Here’s How To Skip Insane Lines With Global Entry And TSA Pre-Check

Three or four years back, my passport came up for renewal. When my brand-spankin’-new one (so shiny! so many extra pages!) arrived in the mail, it came with a little slip of paper telling me about the Global Entry program. Now, I love me some international travel (hence the optimistic bid for extra pages in my new passport), but the Global Entry application fee was a bit steep. Still, I ultimately decided it would be worth it for expedited customs and — here’s the real kicker — TSA PreCheck (er, Pre✓®) eligibility.

Back Up. What Is Global Entry, And How Is It Different From TSA PreCheck?

Global Entry is a tier above TSA PreCheck. While the latter costs $85 and lasts for five years before renewal, the former costs $100. It also lasts for five years. Those extra $15 are worth paying if you’re an international traveler, because Global Entry cardholders get expedited clearance through customs on re-entry into the U.S. In practical terms, this means that, instead of having to wait in the normal, winding customs line with other cheap schmoes, I as a Global Entry enrollee get to speed to the front and use a handy electronic kiosk. Theoretically. (More on that later.)

TSA PreCheck, on the other hand is suited for people who do a lot of domestic traveling. We’ve been hearing a lot about it lately, what with all the awful airport security snafus currently going down around the country. PreCheck is the cherry on top of Global Entry. Or maybe the ice cream underneath it, I’m not sure. What I am sure of: My Trusted Traveler number allows me to hop over to the PreCheck area of security, which is usually empty, and go through the scanners without dismantling my life. Shoes, jackets, belts stay on. Laptops and liquids stay in the bag. It’s fantastic. But again…that’s theoretically.

It is theoretically fantastic to be able to breeze through security like this.

This Sounds Great So Far. What Does The Application Process Look Like?

Glad you asked. It’s really not difficult at all — in fact, you can do this without your spouse even knowing! [For the sake of your relationship, you should probably tell your significant other. -e.s.] All you have to do is go to the Global Online Enrollment System website, give them all your information, and throw money at them.

Again, I applied several years ago, but according to The Travel Sisters, these are the types of questions the online system asks:

  • Personal information (name, email address, gender, eye color, height, language preference)
  • Other names used
  • Date and place of birth
  • Contact information (home, mobile and work phone number)
  • Citizenship information (passport number, date of issue and expiration date)
  • Driver’s license (number and expiration date)
  • Current address
  • Address history (other addresses in past five years)
  • Current employment status (employer name, employment period, occupation, street address of employer and phone)
  • Employment history  (other employers in past five years)
  • Travel history (list any countries other than the U.S., Canada and Mexico traveled to within the past 5 years)
    Additional information:
  • Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense in the United States or any other country?
  • Have you ever received a waiver of inadmissibility to the U.S. from a U.S. government agency?
  • Have you ever been found in violation of customs laws?
  • Have you ever been found in violation of immigration laws?

Pretty standard identity-verification stuff. If you’re squirming at having to answer all those very, very personal questions, keep in mind that the program is essentially pre-screening you through security and customs for the next five years. They want to make sure you’re not an enemy of the U.S. before they start letting you through checkpoints willy-nilly.

So That’s It?

No, that’s not it. That’s step one of two. Because, after you’ve entered all your personal information into the GOES system and paid your non-refundable application fee, your application is reviewed for conditional approval before you can move on to the interview process.

Wait A Minute. No One Told Me There Would Be An Interview.

That’s why you’re reading this step-by-step. Of course there’s an interview! But don’t worry, it’s not intense at all. In fact, the only thing I remember about it is being shuffled into a room to watch an informational video before a one-on-one sit-down with an agent to take my picture for my Global Entry card.

After five weeks of waiting, I got notification that my conditional application had been approved for the next step, and I set up my interview at the Albuquerque airport using the online system. Big caveat here: The interviews are only done at certain airports. You can check if you’ve got one close to you here.

For the interview itself, I had to print out a copy of my Conditional Approval Notification and bring it, along with my passport and a document establishing my residency.

I’ll let The Travel Sisters take it from here:

After looking at the documents we were asked to bring along (passport and license) and comparing the information to the application, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer asked us a bunch of questions including the following:

  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Have you ever transported something where the contents were unknown?
  • Have you ever repudiated American citizenship?
  • Do you have a second passport or claim to citizenship in another country?
  • Have you ever broken customs or immigration laws?
  • Are you a U.S. resident?

After answering his questions, we were approved and he took our photos and fingerprints.

And that was basically it. I got my GOES card in the mail a few weeks later.

Yeah, buddy! This is what it looks like to race through customs.

So What Are The Downsides?

Right. Here’s the deal: It took me a few tries before I actually figured out how to use my Trusted Traveler number in conjunction with my airline bookings. I learned the hard way that taking my GOES card to the airport with me wasn’t enough proof for the TSA PreCheck security line attendants. What I needed was the logo actually printed on my ticket.

To get that, I had to enter my Trusted Traveler number in when I booked my ticket. And to do that, the airline had to be partnered with TSA PreCheck.

That’s right. You can’t use your TSA PreCheck with every airline. As I’m writing this explainer, I’m on a short trip to Texas for a funeral. I booked my flight earlier this week through Spirit which, unfortunately, isn’t one of those TSA PreCheck partners. Yesterday at the airport, I had to wait in the regular ol’ security line, in spite of my $100 super fancy Global Entry card. Tomorrow, when I fly home, I’ll have to do the same.

The other downside has to do with Global Entry, and the fact that it’s only available at select airports. But here’s the thing. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would totally spend the $100 and apply. Maybe it’s the elite feeling I get when I do finally get to use the PreCheck security line. Maybe it’s the mere suggestion that I can re-enter the country without having to wait in line with the masses. Or maybe it’s the three-year separation I have from that hundred dollars I dropped to get it.

Get PreCheck, and you’ll be getting jealous looks like this one every time you go to the head of the line.

In any case, Global Entry and/or TSA PreCheck is worth thinking about, especially if you travel a lot, and even moreso if you travel internationally. And if you’re cringing at the cost, definitely check out your options. When my husband and I applied for our American Express Platinum card earlier this year (#ballers), we discovered that one of the perks of the card is reimbursement of Global Entry fees. It came three years too late for us. But for you, it might be just what you need.