It took me a couple months, but I am now a proud Global Entry (and therefore, TSA Pre Check) member. The process was a little confusing and somewhat annoying, but in the end there’s no question that it’s worth it. If you travel even a couple times a year, I’d suggest you join as well. (*If you don’t travel at all, it’d be pretty stupid.) Since I had to rely on the advice of some others in this confusing process, I thought I’d share what I learned so I can make it as easy for others to join this glorious program.
I suppose I should back up and explain what the heck these two programs are. Global Entry is like a fast pass for customs and immigration when you come back into the US after traveling abroad. Instead of standing in line to speak with an agent, you can use a kiosk to pass through immigration. It prints out a receipt which gives you access to a priority line through customs. In general, it’s awesome except that you don’t get the person actually saying “welcome home” every time you come back. I always loved that, but if it saves me half an hour or more (as it often will), then I’m willing to make that sacrifice.
Still, for me the Global Entry program alone wasn’t worth it because I don’t travel abroad all that often. (Ok, 3 times this year, but normally I don’t.) Sure, it’s only $100 for 5 years but it’s the hassle of the initial sign-up that made me pass. But when TSA Pre Check came along, that changed things. Pre Check is a fast pass for airport security in the US. When you get the Pre Check line, you don’t have to take your shoes off, take your laptop out, etc. It’s pretty awesome, and it’s expanding to around 100 airports. Some airlines have been giving this to travelers who are elites in their frequent flier programs, but you can’t just sign up on your own. You have to go through a program like Global Entry.
So back in July I decided to give it a shot. If you’re a US citizen/permanent resident, Dutch citizen, South Korean citizen, or Mexican national, you can join the program. (Canadians can join via the Nexus program.) I went online and filled out the extensive application. I mean, this thing looks at your history going back for several years. It requires previous residences, everywhere you’ve traveled, and more. Once you finish filling it out, you pay the $100 fee (regardless of whether you get accepted or not), and then you wait.
It took one week until I received an email saying my application status had changed. I logged on and it told me that I had been approved for an interview so I just needed to schedule one. Good freakin’ luck.
The nearest enrollment center where I could get an interview was LAX. In fact, nothing else was even close. I went on to schedule my interview and was told nothing was available. Um, ok. So I went to Twitter and was told that LAX in particular is tough to get an interview. Just keep trying. So I did and maybe a week later, some dates opened up… in December. I was going to have to wait more than 4 months for this? Come on.
I went back to Twitter and some suggested just walking in instead of making an appointment. I thought about it, but I didn’t do it. Someone tried that while I was there and they were denied, so it may be hit or miss. Another person said to keep trying because other dates would open. Sure enough, in mid-August, a ton of dates opened up in September, so I snagged one for the 5th and was ready to go.
There are three things you need to bring to the Global Entry interview. First, you have to bring a copy of the letter that invites you to interview. I’m told that you’ll get into trouble if you don’t and it could delay things. Then you have to bring your passport (or whatever else you’d normally use to get into the country). Lastly, you need to bring proof of where you live. For me, my driver license worked out but if that doesn’t have your current address, you can bring something like a utility bill.
The big day came, and I prepared for a grilling. I was WAY over-prepared. I showed up at the Bradley Terminal at LAX and they told me to take a seat and wait. I saw a lot of people waiting there, so I was afraid it might take awhile, but I was wrong. Within 5 minutes, they had called me and another person to go back. The interview between me and the Customs/Border Patrol (CBP) officer went like this:
CBP: Have you been to Canada in the last 5 years?
CBP: Have you been to Mexico in the last 5 years?
CBP: Ok, you’re all set.
I’m not exaggerating at all. It was that quick. Then he took my fingerprints, took a photo, gave me a pamphlet on Pre Check, explained the basics of Global Entry, and sent me on my way. It’ll take a couple of days for it to become active, but I can start using it right away once that’s done. They send a physical card as well, but I was told that it’s basically unnecessary unless I go into Australia or New Zealand. Then I can use their fast pass systems with that card.
And that was it. I’m looking forward to using it on my next flight. I’d suggest the same for anyone who is fed up with regular security lines, or immigration lines, or customs lines….