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 the Global Entry program 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 this program. And how you can add this must-have travel perk to your repertoire for free.
What is Global Entry?
Global Entry (GE) 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 enter 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 GE 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 credit 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. Our favorite is the Capital One Venture Card.
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 are already enrolled.
The Global Entry Application
Before you pay for your GE 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 the program. 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 an 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. In doing so they now offer 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 enrollment after exiting the plane and before clearing customs at 50+ airports nationwide and over a dozen international locations with customs pre-clearance. To complete your application with “Global Entry On Arrival” you must be entering the U.S. after disembarking from an international flight.
If you schedule an interview time, 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 to be in the program. Others might take longer, as it surely varies by an 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 membership card by mail. Follow the attached instructions to activate your card.
But 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, and now some airports are using facial recognition, 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. Compared to the backed-up lines you might be used to, it’s a breeze.
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 Global Entry enrollment, it’s a no brainer. 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.