A Global Entry membership is a must for any international traveler to get through immigration fast – and also clear airport security faster, too. But given the application process, interviews, and high upfront cost, it can be daunting.
For years, would-be Global Entry applicants have been scared off by backlogs and trouble securing an appointment slot that can mean it takes months to signed up … but that's not always the case. When I registered back in 2018, the whole Global Entry enrollment process took just a few weeks. More recently, things have sped up, with some travelers finalizing Global Entry from start to finish in two weeks – or less.
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 (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. And when we say quickly, we mean quickly.
After a recent trip to Germany, I landed in Miami (MIA) to find a massive line for customs and immigration – it would have taken at least an hour. But Global Entry gets you access to a dedicated line … and that was completely empty. After briefly scanning my passport, I handed a slip off to the Customs agent and walked through. The entire process took less than two minutes!
The other Trusted Traveler 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 credit Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment as a perk. It seems like a new card adds this feature every year.
Many top-tier cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve , The Platinum Card® from American Express, and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card offer this benefit. But then there are even cheaper options where you can cover the cost of Global Entry, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the new U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature Card, which waives its $95 annual fee for the first year.
Read our guide on the top 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. Just use your card with a credit and you're set.
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.
You'll also need to provide some details on your international travel history over the last five years, too – including the months and years of your trips. Make sure you've got that all down by cross-checking old confirmation emails from airlines or scrolling through photos. Better yet, if you use an app like TripIt, just pull up your past travels to easily document your history.
The whole application takes about 10 minutes. From there, it's a waiting game as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) runs your background check and processes your application. Watch your email inbox for an alert about a status change in your application.
Sure enough, I received an email about four business days later notifying me of a change. After logging in to my trusted traveler account, I saw that I had indeed been conditionally approved for the program in under a week. In some cases, it can be even faster. Unfortunately, other applicants wind up waiting in limbo for months.
After receiving Global Entry conditional approval, the next step is scheduling an interview to finalize your enrollment. And that can be the most difficult part of the entire process.
Scheduling Your Global Entry Interview
To wrap up your Global Entry enrollment, you'll need to schedule an in-person interview. And depending on where you live and how many enrollment centers are around, that can take some effort and patience.
Schedules for these interviews are changing constantly, as Customs and Border Protection officials add availability in blocks and fellow travelers cancel their existing appointments. So even if the next appointment isn't for many months when you first look, secure the earliest appointment and then check back on the scheduling platform a few times a day to try to move it up sooner.
You can check out the interview schedules at enrollment centers nationwide here.
Check out our tips to securing a Global Entry interview faster!
Customs and Border Protection has made a concerted effort to address a backlog of applications and members awaiting interviews. For starters, a spokesperson for the agency recently said they increased interview availability by 74% in 2021.
But the agency also offers a new, faster way 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 60+ 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.
The Global Entry Interview
Once you've scheduled an interview, the hard part is over. But this is the last and most important step in signing up for Global Entry.
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.
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.
You should also get a membership card within a few days or a week by mail.
Using Global Entry
Once you've received your membership card, follow the attached instructions to activate it.
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.
These kiosks are the key to speeding through immigration, and I’ve yet to see a line. Just look for the Global Entry signs as you make your way through customs and head to an open kiosk. 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.
More recently, Global Entry has been moving toward facial recognition technology. In these cases, you'll simply snap a photo of yourself at the kiosk, confirm your details, grab a slip, and keep moving.
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.
Getting PreCheck with Your Global Entry
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. Fortunately, almost every major airline participates in PreCheck now.
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.
If you upgrade from PreCheck to Global Entry, or vice versa, your KTN will not change.
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.
How to Get Your Global Entry Approved Fast
Here are a few tips for getting your Global Entry approved quickly in 2021.
- Already got TSA PreCheck? While you won't get a discount when applying for Global Entry, we've seen plenty of anecdotal reports that suggest having gone through the TSA PreCheck background check process will expedite your approval process for Global Entry.
- Don't wait – the cost might go up! My application was relatively smooth and quick. Get your application in now, and make an interview appointment as soon as possible. There's another reason: The federal government is working on raising the cost of Global Entry (and other Trusted Traveler Programs) from $100 to $120. Get your foot in the door while it's cheaper!
- Be an interview appointment hawk. If your nearest enrollment center says there aren't available appointments until later in the year, don't just take their word for it! Book the next available appointment, whenever that is, as soon as you can, but then check the appointment schedule calendar early every morning to see if cancellations or a new batch of appointments open an earlier window.
- Use Enrollment on Arrival. If you are traveling abroad soon, use the EoA program to get an interview without an appointment. As soon as you land, you can interview with a CBP agent that day at the airport. Just make sure you allow for the extra time the interivew will take and if you have to wait for others in front of you.
- Be prepared. According to a CBP spokesperson, the most important thing for interviewees is to come prepared. If you don't bring all of your documents and information with you, you will have to make a new appointment and come back later. That misstep could cost you months. At minimum, you'll need to bring a valid passport, another form of ID like a driver's license.
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 solutions for international travelers out there. And so long as you can secure an interview, it’s easy and fast to get enrolled.