Tips / Travel

Travel Tip: Join Global Entry

A typical line for immigration and customs. Photo courtesy of Erik Allen via Flickr.

A typical line for immigration and customs. Photo courtesy of Erik Allen via Flickr.

I recently made a trip down to Denver International Airport, a 2.5 hour drive, for a 10-minute appointment. Then I drove 2.5 hours back.

Yes. A 10-minute appointment.

But, I didn’t complain because that five hours and 10 minutes will save me an infinite amount of time–and frustration–in the future. At least, that’s the plan.

The 10-minute appointment was the final step in gaining enrollment in the Global Entry program, a “U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.”

Translation: I get a line pass. 

If you’ve ever flown internationally, you know that getting back through customs in the U.S. can be hit or miss. I’ve sailed through the line in a few minutes; I’ve also been that really frazzled chick jumping up and down to get an agent’s attention to explain that I’ve been in line for two hours and my connecting flight is about to leave without me. If you’ve only ever had a smooth experience, be grateful and trust me–you don’t want to be that frazzled chick.

Now that I have my handy-dandy Global Entry, I’ll be able to sail through customs at any airport that has the Global Entry program. As of now, there are about 50 airports that have the kiosks and there are more being added.

Here’s the process:

Step one: go online and fill out the online application here. You’ll have to create a user name and password and there is a $100 fee, BUT, if approved, your enrollment is good for five years with no additional fees.

Step two: schedule an interview at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers. This was the kicker for me. I enrolled in JULY–the first appointment was for late October. However, if I had known that it would take 10 minutes, I would have scheduled it at another enrollment site during a layover. But I didn’t. So I made the five hour round trip (really, six, since it was snowing when I drove back). I’m not saying it’ll only take you 10 minutes, but…chances are it won’t take more than 15 if you’re not a totally sketchy individual.

This guy could be James Bond because he's getting through customs so quickly. That'll be me. Photo courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection.

This guy could be James Bond because he’s getting through customs so quickly. That’ll be me. Photo courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection.

Step three: Conduct the interview. This really consists of a TSA officer showing you how to use the scanning machine and then you handing over your passport and getting your fingerprints scanned. Easy peasy. If you are a totally sketchy individual, you might not be comfortable with this part.

Step four: You’re cleared. Yep, it’s really that easy. Your new get-out-of-line-free number is on the letter that they send you when you’re pre-approved. Don’t try to use it before the interview as it won’t work.

Now you’re free to bypass the line, scan your passport and fingerprints like James Bond and saunter causally to baggage claim. Where you’ll probably have to wait because you were just that quick.

BUT, WAIT: IT GETS BETTER

I hear what you’re saying: “I don’t travel internationally. This doesn’t do anything for me.”

Yes. Yes it does. Because along with your Global Entry, you’re also now part of the tsa_large_thumb, an expedited screening process. You’ve seen those quick little lines to the edges of the security screening. You know–the ones where you see people sailing through the scanners without removing the following items:

  • Shoes
  • 3-1-1 compliant bag in carry-on (this is your mini-travel size versions of liquids, aerosols or gels)
  • Laptop from bag
  • Light outerwear/jacket
  • Belt

With tsa_large_thumb, you get to keep you clothes on when you’re going through security.

All you have to do is provide your membership number in the “Known Traveler Number” field when booking reservations or enter it into your frequent flyer profile with the airline you’re flying. Most major airlines are part of the program and you are automatically enrolled when you join Global Entry.

To be fair, I haven’t actually tried my newly acquired perks, but I will on Sunday, when I fly to Colombia. I’ll keep you posted.

In the grand scheme of things, though, it’s a win-win-win in my books: faster security and immigration lines all around = happier travelers. Next thing you know, they’ll be easing the restrictions on personal electronic devices during flights.

Oh, wait: they just did.

I would ask to win the lottery, but I don’t want to push my luck.

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