My experience applying for and using Global Entry (US Gov’t trusted traveler program)

Applying for Global Entry

I know that not everyone is aware of the US Government’s Trusted Traveler Program, I do a lot of Internet research on travel and that is the main reason I became aware of it.  I am not a fan of the government knowing my business but with all the talk of sequestration affecting immigration and customs at airports and with our history of having delays and missed connections on return flights I thought it might be in our best interest to apply before our summer European vacation.

To begin the process I started at www.globalentry.gov, the website has links to apply as well as a lot of useful information on enrollment center locations as well as participating airports and airlines.  I knew from reading online forums that I should be prepared to answer questions on where I have lived, worked, travelled and attended school over the past ten years or so, I also needed to have my passport. I knew that they also have questions about any criminal history or customs violations, which wasn’t a problem for me.  The online application portion was somewhat tedious and just a little nerve wracking because if you accidentally post erroneous information it could lead to your application being denied, which means you have just thrown away one hundred dollars.  Before you begin the application you have to register an account on the GOES (Global Online Enrollment System) website, then you can begin the application process and pay the fee.  It took around a half hour to complete my application and then the waiting game began….

The next step in the process is obtaining your initial approval, the wait for this was about eleven days for me, and once I had my initial approval I could complete the final step of obtaining my in-person interview. I would caution you now to begin the process well in advance of your next planned trip because the longest wait was for the interview with customs officials at my local enrollment center, I had to wait a little over a month for my interview at the Orlando International Airport location.  You can keep checking for vacancies that open but the date we had worked for my husband and I and was well in advance of our trip.  Another option, if you are a frequent traveler, is to see if there are any vacancies that correspond to your layovers at airports with enrollment centers.

I was pleasantly surprised with my experience at the enrollment center, I was expecting the same treatment that you get when passing the TSA checkpoints, but it was the exact opposite.   You are told upon your initial approval to print and bring the approval letter along with your passport and proof of address (utility bill or similar documentation,) so with this in hand we headed to our appointments, to begin with we found the office, which is landside, to be easy to locate.   After arriving at the enrollment office, we found the agents to be very professional and friendly, we were even allowed to conduct our interviews together.  The questions asked were really just confirming that our information was entered correctly, once we finished with the questions we were fingerprinted using an electronic scanner and approved.  We were given our Global Entry ID numbers and told that we would receive our cards in about a week.  The agent also gave some helpful tips and information on using the system.   Just can’t say enough about how easy and pleasant the experience was!

Using Global Entry

We have just returned from our European vacation and were able to try out our new Global Entry status, we just happened to be flying out of an airport and on an airline that participated in the TSA pre-check part of Global Entry, and breezed right through.  There was no one in line at the pre-check TSA checkpoint and when using this line you don’t have to remove your shoes, belts or electronics and liquids from your carry on bags, so much BETTER!

Right now not every airport and airline are participating in TSA pre-check and it can all be very confusing, for example we were flying American Airlines which participates at MCO but not TPA, if you were flying Delta you could participate at TPA or MCO.  Here is a helpful link to participating airlines/airports http://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/tsa-precheck-participating-airports, but I will warn it isn’t completely accurate because it doesn’t show that you can use MCO pre-check when flying American.

The return home through the Global Entry kiosks at customs was also very easy and has the potential to be a big time saver at peak arrival times when the lines for customs and immigration can be very long.  You simply walk up to one of the self-serve kiosks, place your passport on the scanner, allow it to take your photo, answer a few questions (the ones you typically answer on the paper form handed out on the aircraft,) place one hand on the electric scanner to verify your fingerprints and then take your printed receipt.  The printed receipt you will then hand to the dedicated Global Entry/VIP customs agent, who will probably ask a few questions about your purchases abroad, that’s it!  There are a few caveats, one is that you still have to wait the same time for your bags if you don’t have priority baggage handling from flying in the premium cabin or being a frequent flyer, so if there is a short line for the standard customs and immigration entry you have little advantage.   You also have to use a non pre-check equipped security line to return airside if you have a connecting flight, at least this was my experience at MIA, I imagine that it will be different at each airport so you may want to do your homework.

Overall, I think the one hundred dollar charge for five years enrollment, is money well spent if you travel internationally for your vacations or even if you travel frequently for domestic trips to make use of the TSA pre-check.  We have travelled Internationally five times in the past seven years and this years trip was by far the easiest when it came to TSA checkpoints and customs.

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