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Global Entry was something pretty foreign to me at this time a year ago. We love to travel, but most of it has been domestic here in the U.S.
The biggest exception to that are the cruises that we love to take. But here’s the thing – all the cruises we’ve been on are considered closed loop sailings. That means that we departed and returned to the same U.S. port when the trip was over.
It also means going that through customs is a little simpler. You generally zip through those lines like nothing.
However, with us planning to bounce in and out of Panama over the next few years, customs will become a little more of a burden. Sure, it’s not the end of the world, but what if there was a way to avoid the long security lines and customs processing at almost any major airport (including domestic flights)?
Could it be? Is it really possible?
Yup. Global Entry can be the answer to those prayers. And I’m going to tell you why you want it, how to use it, and how to get it for free. We just went through the process, so you get to learn from our experience!
The benefits of Global Entry
Global Entry is one of a few government traveler programs such as TSA Pre✓® (aka TSA PreCheck) and CLEAR that can help get you through security much more quickly.
If you’re a regular flier, you’re likely already familiar TSA Pre✓. That program lets you leave on your shoes, belt, and jacket when going through security. You also don’t need to take your laptop out of the bag.
The TSA website states that in May 2019, 92% of TSA Pre✓ passengers waited less than 5 min. It doesn’t get you through customs, but boy, that’s a huge benefit to have, right?
Well, good news – Global Entry includes TSA Pre✓ eligibility as part of your membership! Sweet deal, right?
On top of this, TSA Pre✓ runs $85 for 5 years. Global Entry, on the other hand, is $100 for 5 years and gets you the international travel benefits as well. So if you travel out of the country, this can be a no-brainer. And we’ll get to the part of how to get it for free shortly!
The biggest perks to Global Entry are
- No processing lines – Because you’re a trusted traveler, you can now skip the long lines and just use the Global Entry kiosks.
- No paperwork – You know that blue customs declarations paper that you get the privilege of filling out? No need with Global Entry – you do that quickly at the kiosk.
- Access to expedited entry benefits in other countries – I’m not positive on this, but my understanding is that the U.S. has reciprocal agreements with some countries. This can get you accelerated entry when you enter these countries as well. In our case, it looks like Global Entry gives us the ability to sign up for free for FastPass in Panama. This is an expedited security program there and something we can quickly get enlisted for at the PTY airport the first time we get there.
- Reduced wait times – This is a gimme – you’ve gone through the process to basically get a background check done. Now you’re a trusted traveler so they can speed-up your passage through customs.
- TSA Pre✓ Eligibility – They word it as “eligibility” because it seems like there are rare circumstances where someone with Global Entry doesn’t get the “TSA Pre” printed on their boarding pass. Not sure why this would be, but most folks don’t seem to have this problem.
In other words, having Global Entry is huge for international travelers, but also gives you the benefits for domestic travel as well.
Since we just went through this, you get some current info on the whole process!
It’s not hard, but the waiting between steps took a loooooonnnnnng time so be prepared. We started the first step on 03/15/19 and just got approved on 06/13/19. Three months from start to finish.
1) The first step is to create an account. They call it a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account. And you’ll need one for each person that will be part of the program. Although kids can mooch off your TSA Pre✓ status if you have that, they can’t for Global Entry. We had to create accounts for each of us (me, Lisa, and Faith).
2) Complete the application. You’ll log in with your new credentials and complete the application online. The questions are straightforward asking about things like:
- Name, place and date of birth, contact info
- Citizenship and passport information
- Driver’s license details
- Any vehicles in your name
- Current and past addresses
- Current and previous employers
- Travel history
- Background questions
It really didn’t take too long to fill out – maybe 15 minutes each for Lisa and Faith. Mine took a little bit longer because I needed to pull up information on each of my side hustles, but still nothing crazy. Each family member needs to fill out an application.
Know that the cost is $100 for each Global Entry application. On top of that, it’s non-refundable whether or not you get approved. We’re going to aim to get you your $100 back though in the next section.
3) You wait… and wait. It takes a while for your application to be “conditionally approved.” The Customs and Border Patrol site currently states that “Processing times vary by applicant but on average it can take 11 weeks to be conditionally approved.”
11 weeks. That sounds like a long time, but that’s just an average – maybe it’ll be a lot shorter. Nope. Well, at least not for us. It actually took 12 weeks for Faith and for me to be conditionally approved. Lisa was luckier and it was probably about 8 weeks for her application to be approved.
We thought we’d be notified by email, but that didn’t happen. Good thing I was logging in every day or two just to check the status. Be aware of that so you’re not just sitting there waiting if you don’t get any emails either.
The long wait time for this was attributed to some aftershock of the government shutdown from the end of 2018 through the start of 2019. Hopefully, by the time you apply, you don’t have such a long wait.
4) Schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. This one can be fun. There aren’t a ton of facilities around the country so fingers crossed you’ll find one relatively close by.
Then there are the dates – it seems like they open these up in groups, but finding an available date can be a little hit or miss. And each person needs to schedule their interview separately.
Supposedly some places allow walk-ins, but ours did not.
Here’s a hint… get whatever’s available to you on the books. Even if it’s months out, just get something scheduled. Then check the website regularly to reschedule to something more desirable. People reschedule constantly so appointments free up all the time. The appointments also get snagged pretty quickly so you may even want to take some time and check it every hour or two.
We each had separate scheduled appointments months out but then found and booked appointments much sooner than our original ones. The place we went to was about 35 minutes from where we live. Unfortunately, each of them was on a different day – consecutive days just to rub it in.
I had mine on the first day and got it done. Luckily, on the second day, the CBP agent offered to knock out both my wife’s and daughter’s at once so that was really helpful.
Another option is to complete your Global Entry interview on a return flight from an international trip. Most international airports allow this and you don’t need to make an appointment in advance to do it that way.
The key is that you have 365 days from the date of your online approval notice to complete an interview. Otherwise, you’ll be out $100 and have to start all over.
5) The interview – the easiest part. For some reason, I was a little anxious about this interview. I don’t have anything to hide, but I think it was just because I had no idea what to expect.
Good news – if you’re conditionally approved, this is really just a formality. The agent double-checked a couple of basic items that we had already filled out on our applications and that was really it.
You need to bring your passport and driver’s license (or ID card). They also want you to bring your Membership Number/PASSID that you were issued when you were conditionally approved. If you just print a copy of the Global Entry approval confirmation which has the number on it, you’ll be covered.
We showed up and watched a quick video on how Global Entry works, did the quick interview (5-10 minutes), and had our fingerprints scanned.
That was it – mission accomplished.
We had our Global Entry cards sent those to my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Texas so they’ll be ready for us when we get there in August. You only really need these for land or sea travel though so I’m in no hurry for them.
However, that membership number we were just talking about (your PASSID) is your Known Traveler Number (KTN) and can be applied right away to your travel plans.
Using Global Entry
Let’s start with the easiest part of using Global Entry. Add your Known Traveler Number to any flight reservations you already have planned (even domestic flights). You can add it to any airline profiles you have as well for future reservations. I’d recommend double-checking that it’s there though when booking any flights.
On your way out of the country, you should get TSA Pre and be able to make your way through security a little faster without taking off your shoes, belt, or jacket. You also shouldn’t need to remove your laptop from the bag either.
The fun part though is when you’re flying back to the U.S. from another country. Here’s the gist of what happens when you get to the U.S. airport:
1) When you get to customs, you head right to the Global Entry kiosks.
2) At the kiosk, you scan your passport (or permanent resident card) as well as your fingerprints for verification.
3) You quickly complete the customs declaration on the kiosk.
4) Your photo gets taken – smile!!
5) A receipt spits out for the transaction. Hand it to the immigration officer, and you’re off to baggage claim!
This all really could have been covered in one step, but I thought that would be boring. Pretty simple and awesome, right?
How to get Global Entry for free
But miles and free flights aren’t the only benefits that credit cards have to offer as far as travel rewards are concerned. A number of cards offer Global Entry application reimbursement as well.
That’s right, there are credit cards offer a $100 statement credit for Global Entry. They provide this benefit once every 4 or 5 years as reimbursement for the application fee.
All you need to do is use the credit card for the $100 charge and their system automatically catches it. You then get issued the credit to your account without even doing anything. Simple, right?
In our case, we each used our Chase United Explorer cards for the application charge and the credits were issued within a day or two. That was a $200 savings just for taking advantage of a benefit that these cards had attached to them.
But these aren’t the only cards that offer this perk. Here are a few of the credit cards I’d recommend that offer this benefit as of the time of this writing:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year)
- Chase United Explorer Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee)
Notice that the Capital One Venture Rewards and Chase United Explorer cards waive the annual fee for the first year. So, you could get either of those cards and cancel them after that first year if they don’t suit your needs.
All of these cards are available through my Recommended Credit Cards page. If you plan on applying for any of those credit cards (or any others), please consider using my links on that page. It won’t cost you anything and it sends a little referral money my way to help keep this site up and running.
As a side note, because the system is just looking for that specific charge, you could even use a card to pay for someone else’s Global Entry like your kids. We considered doing this to cover Faith’s fee as well, but we’ve taken a break from new credit card signups until we get settled in Panama.
For some weird reason, I’m excited to try out our new Global Entry status when we leave for Panama in August. I’m also looking forward to using it to get FastPass for free once we land at Tocumen International Airport (PTY) for our layover.
This small bit of legwork of front is going to make the next five years of travel just a little easier!
Your turn – have you signed up for Global Entry yet?
Thanks for reading!!