Global Entry member had to show her actual card to get in the line. Do you need yours?

May 8, 2022

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Susan Oliver was tired after a long trip back to the U.S. She had just touched down on a United flight from London-Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Virginia last Saturday. Passport in hand, she approached customs, and thought about how glad she was to have an active Global Entry membership, seeing how the normal line was ‘longer than usual.’

As Oliver headed toward the Global Entry line, though, she said she got stopped.

“There were at least three men there, demanding to see the physical (Global Entry) card before you could get into the line,” she said.

“I was really surprised,” she told TPG, pointing out that she had never had to display the actual card before, in seven years as a Global Entry member.

Good thing she had it, just in case.

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While digging through her purse to find it, she said she mentioned to customs officials how unusual this was, and asked why this step was necessary.

She said they informed her, ‘People had been using the Global Entry lanes without having Global Entry, so they had to stop people from getting into that lane by looking at your card.’

Moments later, Oliver was on her way after finding her card and displaying it; no big deal.

Had I been in Oliver’s shoes, though, I would have been out of luck.

Customs at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

CBP: This shouldn’t happen

Like Oliver, I’ve never been asked to display my Global Entry card, in the four or so years I’ve been a member. In fact, I’ve never carried my physical card before.

Why?

Well, because at my interview in 2018, the customs official I spoke with told me I wouldn’t need it unless I’m crossing a land border.

I’m not alone.

Sean Cudahy global entry card
Sean Cudahy’s Global Entry card (Photo by Sean Cudahy/The Points Guy)

I checked with other frequent travelers in our TPG Lounge on Facebook, and among dozens I heard from, few others had ever been asked to show their card – with an exception or two. A couple of travelers mentioned they’d been asked for the card at international preclearance facilities, such as in Canada.

One TPG reader wrote, “I’ve been asked once to show my GE card to enter the line for the GE kiosks,” even though, he also pointed out, “I was told during my enrollment interview…that I wouldn’t need to carry it.”

Related: Global Entry, Trusted Traveler Programs reach 10 million members

To that end, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) frequently asked questions page for Global Entry specifically says the cards are accepted for entry at land and sea ports; Global Entry members are able to use the Sentri and Nexus lanes for the CBP’s other programs that expedite crossing into the U.S. from Mexico and/or Canada.

In fact, the page specifically says the cards are not accepted at kiosks, which are what you use when arriving at an airport from an international flight.

After hearing Oliver’s story, I first rummaged through a drawer to locate my card, which I hadn’t seen in years. Then I reached out to CBP to find out whether the cards could, in fact, be required for international passengers arriving at airports… under certain, unusual circumstances, perhaps?

Nope.

A CBP spokesperson told TPG Friday, that the agency checked with its field office at Dulles and “has not made any changes in the processing of Global Entry members,” and added, “Cards are not required.”

So, what gives?

Still not clear why this happened

The best CBP can tell us is that, “This may have been an isolated situation.”

With “at least three men” guarding the Global Entry line demanding to see a physical card, though, Oliver clearly didn’t have a choice in the matter, if she wanted to go through the Global Entry line.

I wanted to find out what someone in Oliver’s position should do, imagining the sort of line you could otherwise be subjected to, particularly at a time when there’s a good chance the normal line could be long.

Should you mention to the CBP officials that….well….they have it wrong?

“I would not advise getting into any disagreement with the officers,” the CBP spokesperson said.

She continued, “I would advise that the member state that they are an approved Global   Entry member and traveling with their appropriate entry documents to use the Global Entry lane. As the Global Entry cards are not for kiosk use, members are not required to present them for air travel.”

Related: How to avoid waiting for a Global Entry interview and TSA PreCheck on your next boarding pass

(Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Bottom line

Based on both CBP policies – which they reiterated to TPG —  you shouldn’t need your card to access Global Entry when you’re flying.

You’d better believe I’ll be carrying mine going forward, though.

Oliver, too.

“I’m just going to keep it in the back of my passport where it has been,” she said.

Featured photo by Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images.

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