Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check: Skip Lines and Keep Your Clothes On

Global Entry isn’t a magic cure-all for air travel woes, but it addresses a few headaches allowing travelers to skip long lines and sail through security with clothes on and bags intact. Nice, but worth the fee? The answer was “No” for me and Chris for many years, but we reached a tipping point in October when returning from Dublin. We thought we’d allowed enough time but the customs line crawled and as minutes ticked by, the shiny Global Entry kiosks seemed to beckon and taunt. If we’d had Global Entry approval, we could have gone straight to a kiosk, swiped passports, scanned fingerprints, and been on our way in minutes. As it was, we rushed onto the plane during final boarding with no time to fill water bottles or use the restroom. It was harried and stressful and I made a commitment to research Global Entry - and to arrive earlier next time (!). Fast forward two months and we are Global Entry approved.

Global Entry Image

When I sat down to investigate the Global Entry process, I was immediately confronted with acronym soup: NEXUS, SENTRI, TSA Pre-Check…ugh! Here’s the skinny on each:

  • Global Entry ($100), NEXUS ($50) and SENTRI ($122.25) expedite the customs process when entering the United States, usually allowing travelers to bypass lines at passport control and customs.
  • They each last for 5 years and include TSA Pre-Check benefits for U.S. citizens.
  • Get SENTRI if you travel to Mexico a lot.
  • Get NEXUS if you travel to Canada frequently OR have access to a NEXUS enrollment center; most are located in Canada or the northern United States. NEXUS is only $50 and offers all the benefits of the $100 Global Entry. Bargain!
  • TSA Pre-Check costs $85 and expedites the airport security process. Not only can you bypass security lines, there’s no need to remove shoes, laptops, 3–1–1 liquids, belts or light jackets. Unless you never travel internationally (or don’t hold a U.S. passport), Global Entry is the better choice. It costs just $15 more and gives full TSA Pre-Check benefits. With four domestic flights in the next five months, I’ll be getting my money’s worth in TSA Pre-Check privileges!

Sounds great, right? I wanted in. After carefully reading the eligibility requirements, I opened an application. It’s smart to check eligibility! The program is geared toward “low-risk international travelers” and requires an in-depth background check. If denied, the government keeps the $100 application fee.

The Global Entry application and interview process was efficient and painless. Our steps and time required for each:

  • Completed online application: 45 minutes. I created an account and completed the application in about 45 minutes total, split up over a few days. The questions were straightforward but details about residence and work history took time to pull together. I was also nervous about errors so asked Chris to review my app before submitting. Many websites indicate that even a small mistake can upset the process and cause serious delays.
  • Received conditional approval: 7 days. Status changes are sent via email. Once conditionally approved, I was able to log in to schedule an interview.
  • Scheduled interview date: 26 days. Final approval requires an in-person interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. This step may require flexibility and patience! When we checked, the Portland Global Entry office was scheduled out for months and the Seattle centers would have required a one-month wait and a 3 1/2 hour drive. As luck would have it, we were traveling to Florida for Thanksgiving and had our pick of times at the Orlando airport enrollment center.
  • Conducted in-person interview: 10 minutes. To call this an “interview” is a stretch. The officer called us in together, verified application information, and took fingerprints and a photo. We were done in 10 minutes flat.
  • Received final approval: Immediate! We walked out of the interview at about 9:10am but when I later checked email, I’d received approval notification at 9:08am. How’s that for fast?! Even better, I immediately added my Known Traveler ID number to my Delta profile, checked in for my upcoming flight, and received TSA Pre-Check status. We should receive our Trusted Traveler Cards in the mail soon, but they weren’t necessary to get through security.

Scheduling the interview was the most challenging step in the process, but was easily managed working around upcoming travel. We worried needlessly over taking our 5-year old great-nephew along to the interview. Children are able to enroll in Global Entry so the officer didn’t think anything of it, in fact he thought Nash was our son (LOL!). He also happened to be a space nut and had shelves full of Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr. Who figurines; we happily played “I Spy” for our brief 10 minutes in the office.

Is Global Entry Worth the $100 fee? If you travel frequently and dislike standing in lines and undressing (to an extent) in front strangers, this program may be just what you’ve been looking for. I’m relieved to have it, if only for TSA Pre-Check. We’ll be sure to update this post after using a Global Entry kiosk for customs and passport control. Here’s hoping it lives up to the promise!