What’s the worst part about traveling? I don’t know about you, but for me it’s the time I spend waiting in line at the airport. Waiting to check suitcases. Waiting to get on or off a plane. Waiting for luggage in the baggage claim area.
While it’s nearly impossible to avoid waiting at some point in your journey, for $100 every five years you can reduce the drudgery of two of the most unpleasant, time-consuming tasks: going through TSA security checkpoints and standing in the U.S. Customs line when you return from an overseas trip. How? By signing up for Global Entry, a program offered by the U.S. Department of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
My family recently became members and it was worth every penny during our recent trip to Europe.
A time-saving investment
Since we had planned to travel in late May, we decided to sign up for Global Entry during the winter. For a $100 fee and the time it took to fill out on an application and go through a ten-minute interview, we were each rewarded with attractive travel benefits that made life at the airport a lot easier.
Expedited TSA security lines
Whenever I used to go through TSA security checkpoints, I looked with envy at another line of people who seemed to be getting through this process much faster. These people had TSA Precheck privileges. While CBP offers TSA Precheck as a standalone program, it’s automatically included in your Global Entry membership.
For our family, it meant a shorter line and less onerous security requirements. For example, we could wear our shoes, belts and jackets as we were going through the body scanners and leave our laptops and other larger electronic devices in our carry-on bags. And we didn’t need to bring out our travel-sized containers of liquids and toiletries stored in clear plastic bags. Keep in mind, however, that TSA Precheck benefits only apply to U.S. airports. Foreign airports have their own security requirements, which may be more stringent than our own.
Rapid re-entry into the U.S.
Undoubtedly, the worst thing about coming back jet-lagged and exhausted from an overseas flight is waiting in line to be interviewed by a CBP agent. In some airports this process can take hours.
With Global Entry, we were able to avoid the long line entirely when we returned from Europe. Instead, we were diverted to a separate area where Global Entry kiosks scanned our passports, recorded digital impressions of our fingerprints, took photos of our faces and had us electronically select answers to what seemed like questions CBP agents would typically ask during re-entry interviews. For the five minutes this process took we each received a paper pass that let us walk straight through Customs.
Faster border-crossing from Canada
The next time my wife and I drive to Montreal we’re taking our Global Entry cards with us. Why? Because Global Entry will let us avoid the long waiting times at the border when we return home.
We’ll be able to use the faster, expedited NEXUS lane at the U.S./Canada border. Once our Global Entry card is read by a card reader, we’ll be able to proceed to the CBP checkpoint for a visual check. Usually, this takes less than a minute and then we’ll be waved through.
Note that you can only use this process if everyone in your vehicle has their own Global Entry card. And it’s only good for re-entering the U.S. Global Entry offers no benefits for drivers entering Canada.
The application process
Since the purpose of programs like Global Entry is to make traveling easier for people the U.S. government has determined are not security threats, it’s understandable that applicants must pass a multi-step vetting process. Fortunately, we were able to complete most of these tasks online.
Step 1: Become a Trusted Traveler
You officially start the process of documenting your trustworthiness by creating a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) account at https://ttp.cbp.dhs.gov/.
You’ll need to include a valid email address to set up your account and provide a phone number to authenticate your account with a code you receive via text or voicemail every time you login to your account.
Step 2: Apply for Global Entry
Use your TTP account to fill out a Global Entry application online. This is the most time-consuming part of the process. You’ll need to provide a great deal of information, including your Social Security Number, passport number, driver’s license information and employment information.
Step 3: Pay the fee
You’ll need to pay a $100 Global Entry application fee using a credit or debit card. This fee is non-refundable, even if you aren’t approved.
Once you’ve applied and paid your fee, CBP will conduct a background check. It may take up to two months for you to receive conditional approval. CBP isn’t required to notify you when they’ve made a decision, so you’ll need to login to your TTP account regularly to check your status.
Step 4: Schedule and go through a ten-minute interview
Once you’ve been conditionally approved, you’ll have up to 365 days to schedule an interview with a CBP agent at an approved enrollment center. These centers are located at most major airports and in many federal office buildings.
You can schedule your interview online. But don’t wait, especially if you’re planning on traveling overseas within the next few months. Interview slots can fill up fast depending on your location.
When you go to your interview, bring along a printed copy of your Conditional Approval Notification, your passport, your driver’s license or valid state ID, and at least one additional document providing proof of residency, such as a utilities bill or mortgage statement.
In our case, each member of our family scheduled interviews for different times. The interview itself took no more than ten minutes. When each of us logged onto our TTP accounts later in the day our Global Entry membership had been activated. Within two weeks, we had all received our Global Entry cards.
When do you need your Global Entry identification number?
Your passport will be automatically coded as Global Entry-compliant, so you won’t need to take your Global Entry card when you travel outside the U.S., unless you plan on driving back into the country from Canada and want to reduce your waiting time at the border.
The only time you’ll actually need to know your Global Entry number is when you want to add TSA Precheck status to your boarding passes. Either when you purchase your tickets or when you check in online or at an airport kiosk to get your boarding passes, you can enter your Global Entry number into the “Known Traveler” field. Doing so will tag your passes with a TSA Precheck identifier.
Considering how exhausted we were when we returned to the U.S., the expedited re-entry process alone justified the cost of Global Entry. And since the membership lasts for five years, it’ll be an even better investment if we plan more overseas trips. Even if we don’t, we’ll still enjoy the TSA Precheck benefits if we fly domestically. Considering that time is money, Global Entry is one travel expense you won't regret.
Chris Gullotti is a financial advisor located at Canby Financial Advisors, 161 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA 01701. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at 508.598.1082 or [email protected]
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