The Joys of Global Entry

by Protima Daryanani

You know how great it feels to be able to skip to the front of a never-ending line? That’s how it feels each time I use Global Entry at the airport, where I spend a great deal of time (well, less now since I don’t have to wait in the often terribly lengthy customs lines).

Global Entry is a program from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows certain travelers disembarking from international flights quick passage through immigration inspections and customs.  According to CBP, Global Entry is a “program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.” The program is open to US citizens, lawful permanent residents (i.e. Green Card holders), Dutch citizens, South Korean citizens, and Mexican nationals. Canadian citizens and residents may enjoy Global Entry benefits through membership in the NEXUS program.

When I get off the plane, I head straight to one of the Global Entry kiosks. I don’t have to complete any forms on the plane. I just place my passport onto the scanner and the computer pulls up my flight information. The kiosk then instructs me to place my fingers on the fingerprints scanner and pose for a picture (I look delightful after a long flight!). Once I verify that they have the correct flight arrival information, answer a few questions about whether I am bringing in any banned items (nope!), the machine spits out a piece of paper with my picture on it. This is an indication that I have been cleared.  (If a traveler is not cleared, the machine will provide a receipt with a big “X” on it, indicating the passenger requires additional inspection.) With my little white paper in hand, I waltz off to collect my luggage. I then contemplate for a long while why they cannot speed up my luggage delivery and whether I should invest in those tiny bottles of products so I don’t have to check my luggage. After a while, luggage in hand, I head off to Customs and again am able to jump to the front of the line as there is a special section for Global Entry travelers. And with that I am off home! 

It is a wonder to me that frequent international travelers don’t get with the program. It was so simple.

I applied a few days after I became a Green Card holder. I submitted an application online and paid the $100 fee (for five years).  Soon after, I received an email telling me to schedule an interview at one of the currently thirty-eight Global Entry Enrollment Centers. I scheduled it a few hours before my international flight at Newark, but I didn’t need that long. The CBP officer asked me a few questions and made me watch a video on how to use the Global Entry kiosk. He then took a picture. (What is it with CBP taking pictures of me looking like a dog’s dinner?) And with that, I was enrolled. For the first few years I used my Green Card but when I became a US citizen, I visited the Global Entry Enrollment Center and they “upgraded” my membership without my having to pay another fee. And the program seems to be getting better and better. 

There are currently almost fifty airports with Global Entry kiosks, with more being added. US citizens who use Global Entry may also use the Smartgate system when entering Australia without registration. In addition, with the payment of an additional fee, US citizens may apply for the Dutch Privium program, the Korean SES program, or the Mexican Viajero Confiable program for expedited entry into those countries. US nationals are also now eligible for the British Registered Traveller program for expedited entry into the United Kingdom.

That helps at Customs, but what about the lines at security when you get to the airport? These days, Global Entry membership also includes membership to TSA’s preCheck, the program that allows travelers to speed through the security line without having to remove their shoes, belts, or coats or computers from their bags. But imagine my surprise when I discovered that I could only use TSA preCheck if I was traveling on an airline that was part of the program. I learned this the hard way, that if I was traveling on nonparticipating international airlines, Global Entry (which now includes a TSA pre-Check membership) meant nothing. Although TSA preCheck is currently available at 118 airports around the US, it is only available for passengers traveling on Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways, and Virgin America. 

Sounds too good to be true? It really isn’t. But travelers do have to ensure they are eligible for the program. A Global Entry application may be denied if a traveler:

  • has been convicted or charged with a criminal offense;

  • had a previous customs violation;

  • is the subject of an ongoing investigation;

  • has false or inaccurate information on the application;

  • is inadmissible to the United States under the immigration regulations; or

  • cannot satisfy CBP of their low-risk status.

For those eligible, however, reports have been overwhelmingly positive (see ABC News, Smarter TRAVEL, and Airfare Watchdog). But once in a while this excellent system has a few glitches, like the revocation of a traveler’s Global Entry membership or the machine being unable to read a traveler’s fingerprints.

Overall, the pros far outweigh the cons and as cynical as I am, I can recognize that this is a great program that significantly reduces my time in the airport. Now if they could get a Trusted Traveler program for my luggage so I can receive it quickly.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 9, 2015: US Customs and Border Protection has announced the expansion of Global Entry to UK citizens beginning December 3.