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The government says to get TSA PreCheck instead of Global Entry, but we disagree

September 1 2022
9 min read
Global Entry airport kiosks at SFO
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By now, you've likely read numerous TPG stories about the benefits of TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, which help travelers expedite their way through the security and customs lines, respectively, at airports.

Because Global Entry includes membership in TSA PreCheck, we strongly advise applying for Global Entry to gain access to both, especially for frequent international travelers.

As a refresher, Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for preapproved, low-risk travelers returning to the U.S. from abroad. Via automatic kiosks at select airports, users simply scan their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card and then complete a quick fingerprint verification. This process eliminates the need to wait in line to speak with a customs officer.

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A Global Entry membership also includes access to TSA PreCheck, an expedited security program run by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. It enables you to speed through TSA security via a PreCheck-only line, and you do not have to worry about removing your shoes, laptop, liquids, belt or light jacket.

Both programs are well worth the $100 (Global Entry) and $85 (TSA PreCheck) application fees. However, a pandemic-induced backlog of applications recently led the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to discourage travelers from applying for Global Entry. This is due to processing delays of up to 18 months and limited interview availability.

Consequently, many applicants, including myself, have been unable to schedule in-person interviews — the last step of the Global Entry application process.

Rather than apply for TSA PreCheck, which currently has turnaround times of as little as two weeks, we still encourage you to apply for Global Entry now.

Read on for what current Global Entry processing times look like, why you should still apply for Global Entry now and tips for landing an interview, despite limited availability.

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Current processing times for Global Entry: 6 to 18 months

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

As TPG has consistently reported, increased wait times for Trusted Traveler Program applications and passport renewals have been ongoing during the pandemic.

"CBP temporarily suspended operations at its Trusted Traveler processing and enrollment centers to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s health and safety protocols," a CBP spokesperson said via email. "Since reopening, CBP’s Enrollment Centers have been temporarily operating under reduced capacity."

At the same time, more people than ever are using these programs. Membership in the government's five TTPs reached 10 million members in April, 8 million of which are part of Global Entry.

"CBP’s Trusted Traveler Programs...are currently experiencing unprecedented increased numbers of application submissions. For example, in July 2022, CBP received an average of 10 to 15,000 new and renewal applications every day," they said. "These events have created an extensive processing and interview backlog that CBP continues to diligently work hard to reduce."

As of mid-August, CBP is warning travelers that Global Entry applications can take anywhere from six to 18 months to complete, citing "limited" interview availability in various regions.

"If you do not travel multiple times per year internationally, we recommend applying for the TSA PreCheck Program," reads an alert online.

Even so, this warning isn't exactly new information. The agency has always advised only those with imminent international travel plans (within six months) to apply for Global Entry while suggesting those with imminent domestic travel apply for TSA PreCheck.

Unlike with Global Entry, DHS says, "Most TSA PreCheck applicants can schedule an appointment in less than 2 weeks and, if approved, can receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) in about 3 to 5 days after the appointment."

Even though you could potentially start using TSA PreCheck sooner than Global Entry, we still suggest you apply for Global Entry instead of just TSA PreCheck. By doing so, you might be able to evade scheduling an in-person interview thanks to a program called Enrollment on Arrival.

Tips for getting an interview: Enrollment on Arrival

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

Since I recently applied for Global Entry myself, I can attest to the struggles of scheduling an appointment to satisfy the interview portion of the application.

Although I was conditionally approved the day after submitting my application online, I could not find any available appointments at any airports in my home state of Illinois or four neighboring states.

In fact, the first opening I found was at St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) on Nov. 9, but since I am traveling abroad in October, that appointment would be too late to help with my upcoming trip. To get around this, I plan on enrolling upon arriving at O’Hare International Airport (ORD) when I return from Singapore in October; this is what DHS currently suggests for those who have been conditionally approved.

"If you are flying internationally into the US within the next 6 months we encourage you to complete your Global Entry enrollment at an Enrollment on Arrival (EoA) location as an alternative to scheduling an interview at an Enrollment Center," CBP says. "No appointment is needed and this option may offer the fastest path to membership approval for individuals with upcoming international travel."

Enrollment on Arrival is currently available for both renewal applicants and new applicants who have been conditionally approved; these flyers can interview upon arriving in the U.S. from an international trip at 69 airports, including at international airports that allow U.S. travelers to preclear customs abroad. The interview will occur during the immigration process when entering the U.S. from a foreign country.

If you interview via the Enrollment on Arrival program, you'll need to locate the Enrollment on Arrival office before passing through the customs line at your desired airport. During this interview, a CBP officer will ask you questions, take your photo and collect biometric information. You'll also need to present an acceptable document showing proof of residency (in addition to your passport), a list of which you can find here.

This process should only take a few minutes. However, you might encounter a line of other travelers waiting to interview as well, so be sure to allow extra time.

"CBP is increasing resource capacity to support the Enrollment on Arrival option," per the CBP spokesperson.

Plus, you'll want to verify the hours of the airport location to make sure it will be open during your arrival time.

If you are not eligible or you're otherwise unable to enroll on arrival, you will unfortunately still need to attempt to schedule an appointment at a Global Entry enrollment center once CBP prompts you to do so.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

Based on a search for this story, the soonest available appointment at any enrollment center nationally is at Miami International Airport (MIA) on Sept. 1

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

If you cannot find any convenient location with upcoming appointments, I suggest checking first thing in the morning for any last-minute cancellations; CBP says cancellations can sometimes result in same-day openings.

Why you should still apply for Global Entry now

As mentioned at the beginning of this story, Global Entry members also receive access to TSA PreCheck.

If applying separately, first-time users pay $85 for TSA PreCheck (online PreCheck renewals are $70) and $100 for Global Entry, for five-year memberships. For just the extra $15, though, you could apply for Global Entry and reap the benefits of both programs.

Global Entry gives you access to both programs at a discounted rate. Plus, there are several ways to save on application fees, including using one of the nearly 50 cobranded airline, hotel and other credit cards which offer up to $100 in statement credit reimbursement for TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry application fees.

In addition to saving money on application fees, we still advise those people considering applying for Global Entry to move forward with the process. The application process is worth the reward regardless of your international travel plans for the remainder of this year, in 2023 or even 2024.

Based on the consistent backlog of applications for two years and counting, waiting to apply for Global Entry until you have upcoming travel plans is a huge risk — your application likely won't be processed in time, based on current DHS estimates.

Although you may struggle to schedule an in-person interview — which is required to complete the process — conditionally approved candidates have a high chance of receiving an interview opportunity after a trip, thanks to the Enrollment on Arrival program.

Bottom line

Even if you are not flying internationally within the next six months, don't wait to apply for Global Entry.

The current backlog of applicants means it could take anywhere from six months to a year and a half for your Global Entry application to process. Rather than wait to use Global Entry, apply now, because you could be conditionally approved within a matter of days, as I was.

Conditionally approved applicants can then enroll when they return to the U.S. after their next international trip. At that point, they should be able to use Global Entry moving forward.

Once you enroll, you can use Global Entry (and TSA PreCheck) for five years; by then, CBP will hopefully have worked through its backlog of applications.

For more information on getting the most out of Global Entry, read on:

Featured photo by (Photo by Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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