What is Global Entry and Why Do I Need it?
Let’s say you’ve been following this blog for a while now. You’ve gotten your passport, you’ve saved up money for travel, you bought cheap tickets, you read our safety tips, you are good to go! Maybe you even got TSA Precheck (more on that later)! So fly my little birds, fly! And have the time of your life on your dream vacation abroad.
Maybe you went to Spain to tour the castles, or maybe you did an Outlander excursion in the Scottish Highlands, or maybe you went to China and walked along the great wall. You’ve had the adventure of a lifetime! You have made it through your lengthy journey on the plane ride home. It’s been over 10 hours, and as you come stumbling, bleary-eyed off the plane it hits you—now I have to go through customs.
Why Customs is No Joke
Whether you are entering the US or any other country, customs procedures are all pretty similar. You get off the plane traipse through a few corridors and then come to a giant queue of tired and cranky travelers. You have to stand in line and then talk to an officer who may (or may not) ask you a few questions about your trip. Stay calm and answer honestly. Customs officers do have the power to detain you (long enough to miss a connection), to search through your belongings, and to make your fun vacation way more complicated.
This process often takes between 15 minutes to about an hour depending on how long the lines are and how many questions the officers tend to be asking that day. While we don’t currently offer any hacks on getting through customs in other countries seamlessly, this little known one will change your life. As you stand in line, you may see the crew and flight members and other business people jetting by you through a rapidly moving line on the side, to some self serve kiosks, and out the door. What is this magic you ask??
With a little bit of homework, you can make your re-entry into the US way easier and faster, plus you get to feel like a super cool traveler when you do it. Global Entry is offered by Customs and Border Protection, so if you don’t fit the requirements, there is no skirting around it as it is a federal program. The program allows clearance for certain travelers arriving in the US that have been pre-approved and deemed low-risk. The travelers are able to enter the US through automatic kiosks in select airports.
What this translates to is: apply, get a background check, have a short interview, get fingerprinted, wait a few weeks, and (pending approval) BAM, it’s time for life in the fast lane!
Once approved you don’t need to wait in the long queue with all the other travelers, you get to become one of the select few that flies by in the side lane, goes to a small kiosk where it scans your face and fingerprints, prints out a small slip that you hand to a customs officer. The officer may or may not ask you a few questions, I’ve been questioned about 20% of the time, but it is only 1 or 2 questions that match what is on the kiosk (ie have you been on a farm, around livestock, made large purchases). And then you are on your merry way.
Am I Eligible for Global Entry?
The easiest way to think about it, in my opinion, is, “Am I eligible for a government job?” If the answer is no, you probably aren’t eligible for global entry. But if you are a citizen, or a lawful permanent resident from one of their approved countries, the odds may be in your favor. You can check the eligibility requirements for Global Entry here. Already sold and ready to apply? You can do that here. Need a little more convincing? Or are you afraid you don’t travel internationally enough for it to be worth it? Well, there’s one more fabulous reason you want Global Entry: TSA Precheck.
What is TSA Precheck and Why is it So Amazing?
Remember that fast lane going by while you waited in the Customs line? If that feels familiar in every airport you travel in, you’re probably thinking of the TSA Precheck line. TSA Precheck is included with your Global Entry approval. It means that when you go to the airport (assuming the TSA line is open) you get to skip the large security queue and go through the side once more. The TSA Precheck lines are always significantly shorter than the regular security lines, sometimes by a few minutes to 30. The reason this line flies by is because of the rigorous background check and interview process included with Global Entry. Because the government has deemed that you are a trusted traveler, you get even more perks.
What are the Perks of TSA Precheck?
Besides the most obvious perk of a short line, you get one bigger benefit, an easier security experience. Here are the benefits:
- You don’t have to take off your shoes
- You don’t have to remove your backpack from your bag
- You don’t have to take out your liquids
- You don’t need to remove your belt
You put your bag on the conveyor belt, remove your coat and hat and walk through the security scanner, and you are ready.
Here are the only two downsides to TSA Precheck and Global Entry—don’t worry, they aren’t real downsides. The first is that your travel companions may not have the same benefits as you (why haven’t you sent them this post yet?!). This means you may have to miss out on using the benefits to stick with them, or have a tiff as they watch you sliding through security and they are stuck waiting in line. The second downside is it will make you spoiled. Whenever an airport doesn’t have a Precheck line, or you are unlucky and it doesn’t print on your second flight, you will be extra resentful of waiting in line.
So, you may turn into a spoiled traveler like we are. But hey, there are worse things that could happen. Go apply today! And tell us about your experience.