How to Sign Up for Global Entry, From Start to Finish
A Global Entry membership is a must for any international traveler to get through immigration fast. But given the application, interviews, and high upfront cost, it can be daunting.
I enrolled in Global Entry and got through the entire process – from the initial application – in a few weeks. Despite some initial reservations that it would be time-consuming and cumbersome, I found it pretty simple and fast. And better yet, I got it for free.
Here’s a walkthrough on how to apply, interview, and successfully use Global Entry. And how you can add this must-have travel perk to your repertoire for free.
What is Global Entry?
Global Entry is one of two popular “Trusted Traveler Programs” run by the U.S. government, and it’s the best way to clear immigration quickly after your international flight back to the United States.
The other program is TSA PreCheck, which you can use to skip long lines at airport security before getting on your flight whether you are traveling domestically or internationally.
However, part of the reason why Global Entry is so popular – and powerful – is that it also comes with TSA PreCheck. That means you can skip long lines at security on your way into the airport and as you come back into the country through immigration.
So if you travel internationally just once, that makes Global Entry the easy choice over PreCheck.
Both programs have a five-year membership once you’re enrolled. Global Entry costs $100, while PreCheck costs $85. And as you’ll see below, more and more credit cards offer credits to cover the enrollment cost.
How to Get Global Entry
Global Entry itself costs $100 for a five-year membership. However, plenty of credit cards include a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment as a perk – it seems like a new card adds this feature every month.
From top-tier cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum to even a no annual fee card like the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Card, there are plenty of travel rewards out there you could use to enroll in Global Entry for free.
Thrifty Tip: Read our guide on the top four cards that offer Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
All you need to do to cash in on that credit is pay with the card that covers your application fee. That means you can pay for a friend or family member to apply if you already have Global Entry. I used an old Capital One Venture card which recently added Global Entry and PreCheck reimbursement as a perk.
The Global Entry Application
Before you pay for your Global Entry enrollment, you first need to apply. Luckily, it’s fairly straightforward. So long as you’re a legal U.S. resident (or a citizen of a handful of other countries including Argentina, South Korea, Singapore and more) without a criminal record or previous immigration issues, you’ll be eligible.
The application is filled with personal details to prove your identity and verify your previous travels. They’re fairly typical questions, though one potential hiccup is that you’ll need to provide five years of employment history and residential addresses. Depending on how much you’ve moved around, it could be a challenge.
The whole application takes about 10 minutes, and my conditional approval took about four business days. I applied on a Thursday and on the following Wednesday, I woke up to an email that my application status had been changed.
After logging in, I saw that I had indeed been conditionally approved for Global Entry. The next step is scheduling an interview, which can be the most difficult part.
Scheduling Your Global Entry Interview
It’s not unusual for interviews to be booked out for months. Depending on where you live and how many enrollment centers are around, it can take some effort and patience.
If you can’t schedule a Global Entry interview as soon as you’d like, check back on the scheduling platform a few times a day to try and squeeze into a canceled slot. Some travelers have reported success with simply walking in for an interview, as well.
Customs and Border Protection have made a concerted effort to address a backlog of interviews. At the start of last summer, we noticed some wide-open availability to schedule interviews across the nation, including at airports like Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), New York City-JFK (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and more.
That’s how I was able to schedule an interview just a few days after I was conditionally approved. Check out the interview schedules at enrollment centers nationwide here.
The federal government has also started offering a new way to finish up your Global Entry registration: Enrollment on Arrival. If you’ve been conditionally approved, you can do the interview and finalize your Global Entry enrollment after exiting the plane and before clearing customs at select airports.
Of course, this won’t exactly be the same speedy pass through immigration that Global Entry is meant for. But it can simplify the process, so check to see if your airport is one of 35 U.S. airports that offers Enrollment on Arrival here.
The Global Entry Interview
Once you’re scheduled, be sure to bring your passport, driver’s license and confirmation of your conditional approval before you head to the enrollment center on the day of your interview. If the address on your driver’s license doesn’t match your current home address, you may want to bring another ID or piece of mail, as well.
The interview itself was was simple: I was in and out within 10 minutes after being asked only to confirm my recent travels, some personal details and why I wanted Global Entry. Others might take longer, as it surely varies by agent. However, my TSA PreCheck interview a few years back was more rigorous than the interview for Global Entry.
After the brief interview, the officer snapped a quick photo and took my fingerprint scans. That was really all it entailed. In just a few minutes he told me I had been approved and would receive an email notification. Sure enough, I had an email within minutes letting me know my account status had been updated.
Using Global Entry
Within a week or so of your successful interview, you should receive your Global Entry membership card by mail. Follow the attached instructions to activate your card. Unless you’re entering the U.S. from Canada by land, there’s not much reason to carry around the card. You only need your passport and fingertips to use the Global Entry kiosks when re-entering the country.
These kiosks are the key to speeding through immigration, and I’ve yet to see a line. After scanning your fingerprints and answering a few quick questions about your trip, you’ll get a small slip. Hand it off to a dedicated immigration officer and you can go on your way.
The whole process of clearing immigration shouldn’t take more than a few minutes with Global Entry. Compared to the backed-up lines you might be used to, it’s a breeze.
Getting PreCheck Through Your Global Entry Membership
As for utilizing your new TSA PreCheck benefit, keep in mind that PreCheck doesn’t work on its own. The airline you’re flying must participate in order for you to skip the lines and get in a PreCheck lane.
That means you need to enter your Known Traveler Number (KTN) in your airline account. Simply grab your Global Entry Membership Number (or PASSID), and enter it as a KTN. This should be available as soon as your account is approved following your interview.
Once you’ve updated your account with a TSA PreCheck-participating airline, your PreCheck benefit should carry over. Check with the TSA to see if your airline works with PreCheck.
One of the most common questions we get is whether adults can use their Global Entry membership for their children. Unfortunately, Customs and Border Protection is very strict: No companions are allowed.
If you have children and want to get through immigration faster, you’ll need to enroll each of them individually.
If you’ve got one of the credit cards that covers the cost of Global Entry enrollment, you should sign up immediately. Between TSA PreCheck privileges and a fast track through immigration, it’s among the best. And so long as you can secure an interview, it’s easy and fast to get enrolled.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.