You are standing in the security line at the airport with hundreds of fellow travelers. You see signs in various locations for TSA Pre✓, including a special lane with a TSA Pre✓ designation… one that seems empty compared to the lane you are currently occupying. What’s that all about?
TSA Pre✓ is a program offered by the Transportation Security Administration. (The TSA is the government agency responsible for the security of the traveling public here in the US. The TSA manages airport security checkpoints across the country.) TSA Pre✓ provides expedited security screening benefits for flights departing from US airports. With TSA Pre✓, travelers are not required to remove shoes, belts, or light jackets before passing through the body scanner; they may also leave laptops and 3-1-1 liquids in their carryon bags.
Currently, the cost for TSA Pre✓ is $85 for a five-year membership. Membership is available to US citizens and qualified nationals. Interested parties apply online at https://www.tsa.gov/precheck and schedule an appointment at one of over 380 enrollment centers across the US. A ten-minute background interview and fingerprinting is required, and a thorough background check is conducted. Notification of acceptance is typically received within two to three weeks after the in-person interview. Not all who apply are accepted into the program. Those who are accepted will be entered into the TSA Pre✓ database. Future boarding passes for flights originating from a US airport will include a TSA Pre✓ indicator—the magic wand for fast-tracking security before your flight!
Global Entry is a program of US Customs and Border Protection. It “allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States” (from the CBP website). Travelers with Global Entry visit one of the designated kiosks in the arrivals area, scan their passports and fingerprints, and complete an electronic customs declaration. Then they are off to baggage claim, skipping the in-person interview and the long wait time! It’s possible that Global Entry members may still be selected for further interview, but membership dramatically cuts your time at the Customs and Immigration checkpoint. Global Entry kiosks are available at major airports in the US and some international airports (like Vancouver, Dublin, and Abu Dhabi) where US Pre-Clearance is offered. Kiosks are even available at many US cruise ports.
Cost for Global Entry is $100 for five years. Membership is available to US citizens and qualified nationals. Applicants must create a Trusted Traveler Programs account, complete the online application, and pay the $100 non-refundable fee. Customs and Border Protection begins the review process. Applicants receiving initial conditional approval must schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Upon approval, members are presented with Global Entry cards and “known traveler numbers”. Access the official CBP information at https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry.
Global Entry has a nice side benefit that extends beyond Customs and Border Protection. Known traveler numbers allow access to TSA Pre✓, but only if they are entered into the airline reservation! Flashing your Global Entry card at the TSA checkpoint will get you nowhere; you must have the TSA Pre✓ indicator on your boarding pass….and that requires entering your known travel number into the reservation.
So….should you consider TSA Pre✓ or Global Entry? If you are a frequent traveler by air, I say yes!
• If you never plan to travel outside the United States, TSA Pre✓ is probably your best best. But you might want to keep your options open and go with Global Entry, so you are ready to take advantage of any travel opportunity that comes your way.
• If you plan to travel internationally at least once or twice over the next five years, Global Entry is the way to go.
Both application processes take time, so plan ahead. Get started