Why You Need Global Entry, How to Get it — And 8 Things You Didn't Know

Skip the line, every time.

Noticing those expedited lines at the airport and wondering how you can get on board with those VIPs? It’s not as exclusive a club as you might think — in fact, if you apply right this minute, you could have your membership in a matter of days. Here's what you need to know about Global Entry as well as its sister benefit, TSA PreCheck.

First of all, let's discuss the difference between those related but potentially overlapping options. TSA PreCheck will run you $85 for a five-year membership and will score you dedicated security lanes at the airport, and that includes expedited airport screening; you will no longer need to remove shoes, belts, laptops, or liquids. That foray to the airport will feel much easier.

Global Entry is $100 for a five-year membership and you will get expedited clearance at customs and border protection checkpoints at most U.S airports and select international airports. You just scan fingerprints at automated machines without filling out any forms. And, with Global Entry, you’re automatically eligible for TSA PreCheck! So if you travel internationally this is a no-brainer option for you.

Of course, you need to make sure you’re eligible before you apply. Not everyone is accepted, and you do not get a refund if your application is denied.

Here's what else you might not know:

Updated my #GlobalEntry #trustedTraveler documents today in less than 2 minutes!

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1.  You might get it for free.

Several credit cards, including the AmEx Platinum and Citi Prestige, will offer a statement credit for the application fee, says Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie. Certain elite members of frequent flyer programs like Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus can also receive this benefit.

2.  Plan around your travels.

If you’re applying for Global Entry, many enrollment centers are located in major airports, including big connecting hubs like Chicago. So you might try making an appointment when you'll already be at the airport.

3.  Check for last-minute openings.

Apply through the GOES site. It will take minutes to fill out, and usually within a few days you'll usually receive an email update that you've been moved along to the interview stage. While your local enrollment centers might have long waits, check back — you might find an appointment available nearby that pops up as a result of cancellation.

4.  Know your number.

Once approved, you’ll get a Known Traveler Number. Enter this when you book a flight to be eligible for PreCheck on your boarding pass. If you’re a member of a frequent flyer program, you can just save the number to your profile to automatically apply to future bookings. And double check before you fly. “You might get used to the shorter lines, but PreCheck isn’t always guaranteed (especially for international flights on foreign carriers’ code-share partners). And remember: Not every airline and airport participates in PreCheck, so make sure to check the list here,” says Saglie.

5.  Bring the right ID.

“Global entry informs you to bring your passport but they don’t tell you to bring your driver’s license. You also need to make sure your license matches your passport exactly, or it’s a red flag,” says Cathy Decker, president of The Decker/Royal Agency.  

6.  Don't assume kids are covered automatically.

If you are traveling with your kids and they don't have Global Entry, then you won't be allowed to use Global Entry for that trip. That can be a major unexpected bummer. “One thing that can be a little confusing is the fact that although Global Entry comes with PreCheck, the ability to let your child use your benefits is different for the two programs. Children 12 and under can use the PreCheck lane with you, including if you got it as part of your Global Entry enrollment. They don’t need to be enrolled separately. However, with Global Entry, all children do need their own enrollment,” says Seth Kaplan of Airline Weekly.

7.  Avoid redundancy.

“Global entry includes TSA PreCcheck so if you know you’re going to enroll, don’t waste $85 on TSA PreCheck — you’re going to get it anyway. If you already have TSA PreCheck, you need to keep that same TSA number that you are currently registered under to avoid duplicates in the system,” Decker says. " If you travel mostly between the U.S. and Canada, enrolling in NEXUS, the expedited program along that border, also comes with PreCheck.

yay! definitely going to enjoy this lane for the next 5 years! #globalentry #TSA #precheck

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8.  Don't rely on Wi-Fi.

When approaching the TSA PreCheck line, always have a screen shot of your boarding pass in your photos section. “Too many people have issues with weak signal or low battery life and cannot retrieve their boarding passes quick enough on the airline apps,” says Michael Holtz, the C.E.O. and founder of luxury travel agency SmartFlyer.

All that said, Global Entry is a must for frequent travelers — or even infrequent ones. “Many people talk about using the mobile passport apps, but they are second rate; you are reliant on signal or wi-fi in flight. Or what if you are sleeping on the plane and the customs line is short?” says Holtz. With Global Entry, you are always queued up and ready to go.

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But, as more and more people are catching on to Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, it’s not as much of a time saver as it used to be. “Just because I have Global Entry doesn’t mean it’s always the fastest option," says Sarah Evans, partner at hospitality PR firm J Public Relations. "Several times this summer, I opted for the regular lines because the Global Entry lines were actually longer."

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