your KTN (known traveler number) when making airlines reservations so it appears on your ticket, otherwise you will not reap the benefits of Global Entry or TSA Precheck when traveling.
Blue Customs Form- That blue customs form they give you on the plane? No need to fill that sucker out with your Global Entry membership! #bless
Secondary form of ID- Global Entry cards are a great secondary form of ID
Better Seats?? And, perhaps by sheer coincidence, I’ve been getting better seating assignments and earlier boarding groups since enrolling in Global Entry. Again, it could be a fluke… but on the off chance that it’s not, it’s one more added benefit.
If you’re giving my Global Entry argument an A+ (or, ok, if you want to do some research of your own), head over to the TSA’s Global Entry website. I seriously cannot recommend this service enough- it has transformed the way I travel domestically and internationally and saved my BUTT on a few flights.
If I didn’t cover your specific question about Global Entry, or if you have a question in general, let me know in the comment section below. I will do my very best in responding.
Hope everyone has a very happy holidays! I’ve got some trips lined up here in the next few weeks, so travel posts to come. Cheers guys!