A few years ago, I was coming back from overseas into the US and was waiting in line for my turn to go thru passport control at the airport. While hundreds of us were standing around waiting, we could see a few travelers head to a row of ATM-looking machines on the side of the entry hall and quickly head out to the baggage claims area. Given the long lines one can frequently find nowadays at airport security checkpoints and at customs passport control areas, any way to beat the lines is worth looking into. And that is when I became interested in the growing array of services designed to make it easier for travelers to navigate through security and customs.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in the area, as I am simply a frequent international traveler trying to simplify the hassles of his trips. But what I see are more and more of these programs, and I think people need to be better informed about them. The government of the USA is clearly trying to streamline the system, and it is not alone. Other countries are themselves addressing this issue and devising systems to help travelers. I want to share my understanding of what is currently available, at least for the US traveler, with the my readers.
First, one needs to understand that there are two basic types of programs, (1) the trusted traveler programs of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), relating to entry into the country, and (2) the programs of the TSA, relating to going through the security checkpoints. The two types of programs are separate, but closely related in the sense that travelers who belong to some of the CBP programs, like Global Entry, are automatically eligible for some of the TSA’s programs, like PreCheck.
To enter the USA in a speedy fashion, look into one of the following four programs from the CBP:
(1) NEXUS – think of N for north – program for cross-border travel between Canada and the US.
(2) SENTRI – think of S for south — program for cross-border travel between Mexico and the US.
(3) FAST – basically for commercial truck drivers for cross-border travel between the US and Canada or Mexico.
(4) GLOBAL ENTRY – since 2008, the fast growing program for international travelers from the US. This is the program which allows the trusted traveler to use those automated machines in the entry hall of most international airports in the USA so that he/she can zoom thru passport control. Membership in the Global Entry program gets you a “membership” card, but you don’t need that card for the airports; the machines will scan your passport and determine that you are part of the Global Entry program and send you on your way.
The application process for Global Entry is pretty straightforward. You file an application online thru the GOES system (Global Online Enrollment System), after which CBP does whatever it needs to do to check you out and make sure you are not a threat to homeland security, then you get a conditional acceptance letter which asks you to make an appointment for an interview, you go to the interview where you answer questions and get fingerprinted, and voila, you are a member of the Global Entry program and will receive your card in the mail shortly afterwards.
To speed thru security checkpoints, consider the TSA’s PreCheck program. In those US airports where the program operates (more than a hundred as of this writing), PreCheck benefits include being able to go through security without removing your belt or your shoes and without having to take out your laptop or your plastic bag of liquids from your backpack or carry-on bag. It also means separate security lines for PreCheck passengers, and that usually (but not always) greatly accelerates going through the security screening process. TSA has its own application process for the PreCheck program.
However, to get the benefits of both a speedy run through security and a speedy run through passport control upon your return to the USA (in a hundred or so airports), all you need is the Global Entry program because it automatically qualifies you for the PreCheck program. And here also, you don’t need to have your Global Entry card with you when you show up at the PreCheck security checkpoint as your passport will suffice.
But Global Entry is not simply relevant to the USA. It has international dimensions as well because of agreements between the US and a number of other countries! If you are a US citizen and member of the Global Entry program, you can get expedited entry benefits for the Netherlands, Korea, Australia, even New Zealand! The arrangements vary country by country; for example, New Zealand has dedicated lanes for members of the US Global Entry program, Australia allows Global Entry travelers to use the lanes dedicated to the Australian Smart Gate program, while Korea and the Netherlands require Global Entry members to obtain membership in that country’s program before benefits can be used (SES Smart Entry System for Korea, Privium for the Netherlands). Conversely, members of those countries’ trusted traveler programs get the benefits of the Global Entry system in the US in various ways. The details do get complicated, but the bottom line for US travelers is simple: join the Global Entry program.
It will make your travels easier thru both security checkpoints and customs.
This article first appeared on BonVoyageurs.com
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