How to apply for Global Entry: Tips for first-timers
As a reporter for TPG, I’ve written about Global Entry and other expedited security programs, including TSA PreCheck and Clear, which enable travelers to pass through the security and customs process at airports as quickly as possible. Although I've had TSA PreCheck since 2016, I delayed applying for Global Entry until this week.
Before joining TPG, I would travel abroad a few times per year. However, I didn't think Global Entry was necessary, as I only ever experienced extremely long wait times in the customs line when I lived in New York and routinely flew back to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
Waiting in a short line with the rest of the non-Global Entry users at other airports, namely Dulles International Airport (IAD) and O'Hare International Airport (ORD), never seemed like too much of an inconvenience, even though I may have briefly felt annoyed in the moment. Of course, I was lucky as lines at those airports can get very long as well.
My perspective as a traveler has changed significantly since becoming a travel reporter. I've learned to travel smarter with tools like TSA PreCheck and Clear.
After having TSA PreCheck for six years and Clear for 10 months, I've seen firsthand how helpful these programs can be, so much so that I would never want to travel without them again.
Despite this, I had to travel without the help of either program in April, when I flew French bee to Paris-Orly Airport (ORY) from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Because I was flying internationally, I aimed to get to LAX three hours ahead of my flight, but that plan was derailed when it took my Uber driver 30 minutes to arrive. That, plus a 45-minute drive to the airport, resulted in me arriving at the airport behind schedule, and the cherry on top was realizing that French bee does not participate in TSA PreCheck and that there was no Clear lane at Terminal B. This led to me waiting in line, while sweating profusely, for almost an hour, concerned about missing my flight.
Even though I largely travel on airlines and at airports that have both programs, I always glance at the regular TSA security line and shake my head every time at the long line of people about to go through the hassle of taking off their shoes and removing their electronics and laptops to put on the conveyer belt, before saying silently to myself, "This is why you have TSA PreCheck and Clear." Particularly since I only travel with a carry-on, my backpack is always stuffed full, requiring me to take out all of my toiletries to get to my laptop.
The anxiety I no longer feel in knowing that I have both TSA PreCheck and Clear and therefore will not have to go through the stress (or sweat) of waiting in line, emptying my backpack or being concerned about missing my flight is priceless to me and puts me in a good mood from the start.
I suspect a similar sense of comfort will come from having Global Entry.
As more countries continue to welcome back visitors, I am traveling more internationally, including to Asia, which I'll be visiting for the first time this fall. Although I'm unsure whether I will be approved to use Global Entry by that time, I applied for the program so I can hopefully use it for the trip.
Here's what I've learned about the application process so far.
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What is Global Entry, and how do you use it?
My increased international travel is what led me to apply for Global Entry, which gives preapproved, low-risk travelers expedited clearance upon arrival to the U.S. from abroad.
Rather than wait in the regular customs line with everyone else coming into the U.S., Global Entry members enter through automated kiosks at 53 airports.
Traditionally, users present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, sometimes place their fingers on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk will then print a receipt that Global Entry members give to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer before exiting the baggage claim area.
As of July, CBP has implemented facial biometric paperless kiosks for Global Entry lanes at 10 airports, meaning travelers will no longer receive a paper receipt but rather proceed to the verification stage after facial scanning.
Whether you enter via a Global Entry lane that is paperless or a traditional queue, you'll save time by eliminating the need to fill out some paperwork or wait in long lines, which is the last thing anyone wants to do after returning home from overseas. Global Entry can literally save you hours.
Related: How Mobile Passport saved me when a banana foiled my Global Entry dreams
When should you apply for Global Entry?
As previously mentioned, I hope to use Global Entry for the first time later this year when I return to O'Hare from Singapore Changi Airport (SIN). CBP currently says Global Entry applications can take at least 90 days to process, so try to apply at least six months before your next international trip to avoid any issues with your application being processed before your departure date.
Although I am already a TSA PreCheck member, you don't need to apply for that Trusted Traveler Program if you're enrolling in Global Entry first, as it includes access to TSA PreCheck.
You can still apply for TSA PreCheck (which you'll typically be approved for three to five days after submitting your application, according to the Transportation Security Administration) first if you don't have any international travel plans coming up but will be taking domestic flights in the next six months.
Know, though, that doing this will require paying both the $85 TSA PreCheck fee and the $100 Global Entry fee. You will not be reimbursed for TSA PreCheck after your Global Entry membership is approved (unless you have certain credit cards).
What is the online application process like?
If you decide to apply, take comfort in the fact that the online application is very straightforward. Although it asks for a substantial amount of information, it's fairly easy to go through the process of submitting everything.
You'll be able to start, save and resume your application, so you can complete it in the way that works best for you. Just be sure to set aside at least 30 minutes if you want to complete the application all in one sitting.
To begin, head to ttp.dhs.gov and click on the "Get Started" button for the Global Entry application. Then, log in to your Trusted Traveler Program account. If you are applying for a TTP for the first time, you'll have to set up a new account.
After a few processing steps, start the nine-part application process by entering basic identifying information, including your full name (as it appears on your passport and driver's license), height and eye color.
From there, you'll need to verify that you are a U.S. citizen via your passport, along with your driver's license information. If you are planning on using Global Entry to drive into the U.S. via a land border, you would also register your vehicle at this point.
Related: How a 5-minute trip to the airport rescued me from months of TSA PreCheck purgatory
The application didn't take much time until steps five and six, which ask you to verify each address and job you've held since August 2017. Since I've had six residences and several jobs since then, these steps required a bit more effort on my part.
Fortunately, I've had to enter this information for other applications, including TSA PreCheck, so I had it stored in the Notes app on my phone. If this is your first time entering this information online, I would recommend compiling and saving it for future use.
Once you complete these steps, you'll need to then specify the countries you have traveled to since August 2017, excluding the U.S., Canada and Mexico. If you've frequently traveled outside of those countries since then, it may take a few minutes to remember them all. I turned to my Instagram as a starting point since I document most of my travels there.
After completing steps one through eight, you'll be asked to disclose information regarding your criminal background (if applicable) before reviewing your application. Although you may be eager to submit everything at this point, I recommend taking at least a few minutes to verify all of the information since any errors in your application could delay being approved.
All that's left to do for the online portion once you submit your application for review is to pay the $100 application fee.
If you hope to avoid paying the $100 fee, there are ways to cover the application fee without using cash. Nearly 50 credit cards, including some cobranded airline and hotel options, offer a $100 statement credit for Global Entry application fees. Usually, this credit is available to cardholders every four to five years, but check the terms for your specific card for the exact frequency.
Related: What happens if you accidentally let your Global Entry expire?
What additional steps do you need to take?
After submitting your application, you'll be asked to complete an in-person interview. If you are conditionally approved, you may be able to complete this process when you return to the U.S. if arriving at an airport that participates in Enrollment on Arrival. Through this program, travelers can avoid a formal interview at an enrollment center to finalize their applications.
After submitting my application Monday morning, I was notified I had been conditionally approved Tuesday night via email.
When I attempted to schedule my interview online, I could not find any available appointments at either Chicago location or throughout the state, nor were appointments available in neighboring states, including in Detroit, Des Moines and Milwaukee. The first opening at St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) was Nov. 9, which would not help with my trip in October.
Therefore, my best option is to plan on enrolling upon arriving at O'Hare when I return from Singapore in October, assuming my flight is not delayed.
If you too decide to do the Enrollment on Arrival program, be sure to verify that the airport participates in it and that it will be open during your arrival time. Don't forget to also bring an acceptable document showing proof of residency in addition to your passport when enrolling at an airport.
Should the Enrollment on Arrival program not work for you, you'll be required to schedule an interview at an enrollment center.
Related: Don't necessarily expect shorter waits in applying for Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler Programs
While the application process has been fairly straightforward so far, I'll be curious to see how the Enrollment on Arrival component goes.
Once approved, I should receive a physical Global Entry card within 10 business days by mail, though we'll see how accurate that time estimate is once I get to this step.
I'm excited to add this Trusted Traveler Program to my repertoire of travel essentials. There are some quirks to be aware of, such as the need to carry your Global Entry card with you in certain scenarios like pre-clearing customs abroad and crossing a land border, but the program's benefits more than justify enrollment, especially now, when airports are busier than ever.