It’s ironic that to avoid waiting in queues at airports, travelers are now waiting to get approvals for Global Entry.
For years, travelers to the U.S. have used Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program. It helps pre-approved and low-risk travelers to pass through immigration quickly upon re-entering the country. One of the five Trusted Traveler programs, Global Entry costs $100 and comes with a five-year TSA Pre-Check, which also makes going through domestic departures a breeze.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About Global Entry
According to the CBP, nearly 8 million people were part of the program last year. However, lately, appointments have become coveted and it’s hard to find a slot. Blame the pandemic, the backlog, staff shortages, or the popularity of the program among travelers who’ve realized what a great deal it is. Even the Homeland Security website warns that interview appointments are limited because the volume of applications is high, and it may take 6-18 months for the full process to be completed.
When you fill out your application and pay the fee, your application is reviewed. After you receive conditional approval, you can schedule an interview appointment at an enrollment center. During the interview, you are asked standard questions about your job and your travels, and your fingerprints and photo are taken. Once you clear this, your card is delivered to your home.
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There are long delays that are happening throughout this process. Some people get conditional approvals in a few weeks, while others may have to wait for months. And the second hurdle is getting interview appointments, which are unavailable at busy enrollment centers and airports.
Peter Vazan, executive vice president of industry relations at Trevolution Group, a travel technology company, explains, “The pandemic has caused a significant reduction in travel volume and has led to operational changes at airports and immigration checkpoints. As a result, processing times for TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry applications have increased, and some enrollment centers have reduced hours or temporarily closed.”
Is it worth the hassle though? Lauren LaBar, the co-founder and COO of Upaway, replies with a resounding yes. She expects the backlog to continue all this year, but she recommends getting into the program to avoid long lines and stress at airports—it is absolutely worth it if you travel more than a few times a year, she says. “TSA Pre-Check on its own costs $85 so if you take any international trips, I highly recommend opting for Global Entry.”
Related: There’s a Better Option Than Global Entry. And It’s Free
Tips to Get a Quick Appointment
We talked to multiple experts to understand how you can cut short the wait time and get your Global Entry processed relatively quickly. It will need some maneuvering and flexibility, but it can be done.
Anne Grant, the founder of theme-park guide Park Nerds, suggests travelers to not wait until the last minute to apply. “If you know that you have an upcoming international trip or you frequently travel for business, it’s best to start the application process early.” It will take time and effort to score an appointment, so get the first part of the process out of the way as soon as you can.
Try Less Busy Airports
Don’t mind driving farther out? Another airport, farther away from your home, may have slots. Tory Jon, the founder of Camper FAQs, suggests sorting out the scheduling CBP tool by wait time. “This will show you where appointments are available soonest, and if you’re willing to drive a few hours you may find a less popular location that has an interview available in a week or two.”
Or, try to be flexible on your away trips and get an appointment in other states when you’re traveling. Alex Miller, founder & CEO of UpgradedPoints.com, “One of the other ways to secure an appointment is to look at secondary, smaller, or less trafficked airports. For example, Honolulu, because there’s a limited amount of people transiting through there, tends to have [many] more appointments than JFK, for example. Likewise, in Washington D.C., you’re more likely to find an appointment at Baltimore/Washington Airport than you are at Dulles International Airport.”
Use Enrollment on Arrival
Enrollment on Arrival is a feature introduced by Customs and Border Protection. Those with conditional approval can have their interview at a participating airport when they arrive from an international trip. A prior appointment is not needed—you can just walk to the CBP counter. It can also be done at international airports (some while departures), so make sure you keep enough time for this. A full list of airports offering Global Entry enrollment is here.
Joi Light, travel blogger at Its Joi to My World, says this process took her less than 20 minutes. She applied for Global Entry in Atlanta, but there were no appointments for at least three months. She got her conditional approval less than three weeks after applying online and on her way back from London, she did the on-site interview. “I didn’t even have to request it because they could see the conditional approval after reviewing my passport. I agreed to do the interview that day, it took less than 20 minutes [to answer a few questions and give fingerprints]. I got the final and full approval via email less than a week later and two weeks later, received my global entry card in the mail.”
Keep an Eye Out for Cancellations
Not everyone shows up for their interview appointments. That’s why it’s a great idea to watch them like a hawk or enroll in a service that notifies you of cancellations. Lauren LaBar suggests Appointment Scanner, which sends text messages when there are canceled appointments–this can cut months of waiting time. “For just $29 a month, the average Appointment Scanner user gets 10-20 appointment texts a day for same-week and same-month appointment options.”
Related: Can’t Get an Airport Appointment for TSA Pre-Check? Try Staples
A glimmer of hope?..... We just renewed my spouse's Global Entry Program membership on March 10, 2023. I figured it would be a minimum of 4-6 weeks for a reply. No, she had her new card in her hand by USPS mail in exactly 10 days - March 20, 2023. Wow! I can't fathom how long it would take for a new application process with interview but this was impressive.
It's an absolute bleepshow.
I rewened my GE in November around Thanksgiving. It's late March and I haven't even gotten to the Conditional Approval stage in the subsequent 4 months. Never mind that I've had more background checks in the past 6 months than I care to think about, and never mind that I've had GE since 2012.
Wife and mother separately renewed their GEs a couple of weeks ago. Received conditional approval in a couple of days.
I sent CBP a polite but firm WTF email and received a form letter response saying that it can take up to 9 months.
First of all many CC cos. waive the fee. Our fees were waived by Chase Preferred anbd Chase Reserve. Secondly there seeems to be no rhyme or reason for waiting times. Our renewals were done in a reasonably amount of time, say 3-4 weeks but some have to wait a very long time. I have no idea why. I had to go to the CBP office at ORD to interview for my renewal but my wife got hers without having to interview. It seems new appicants have very long times now though when we first gotours there were plenty of slots available for bith of us to be seen at the same time but that was more than 5 years ago.
I applied for Gobal Entry 6 months before my pre check was set to expire thinking that would be plenty of time. Nope. Took nearly 4 months to be conditionally approved. When I returned from an international flight shortly thereafter , it was late on a Sunday, so interview on arrival was closed. Then tried for one month before finding an interview slot at LAX for for 11 months in the future. At least once a week, I'd search for sooner slots and actually, none were available at all. Tried Washington state while I was there for a few weeks and either found nothing or occasionally one but for two months in advance. Finally, travelled internationally again in January 2023 arriving earlier in the day and after waiting 1 hour and 45 minutes in line was able to complete the interview. So 11 months start to finish. And yes, I ended up having to renew the pre check in the meantime so basically paid twice.
I honestly believe the best advice is to forget GE and instead go for MPC, which is free and can be downloaded in minutes. https://www.fodors.com/news/travel-tips/forget-global-entry-heres-what-you-should-be-using-mobile-passport-instead. You can enter all of your information (for the entire family) before departing, and indicate your approach to the immigrations officer while taxiing to the airport. Then you get in the same Global Entry line, but bypass the GE'ers wrestling with kiosks, show your barcode to the agent, and you're in!
During the recent personnel turmoil in Border Patrol, my spouse's third NEXUS reapplication (and thus TSA as well as GE) was inexplicably revoked while we were abroad. Fortunately, we learned about MPC and breezed through immigrations upon re-entry in seconds.
During my investigation into NEXUS revocations, I learned that intervention by a Senator from VA on behalf of an aggrieved constituent resulted in dramatic improvements in agency staffing. I hope this will help to stem the unbelievable backlog (for NEXUS interviews it was over five years in January). Still at a loss to explain the spate of mysterious and undeserved revocations. I have seen them equally suddenly reversed, suggesting perhaps electronic glitches.