In and out in 2 minutes: Here’s how my Global Entry interview went

Sep 11, 2020

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I might not be passing through U.S. customs and immigration any time soon. But whenever I do, I’ll be able to continue walking through the Global Entry expedited lane like I have for the past four years.

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That’s right: I just completed my final interview for Global Entry renewal, mere days after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reopened its offices on Monday, Sept. 8.

A little bit of background

A few weeks ago, I got an email notification that my Global Entry membership would expire in January. So I submitted my renewal application, fully expecting that I would experience the same delays that thousands of other travelers have reported since last fall. To my pleasant surprise, my application was conditionally approved within 36 hours, and I was able to schedule my interview for final approval in mid-December — the first available time slot listed for Austin at the time that I checked.

Related: These are the best credit cards for free Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

Soon after I published my first article in the series, I learned about a $15 service that helps applicants “skip the line” for Global Entry appointments, thanks to a reader tip. The tool scans the CBP website for appointments that open up as a result of cancellations or new slots added, and notifies you based on the preferred interview locations you select during registration.

Within 24 hours of signing up, I had received no less than 12 alerts for earlier appointments — including one for Sept. 11 in Austin, my hometown. I snagged it immediately, hardly able to believe that it was still available. But even after my appointment was scheduled, I knew that the Trusted Traveler enrollment centers weren’t guaranteed to reopen on Sept. 8, which would mean that my interview might need to be pushed back. Fortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

My interview experience

It’s been exactly six months since the last time I walked through Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), so I was quite giddy driving down to the airport this morning. My route is usually plagued with traffic, but I arrived in record time due to the low number of daily travelers across the U.S. and worldwide.

Upon arrival, I made my way to the TSA PreCheck open counter at the entrance of the airport on the lower level, unaware that the Global Entry office is separate, located on the far left of the airport. There were three or four people waiting on plastic chairs by the PreCheck enrollment area, but only two people in the Global Entry office.

It didn’t occur that I might need my passport for my interview until I stepped into the office and heard the CBP officer asking an older couple in line ahead of me, “Do you have all of your documents? Your passport and your driver’s license?”

When it was my turn, I politely asked if it would be an issue, since the Trusted Traveler program already has all of my information stored in its database, and I’m renewing my membership which is still current as of this time. The officer I spoke with didn’t know, but very politely told me she would check for me.

After a two-minute wait, she returned and said that not having my passport wouldn’t be an issue, and escorted me to the international portion of the airport, situated behind locked doors that required authorization to enter. After she dispensed some hand sanitizer for me, I walked up to Officer Ruiz, who was waiting for me at the far end of the bank of checkpoints.

Today’s interview renewal experience was very different from my 2016 experience in the bowels of the Newark airport (EWR), where I sat in a small, frosted glass room with a very stern officer who grilled me on my personal life and background.

Officer Ruiz was friendly and approachable, and began fingerprinting me as soon as we had confirmed my current address. He didn’t ask me a single question about my recent travels, presumably because all of that information was up to date as of my most recent application online.

After address, fingerprints and a quick photo, I was done: Less than two minutes from start to finish.

What can you expect?

I am fully aware that my Global Entry renewal experience has been extremely fortuitous. My colleague and fellow Texan, Summer Hull, applied for her renewal back in October of 2019, but only received her conditional approval to schedule an interview in the last few weeks — right around the same time I received mine.

TPG has heard from hundreds of frustrated applicants that they have been in “pending review purgatory” for months, while others are also reporting that their applications have been approved with lighting speed, just like mine was.

Even outside of 2020 concerns, I know I had it easy: My colleague, Katie Genter, was grilled during her renewal interview about her credit card history and usage.

I can’t recommend my $15 “skip the line” service enough. Unfortunately, this tool can’t schedule your interview for you, and it won’t jump you ahead in the CBP review queue. So if you have a scheduled interview appointment that’s far off in the future, sign up today and see if you’ll get lucky with an earlier appointment slot that opens up, like I did. (You can reschedule your appointment on the DHS website without any penalty.)

If you’re still waiting on conditional approval, I’m sorry — I know it’s frustrating. But take heart: Our sources tell us that approvals have begun picking up steam now that the Trusted Traveler enrollment centers are back up and running.

And if you’re interested in renewing or applying for Global Entry, which comes with automatic TSA PreCheck membership, don’t forget: Multiple credit cards offer an up to $100 statement credit for Global Entry enrollment, so the membership is essentially free for you.

Featured photo by Shutterstock.

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