Have you ever gone to the airport and wondered why people get special treatment and get to go through (usually) shorter, TSA Pre-Check lines? Or have you seen someone zoom around a snaking line of people waiting for customs, only to exit within seconds? Well, you can be that person. Here are a few tidbits about the Global Entry program and TSA Pre-Check.
If you travel by air with any frequency (more than once a year), it is probably a good idea to pony up some money for one of these programs. Which one? Generally Global Entry. If you have an American Express Platinum card, they will generally pay the fee for you.
Once approved for Global Entry, you will get a Known Traveler number and card in the mail. This handy piece of information gets you TSA Pre-Check (yes! It is included in the Global Entry fee), so you can get through security quicker when you are leaving. Also, with TSA Pre-check, you get to keep your shoes and sweaters on. Bonus. On your return from outside the US, you simply bypass the customs line and head for the kiosk. Swipe your passport, and off you go. It is that simple. Although, sometimes it can be a little difficult to spot the kiosks around the hordes of angry people waiting in line, but once you find them, you are out of there quickly.
I have, thus far, only used the Global Entry part once, but it helped me avoid a three-hour customs line at Fort Lauderdale airport, so that was a big win. I have used the TSA Pre-Check several times, and that is also helpful in speeding things along.
Global Entry is available to US Citizens and lawful permanent residents who have a passport (or permanent resident card). Approval in the program requires filling out an online application, paying $100 fee and attending an in person interview at an airport. It is not nearly as much of a pain in the butt as it sounds like, if you live near a participating airport. To get TSA Pre-Check alone is $85 so you might as well spend the extra $15 if you plan on leaving the country ever.
The online application takes a little while to fill out, and is rather comprehensive. Once you get the email that it is approved, you can go ahead and schedule your interview. I was able to find a time slot the very next day in Miami, although it usually takes a week or two to get an appointment. They ask some questions about travel, and arrests or criminal background and take your fingerprints, and you are off. The Global Entry people are the friendliest airport people I have met to date.
So, is it worth it? Yes. The first time you avoid an hours-long line, I bet you will agree with me.