Is It Worth Getting Global Entry as a Family?
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If your family travels overseas, you've probably debated whether or not you all need Global Entry. Global Entry makes getting through customs when you return to the United States a quicker and less painful process. It can definitely streamline your family's re-entry but it does cost money, so is Global Entry worth it for a whole family?
What Is Global Entry and Is It Worth It?
Global Entry is a must for the frequent international traveler. It's one of the Trusted Traveler Programs (along with TSA PreCheck, Sentri, NEXUS and FAST) that exists as part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Rather than wait in potentially long queues, you should be able to pass through immigration and customs upon re-entry to the United States within two to five minutes with Global Entry. You scan your passport at a kiosk machine, answer a few questions on the screen and print a document to hand to a customs officer. Young children likely will get an X on their sheet due to not having fingerprints scan as intended, but that typically requires just a brief stop with an officer to resolve. Global Entry makes the process a breeze and can be a sanity-saver for a family arriving home after a long-haul flight with tired kids.
The challenge of Global Entry for the traveling family is that everyone in your group needs it. Unlike TSA PreCheck, where kids 12 and under are not required to have their own trusted-traveler number to use the designated lanes, all family members (even infants) are required to have Global Entry to receive its benefits. This means everyone must go through the required in-person interview, which can be a pain to schedule and attend if you do not live near an airport offering appointments.
In addition to the logistical challenges of getting Global Entry for everyone in the family, you must pay the application fee for everyone. This might make you question whether it's worth getting Global Entry -- valid for five years -- as a family, especially if your family is large. A $100 application fee times six people? Suddenly standing in line doesn’t sound quite as bad. But wait ...
Let Your Credit Card Pick Up the Tab
One of the best ways to save on Global Entry is to use credit card benefits to cover the application fee. Many premium credit cards offer reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees. I almost always recommend using the credit for Global Entry as opposed to TSA PreCheck, as you also get PreCheck included in one application fee. However, if you aren't traveling internationally at all, Global Entry probably isn't worth the hassle.
There are some great low-fee credit cards offering Global Entry fee reimbursement, including:
- United Explorer Card ($0 annual fee the first year and then $95/year after that)
- IHG Rewards Cub Premier Credit Card ($89 annual fee)
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card ($95 annual fee)
Premium cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express also offer Global Entry fee reimbursement (up to $100) as a benefit. Some of these even offer the benefit to authorized users. Check out this list of cards offering this perk. In general, you can use the fee reimbursement perk for anyone. This means you can use card benefits to get free Global Entry for your kids, as well as yourself.
NEXUS: An Excellent Option for Families
NEXUS is a program that allows expedited entry into Canada, but it also provides Global Entry, which in turn provides PreCheck. The application fee for NEXUS is $50 for adults, half of what Global Entry costs, and children under 18 are free. If you live near the US–Canada border, or have a trip planned to a location that handles NEXUS interviews, this is a far more cost-effective option for a whole family than Global Entry.
The downside is that NEXUS isn’t covered by any credit card fee reimbursements. But if you are trying to get Global Entry for the whole family and don't have enough credit card application credits to cover everyone, you could come out ahead.
Here are some tips for applying for NEXUS:
- Apply way in advance. Many popular interview locations have very long wait times, in the range of six months.
- Canadian interview locations may or may not be easier for your family. Check out alternate locations if the backlog somewhere popular (like Vancouver's airport) is long.
- Be prepared for questions: How often do you visit Canada? Why do you visit Canada? Where else do you travel? Why do you want NEXUS?
- You must complete an iris scan. This may or may not occur at the same location as your interview. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to complete it at a separate location (i.e., interview in Detroit, but take iris scan at Windsor Airport), but you won’t need an appointment for the scan. It’s a five- to 10-minute process.
- Children under 18 need consent from a parent or legal guardian to enroll in NEXUS. At least one custodial parent must accompany the child to the interview and they must have evidence of custody without restrictions.
- Bring everyone’s passports, driver’s licenses and children's birth certificates to the interview.
- The entire interview process for a family will likely take 90 minutes to two hours. You will complete the Global Entry enrollment requirements at the same time.
If you can make the NEXUS application and interview scheduling work, it is hands-down the best way to get free Global Entry for your kids.
Tips for Getting Global Entry as a Family
Here are a few ideas about how to most easily obtain Global Entry for your family:
- Apply at the same time, if possible. We’ve done our enrollment and interviews haphazardly. The expiration dates of our Global Entry memberships are all different and it's not especially efficient. But we have been following the next tip.
- Complete your interview on your first arrival back in the US after applying. You won't have Global Entry for that trip, but it does save you the hassle of completing the interview separately. My older kids and I have all interviewed on arrival, and it is an easy process.
- Plan NEXUS interviews into a trip. It may be worth adding a visit to an enrollment center onto an existing trip to Canada. Or make it a part of your vacation plan from the start, and visit a lovely city like Vancouver in the process.
It is worth getting Global Entry as a family if you plan to travel outside the US multiple times within the five-year membership window, especially since it also confers TSA PreCheck. Experiencing long lines after a long trip is not the ideal way to cap off a family vacation. If the cost seems excessive, try to leverage any premium (or not so premium) credit cards that offer Global Entry or PreCheck application fee reimbursement. Last, NEXUS is a way to really cut costs for a family with kids under 18 if you live near an enrollment center or can work it into existing travel plans.
Here are some additional resources to check out regarding Global Entry and TSA PreCheck: