Is Global Entry Worth It?
When returning to the United States after traveling abroad, you’ll need to clear U.S. Customs. Customs lines can be long and time consuming. Global Entry is a membership program through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that expedites the process. To become a Global Entry member you need a pay a one-time application fee, have a background check and attend an in-person interview. Once approved, your membership lasts for five years. As a bonus, Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, which expedites the security screening process before boarding a domestic or international flight from the U.S.
Global Entry costs $100, only $15 more than TSA PreCheck, and since I travel frequently, I thought this would be a good investment. If you’re considering purchasing TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, read on to learn more about the process of obtaining membership, how it works and ultimately if it was worth the bother.
A waiting game
Before leaving on my trip to France, I filled out the online application and paid the $100 fee. I received conditional approval, but I needed to set up an in-person interview to receive Global Entry membership. Although there is center at my local airport in Portland, the soonest appointment was nine months out and I was leaving for France in two. So I choose the other option which is “Enrollment on Arrival,” where you have your interview at the airport as soon as you arrive back in the US. No appointment needed, but check to be sure they will be open when you arrive.
What's interesting is that 80 percent of the time when I fly I automatically receive TSA PreCheck on my boarding pass even though I have never signed up for TSA PreCheck. But once I applied for Global Entry there was no more free TSA PreCheck. I had to go through all the regular security including taking off my shoes, dumping my water and taking out my cell phone, laptop and quart-sized bag of liquids. This happened on both my outbound flight to Chicago where I spent the night (long story) and my continuing flight to France.
Enrollment on arrival interview
After three months in France, I returned to the U.S. with a layover at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). I had a four-hour layover so I knew I’d have plenty of time for my Global Entry interview. What I didn’t know is that my layover would actually be eight hours. (Never travel at high season.) I went through the normal customs line and once I was through border control, I saw a sign for “Global Entry interview” and got in line.
After a 20-minute wait, I was questioned by the CBP officer, fingerprinted and had my photo taken. As required, I came with my passport, proof of address and a secondary form of identification. I received the full grilling. “Why do you want Global Entry?” “Have you ever been arrested?” “What’s your job?” “Have you ever had issues with customs or border patrol?”
He fingerprinted me multiple times, while I kept telling him I have no detectible fingerprints. I know this because when I was a foster parent, I was fingerprinted multiple times, but they were never able to get a reading, even with the latest digital technology. Too many years tapping keyboards have worn my prints away.
Then the CBP officer explained the Global Entry process, but frankly I was too nervous to digest what he was saying. I do remember him growling, “You must declare every item you purchased in Europe. Even if you bought an apple, you must declare it!” Since I’d not declared the few trinkets I’d brought back for friends, I thought I was going to be arrested on the spot. But to my great relief, he finished talking and sent me on my way.
Although I left the interview not feeling too hopeful, when I got home that night — after a 27-hour, door-to-door journey — I received an email saying I was approved. My Global Entry card arrived in the mail about 10 days later.
Finally using Global Entry
A few months later, I returned to France with my Global Entry card in hand. However, airlines don’t automatically have your Global Entry number, so if you want TSA PreCheck, be sure to enter your Global Entry number during your airline’s online check-in process.
While TSA PreCheck only works for flights originating in the U.S. and won’t apply to flights originating in other countries, it’s so worth it. While I still had to take off my coat and scarf and empty everything out of my pockets, I didn’t have to take off my shoes or remove all my electronics and liquids.
On my return to the U.S., I didn’t need to fill out the customs declaration form. The regular customs line was quite long. I was able to slip over to the Global Entry side and quickly show my passport to the border control agent with no waiting at all. I was ready to declare my chocolate and macaron purchases, but the agent just looked at my passport and didn’t asked me a thing. After that I waited for my luggage, then joined the massive herd of people inching their way towards the exit and past agents looking for anything suspicious.
Although it was a long process to receive my Global Entry membership, it was more than worth it in the end. It will be a valuable time saver for the next five years of travel. Some airline credit cards, like my United Explorer card, reimburse the $100 paid for Global Entry or the $85 for TSA PreCheck. That makes it a no-brainer decision. Visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection site to start the process for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. And happy travels!