If you travel frequently, streamlining the process is essential to getting in and out of airports (and to wherever you're going) as quickly as possible. For domestic and international travelers, Global Entry and TSA PreCheck have made clearing security and customs much easier, allowing you to skip the lines at both. Here's what you need to know about the two programs and how to get them.
Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck: The Basics
Global Entry is run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and allows "pre-approved, low risk" travelers an expedited means of clearing customs upon reentering the country. Travelers with Global Entry use kiosks that read their passports, fingerprints, and customs declarations, allowing them to bypass the customs official and the accompanying line. Though this is primarily to benefit travelers coming into the country, some international customs authorities recognize Global Entry in some capacity.
TSA PreCheck is another Trusted Traveler Program designed to make clearing security at airports much easier. Simply put, Global Entry is designed to expedite the customs process, while TSA PreCheck does the same for the security screening process.
Note: Global Entry travelers are automatically qualified for TSA PreCheck, but the reverse is not true.
Eligibility for Global Entry
You must be a U.S. Citizen, lawful permanent resident, Dutch citizen, South Korean citizen, or Mexican national to be eligible for Global Entry. (Canadian citizens can access the same benefits through the NEXUS program). Applicants cannot have been convicted of a criminal offense or found in violation of any customs regulations in any country. A machine-readable passport or a U.S. permanent resident card is also required. See the full list of eligibility requirements here. Global Entry is valid for five years, after which you can renew it.
Eligibility for TSA PreCheck
You must be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, and cannot be on any terrorist watchlists, have been convicted of a criminal offense, or currently be under indictment.
How to Apply for Global Entry
Begin by filling out the online application (there is a $100 application fee). After you have undergone a thorough background check, assuming there are no problems, you will be issued a letter asking you to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center, most of which are housed in airports around the country. During the interview, a U.S. Customs Border Protection officer will ask you questions, take your picture, and scan all 10 fingerprints. Be sure to bring two forms of ID to the interview. You will then be issued a Global Entry ID card.
How to Apply for TSA PreCheck
The process is basically identical to that of Global Entry. Fill out on online application (fee is $85) and once you have been notified that your application has been accepted, schedule an interview at a TSA PreCheck application center.
Using Global Entry
When clearing customs at a U.S. international airport and some Canadian airports (see the full list here), proceed to one of the Global Entry kiosks and skip the lines for the customs officials.
Note: Global Entry travelers cannot bring other passengers (children, spouses, etc.) through the fast-track line if they are not also Global Entry cardholders.
Using TSA PreCheck
First, ensure that your boarding pass has the green TSA PreCheck icon. Global Entry and TSA PreCheck participants will be issued a Trusted Traveler number, so be sure to enter this when booking your tickets to be sure your boarding pass lists you as pre-approved. Then, look for the designated line at the security checkpoint (see list of participating airports here). You'll still have to show your boarding pass and ID, but you will be able to keep your shoes and belt on, and will not be required to remove your laptop or liquids from your carry-on (though you still must place your liquids in a 1-quart sized bag). Global Entry travelers can also use this option. Unlike Global Entry, TSA PreCheck permits travelers to bring non-TSA PreCheck passengers through the fast-track line.
The Consensus: Unless you never travel outside the U.S. and have no plans to do so in the next five years, opt for Global Entry. The additional $15 will be well worth it, though if you often travel with other people, you will want them to be Global Entry members as well.