As an avid international traveler in both my professional and personal life, it is has always been very “inconvenient” coming back into the United States. Since the tragic events of 9/11, and the subsequent creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the United States borders have been (and are continuing to be) secured unlike anything seen before in modern history. The change of policy has resulted in extended waits for travelers coming back into the United States via air and ground. Specifically, the first time I tried to cross back into the United States from the San Ysidro (Mexico) border in a car, I ended up waiting for 5 hours on a highway while people tried to sell me everything from tortas to puppies. While my wait at airports haven’t been as long, it still can be tiring to have to wait 45 minutes to an hour in a customs line after a 7+ hour international flight. Fortunately, US Customs and Border Protection has offered a remedy to this issue through its “Global Entry” program. I recently applied and was granted entry into the program. This entry discusses both the program and my application process.
What is “Global Entry”?
According to the US Customs and Border website, the Global Entry Program is part of a series of “Trusted Traveler Programs” which allows expedited entry for “low risk” travelers into the United States. At airports of entry, members can use specialized kiosks to process their customs documents instead of waiting behind hundreds of travelers in the regular lines. In addition, members are provided a membership card that allows for expedited entry through the land borders connected to Mexico and Canada. The program also includes TSA Pre-check which can be used during domestic travel.
That sounds cool, how do I sign up?
The application process is straight forward. First, you need to create a profile on the US Customs and Border website. Once you’ve created your profile, you will then be able to apply for several programs depending on your traveling habits. For international travelers, Global Entry makes the most sense to choose because it includes most (if not all) the benefits in the other programs. The application fee for global entry is $100 USD. The good news is you only have to pay it once, and if approved, your membership is good for 5 years. The bad news is if you are denied, then you don’t get a refund.
What does an application consist of?
Once you’ve paid the required fee, you will then be allowed to apply for the program. The application itself is similar to a security clearance form. For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about, the application asks you to list where you have lived and worked for the last 10 years (maybe 7) and the countries you have travelled to during that span. You are also required to upload documents (i.e. passport) to verify your citizenship. The application includes a series of “disqualifying” questions such as criminal convictions and past customs violations. While this process sounds intimidating, in reality, it is pretty easy and filling out the application generally takes less than an hour.
How long does it take to process my application?
This is where it gets tricky. It literally depends on the traveler. It can take anywhere between a week to a few months to get “conditionally approved”. You will not be able to move on in the process until you obtain that approval. From my personal experience, it took me over a month. However, I had a more “complicated” application than the average traveler. It was slightly frustrating as many of my friends and co-workers were approved inside of two weeks. I would recommend you apply for the program at least 3 months before your next known international trip.
I got conditionally approved but I stink at interviews, should I be worried?
Once you obtain the long (or short) awaited conditional approval you are free to schedule your interview at select airports or field offices. Timeslots online tend to fill up quickly, so you may have to wait a few weeks to get an appointment. However, there is hope for those traveling in the immediate future. In my case, I am fortunate enough to work right across the street from a processing center, so rather than wait for my appointment date (November 23rd), I went in as a walk-in two weeks prior and was seen immediately. As for the interview itself, it is an interview in name only. Basically, the agent will verify the information on the application, and you will most likely be fully approved before walking out of the door.
I am fully approved; can I immediately travel the world using my new benefits?
It depends on your method of travel. You can immediately use the Global Entry kiosks at the airports. However, you will have to wait for you Membership Card to be mailed to you prior to using the land borders. One word of caution, because it happened to me. If you have multiple passports, make sure the names match. In my case, one passport had my middle name while the other didn’t. I was unexpectedly required to choose which one I wanted to link my benefits to. That was a decision that I was not expecting to make when I walked into my interview. As for the passport I didn’t choose, I would have to reapply (and pay another $100) if I wanted to get the benefits.
Is Global Entry worth the hassle?
As a frequent international traveler, I am already licking my chops considering how much time I will save as a result of my membership. However, if you are more of a domestic traveler, there are cheaper programs available. If I only went out of the country once every three or four years, then I probably would not enroll given the 5-year time-frame on the membership. In the end, it is important to do your own research and pick the program that is right for you.