13 key things to know about Global Entry

Oct 22, 2019

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As a frequent international traveler, I’ve come to depend on Global Entry, a system that allows me to clear U.S. customs in few minutes. While the process of becoming a member may seem cumbersome, it’s actually relatively painless, and the service continues to exceed my expectations, though renewing has become somewhat arduous in the last year. And though the program launched more than a decade ago, it continues to evolve and change.

Here are some important things you should know if you plan on getting Global Entry, including how you can get it for free, what to expect during the interview, how to use it, renew it and more.

In this photo taken May 28, 2010, a Global Entry Trusted Traveler Network kiosk awaits arriving international passengers who are registered for the service, which will expedite their clearance of customs, at the newly-renovated customs clearance area at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport Friday, May 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

1. Use credit cards to get Global Entry for free

All Global Entry applications must be submitted online through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website, along with a $100 nonrefundable application fee. After you’ve received conditional approval, you’ll need to schedule and complete an interview.

But you may be able to get Global Entry for free (or cover the cost for friends and family members). Many credit cards — even some with annual fees under $100 — will reimburse you for the Global Entry application fee. Typically, this credit is available once every four years.

Here are our top picks for low-fee cards to use that offer a free Global Entry credit:

And here are some of the premium cards that offer this benefit:

Most of the credit cards that offer an application-fee waiver allow you to buy Global Entry for someone else. So, if you know someone with an unused credit on their Amex Platinum, for example, they can charge the fee for your Global Entry renewal to their card, and the purchase will be reimbursed. With some cards, you (or the person who gifted you Global Entry) may not see the credit on the statement for up to eight weeks.

Another way to get Global Entry for free is to have Platinum or Diamond Medallion status with Delta. As part of Choice Benefits, Delta Platinum Medallion members can receive a $100 voucher toward Global Entry enrollment. Delta Diamond Medallion members can receive two $100 vouchers and get to select another choice benefit. However, this is absolutely not the best way to get reimbursed for Global Entry. Instead, use one of the aforementioned credit cards to get it for free and then select a more valuable choice benefit.

2. Expect the following during your interview

Once you’ve paid for (and, hopefully, been reimbursed for) and completed your Global Entry application, the interview comes next. Depending on where you are, it may take a while to schedule an interview. The enrollment center at Los Angeles International (LAX), for example, has been closed until further notice (at least until Sept. 30) because so many CBP officers have been reassigned to the southern border. (Find alternative California interview centers here.)

When your interview day does arrive, be sure to arrive on time and bring:

  • A print-out of your letter of conditional approval
  • Valid passport(s) or permanent resident card
  • Evidence of residency (Think: a driver’s license with your current address, a mortgage statement or a recent utility bill)

If things are backed up and your scheduled interview time seems like forever away, you can always try getting a walk-in interview. Many TPG readers and team members have had success showing up for an interview without an appointment. Or, consider an interview upon arrival at a participating airport (more on that later).

Once at the facility, you may have to wait a bit if the CBP officers are busy. I waited about 15 to 20 minutes for my interview on a Friday morning at the Chicago Enrollment Center, but one former TPG editor didn’t have to wait at all for her interview at a center in Los Angeles.

During the 10- to 15-minute interview, expect to be questioned about your application, and why you want to join the Global Entry program. The officer I spoke with was both friendly and professional, and asked to see my conditional approval letter, passport and driver’s license. I was then asked to confirm some of the countries I had visited recently (as listed on my application) and whether I’d traveled to each for business or leisure. The final step was giving my fingerprints and getting my photo taken (so make sure to brush your hair on the day of your interview).

A few minutes later, the officer told me I was officially enrolled, and that I would receive my Global Entry card within seven to 10 days (which I did). I was then given my Known Traveler Number (KTN) so I could enter it in my frequent flyer profiles and be eligible for TSA PreCheck.

Don’t forget to activate your card in your account within 30 days of receiving it, though you don’t necessarily need it to pass through Global Entry kiosks at the airport, which I’ll explain below. Some CBP officers will provide actual kiosk training, but mine did not.

3. How to use the Global Entry kiosk

The new US Customs and Border Protetion Global Entry Trusted Traveler Network kiosks are seen at Dulles International Airport (IAD), December 21, 2011 in Sterling, Virgina, near Washington, DC. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Once you’ve been approved, using Global Entry is easy. You simply head toward the line (or lack thereof) that says Global Entry when you arrive at immigration.

Approach the kiosk, use your fingerprints to identify yourself — sometimes this takes a few tries — answer the questions (you’ll recognize them from the blue CBP entry form) and take your photo. Then, proceed to baggage claim with your printout. You actually don’t need your Global Entry card to go through Global Entry kiosks in the U.S., but you will need it when traveling through NEXUS or SENTRI points at the Canadian and Mexican borders when coming back into the U.S. for expedited entry (more on that later).

Parents should note that very young children who are Global Entry members may simply be too squirmy to scan reliable fingerprints. If they receive a crossed-out printout, bring that to show a CBP officer.

Passport scans and fingerprints may soon be a thing of the past, however, which leads us to the next point.

4. Facial recognition is the next phase

Many TPG staff members, readers and even The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly, have been experiencing some changes to the Global Entry arrival process. Some reported not having to scan their fingerprints, while others weren’t required to scan their passport or answer any CBP questions. Some travelers experienced a combination of the three.

This is because Global Entry will soon be moving to facial recognition, according to a CBP representative, following a pilot program launched first in 2018 at Orlando International (MCO). The new process, which won’t require trusted travelers to answer questions or scan their fingerprints or passport, is being slowly rolled out and tested at additional U.S. airports now, including Miami (MIA), Houston (IAH) and New York-JFK. You just need to take your photo at the kiosk and hand the printed receipt to a Global Entry officer.

But don’t get too excited just yet. Many (if not most) passengers are still being asked to scan their fingerprints and passports, so until the system is fully ready, you may have to keep following these extra steps for the time being — depending on your airport or arrival terminal.

The forthcoming change is welcome news for everyone, but especially for parents of small children with Global Entry. Since babies and young kids don’t always have fully developed fingerprints, this would help eliminate the need for extra time with a Global Entry officer, speeding things up for families (and everyone else in line as a result).

5. TSA PreCheck is usually included

Entering your KTN in your frequent-flyer profiles should ensure that you’re eligible for TSA PreCheck. I’ve personally never been denied PreCheck since receiving Global Entry, but some TPG readers report they have occasionally been refused the privilege. In any case, you should have TSA PreCheck almost all of the time if you have Global Entry.

6. You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen 

Global Entry service is available to more than just U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Citizens of Argentina, Germany, Switzerland, Panama, South Korea, India, Colombia, Singapore, Taiwan and the U.K. are also eligible. Mexican nationals can apply, and while Dutch citizens aren’t currently eligible, an agreement is pending approval so they may be able to apply soon.

Canadian citizens and residents are also eligible for Global Entry benefits through the NEXUS program. For more information about how citizens from other countries can apply and get approved for Global Entry, check out the requirements and information on the CBP website.

UK citizens can apply for Global Entry.

The application process for U.K. citizens, for example, is slightly different: British citizens need to first register through their government website and pay a £42 (about $53) fee. If approved by the U.K. government, U.K. citizens can then apply through the U.S. Trusted Traveler Programs website and pay a $100 fee to the U.S. government.

When Nicky Kelvin, director of content at TPG U.K., applied for Global Entry, he said the U.K. government approval came through “incredibly fast, confirmed just 30 hours after application.”

He noted that his Global Entry application took a bit longer, closer to six weeks, and recommends that applicants log in to their account regularly, as he wasn’t automatically notified of approval. His interview appointment at New York-JFK was easy and quick.

If you’re a U.S. citizen thinking about getting Global Entry and you visit Canada often, you may want to consider getting NEXUS so you can also enjoy expedited customs there. Clearing Canadian customs and immigration can take a while, so this would save you a lot of time. NEXUS is 50% less than Global Entry, too ($50 per adult and free for children under 18), and once you have it (as a U.S. citizen or permanent resident), you also get Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. The downside is you must go to an enrollment center along the Canadian border.

7. You can enroll upon arrival

If you’re having trouble booking an appointment or don’t live close to an enrollment center, you can enroll upon arrival at airports in 25 U.S. states, plus Canada, the Bahamas, Abu Dhabi (in the UAE) and Bermuda.

This service allows you to complete your Global Entry enrollment interview as part of the immigration process when arriving at the airport after an international trip. In order to do this, plan to follow signs in the airport for the “Enrollment on Arrival” lanes — and be sure your flight arrives during hours when interviews upon arrival are being offered.

A CBP agent will complete your Global Entry interview during your admissibility inspection. No other documents are needed other than your “requisite documents for international travel,” like your passport. If you don’t see any signs for this, ask a CBP agent.

For more information, you can read a detailed account about how one TPG writer was able to get his Global Entry approved in JFK’s Terminal 1 after a trip to China.

8. Expect renewal delays

Global Entry membership lasts five years before it must be renewed, and it always expires on your birthday that fifth year.

The Global Entry renewal system is currently experiencing major delays with renewals. Delays seem to trend upward during the summer, possibly due to an increase in summer travel, but also because of a general influx of Global Entry applications and because so many CBP officers have been sent to the southern border (as is the case with the LAX enrollment center).

In mid to late 2018, many members started experiencing excessive delays associated with renewals, where cards were taking more than two months to arrive, or no email reminders or updates being sent. This isn’t entirely surprising, considering Global Entry applications increased from 1.6 million in 2016 to 2 million in 2018, and are still on the rise.

When TPG reader Josh H. called to check on his pending application this past July, a Global Entry representative told him that, at the moment, applications are pending for 100 days. That means you may not see a status change on your application for more than three months after you submitted. If you aren’t sure what’s going on with your application, call to check out the status — and don’t be surprised if it takes a few months.

Delays can easily be avoided by doing one key thing: Apply for renewal well before your Global Entry expires.

9. But Global Entry now gives you a one-year grace period

Now for the good news. Thanks to the massive delays in renewal processing, the CBP has extended the length of time you can use your benefits after your membership expires from six months to a year. Your membership will work for a full year after its expiration date, but you must submit your renewal application date before it expires.

10. Families need to enroll kids separately

Parents can’t bring their babies or children through the Global Entry kiosks with them unless they, too, are enrolled in the program. This means you’ll have to pay the $100 enrollment fee for each child you’d like to enroll. You’ll also have to schedule and attend another interview with your minor. While the interview will just be a formality, you will have to show up — and this makes the enrollment upon arrival service extra handy.

TSA PreCheck benefits, however, extend to children 12 years of age and younger, so you can use the expedited lane together when traveling domestically. And the Mobile Passport app also allows you to create additional profiles for family members, and families of up to four people can submit a single customs declaration form. If your family doesn’t leave the country often, that may suit your needs better than Global Entry.

Extra fees aren’t required for children who use NEXUS (and, by extension, Global Entry) with their parents, or for children linked to the parent’s SENTRI profile.

11. You can update your Global Entry when you get a new passport

If you get a new passport (perhaps it was lost, stolen or simply expired), you can update your Global Entry profile to match your new passport.

Simply log in to your account, navigate to your dashboard on the right and find the section marked “Update Documents.” Here, you’ll enter your new passport number there. However, if you do have a name or status change, you will have to go to a Global Entry Enrollment Center to process that change.

If you’re one of the lucky people who has two U.S. passports, remember, you’ll have to change the number in your profile to reflect which passport you’re using for international travel at that time.

12. Global Entry cards are considered valid federal IDs

While you don’t need to carry your Global Entry card with you to use the Global Entry kiosks when arriving at U.S. airports, it is a valid form of identification. This means if you happen to lose your driver’s license or state ID, the card serves as a legal alternative ID you can carry around with you until you replace the one you’ve lost.

If you’re arriving in the U.S. by a cruise ship port like Port Everglades, check Global Entry requirements ahead of time, as we’ve heard varying reports from TPG readers about needing your card to access Global Entry kiosks there.

The card can also come in handy for travelers that live in a state where the driver’s license is not Real ID-compliant. So, you could use your Global Entry card as an alternative form of valid ID at the airport instead.

13. You can’t upgrade TSA PreCheck to Global Entry

If you already have TSA PreCheck and want to upgrade to Global Entry, you’ll have to go through the normal enrollment process. That means visiting an enrollment center and paying the full $100 fee (which, hopefully, you’ll get reimbursed for anyway by using the right credit card).

If you’re deciding which service to get, you may as well pay the $15 extra (TSA PreCheck costs $85) and get Global Entry (which includes PreCheck) in order to have both services. You never know when an international travel opportunity may arise.

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Featured photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post/Getty Images.

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