Traveling is fun, but there are so many things in place that add stress and time to any trip. If you fly more than once a year, you might want to think about enrolling in a trusted traveler program to cut down on the time you’re spending waiting in line. For a small fee and a little bit of time dedicated to an in-person interview, you’ll save yourself hours of waiting around to get through airport security and customs.
You can apply to any of the programs online. You’ll be asked to provide your employment history along with your former addresses. A background check will be performed on you based on the information you provided. Then, you’ll be able to set up an in person interview at an international airport or border. Depending on availability, it may take several months to get on the schedule to interview. You’ll answer a few questions at the interview and will need to provide your fingerprints for Pre✓ and Global Entry or get an iris scan for NEXUS. Then, just a few weeks later you’ll be notified if you’ve been accepted into the program. From that point forward you’ll be able to take advantage of the benefits of whichever program you enrolled in.
There are three different programs that apply to air travel, each catering to different types of domestic or international travel into the US and Canada. Each program is valid for 5 years, after which you can re-apply in order to continue taking advantage of the really awesome benefits offered.
Good for: domestic flights within the US
If you’ve ever spent an hour or two or three in line waiting to get through airport security fearful that you’ll miss your flight, then you should enroll in the TSA Pre✓ program. The TSA claims that 97% of people going through the Pre✓ security line waited 5 minutes or less. In the 3 years that I’ve been able take advantage of the line, I can confirm that it has rarely taken more than 10 minutes to get through security as a trusted traveler.
The best part of having Pre✓ clearance is that you’ll be able to use the special line reserved for trusted travelers, which is almost always much shorter than the regular security lines. Not only that, but the other people in the Pre✓ line are also trusted travelers so they know how to get through security better than people that only fly once a year and don’t know that they can’t travel with sharp objects or giant bottles of shampoo.
The thing about Pre✓ is that enforcement is dependent on TSA agents and so can differ depending on airport or even individual TSA agents. That means that sometimes you won’t be asked to remove your shoes, jackets, or laptops, but other times you will. The good news is that even if you still have to take off your shoes, you’ll be able to use the Pre✓ line.
You’ll need to make sure to include your Trusted Traveler Number to your reservation. So long as the airline and airport participates, then you’ll see the TSA Pre✓ logo on your boarding pass, which will allow you to use the shortcut line. You’d think you’d be able to present your trusted traveler card in order to use the Pre✓ line, but you’d be wrong. You can only use the line if your ticket shows that you’ve been pre-approved.
If you have children under 12, they can accompany you in the Pre✓ line. Any other family members, including children over 13, will need to apply to the program themselves in order to be eligible to use the Pre✓ line.
This program is only available to American citizens and permanent residents.
Good for: international flights into the US
The last time you flew into the US from another country you probably ended your travel with a nice long wait in line to talk with a customs officer. Depending on day of week, time of day, how many other international flights arrive at the same time, this may drag on for hours. Perhaps you noticed another line, a shorter line, where people didn’t have to speak with anybody and made it through custom in just a few minutes. This line is to enter the US through Global Entry kiosks
for people that have been pre-approved for expedited clearance into the US. You’ll know that $100 was worth every penny the first time you speed through customs as you watch hundreds of people line up to talk to an agent.
To apply, you’ll need to create an account with the Homeland Security on the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES). You’ll need to submit details about your employment history and places that you’ve lived. A background check will be performed based on the information you provided. Then, you’ll need to schedule an interview with a customs agent at an international airport. Once there, you’ll wait around and then spend about 15 minutes with a customs agent about why you’re applying for the program. You’ll provide your passport and scan in your fingerprints. A few weeks later you’ll be notified if you’ve been accepted into the program. From that point on you can use the Global Entry kiosks whenever arriving into the US on an international flight.
Having trouble scheduling your interview? Once you’ve passed your background check, you have 30 days to make an appointment, but your appointment doesn’t have to take place within those 30 days. In fact, it probably won’t, because many Global Entry centers are booked for months in advance. Check appointment availability for nearby locations and airports you’ll be traveling to in the near future. If nothing is available within a reasonable amount of time, you can simply go to the center and see if they can fit you in between appointments. Many people have had luck with this. This is how you have to provide documents for updates of address or names, so they allow for time to take walk-ins between scheduled appointments.
Having Global Entry will also enroll you into the TSA Pre✓program, which will help you to get through airport security much faster. Another benefit to Global Entry is that you won’t have to fill out the customs declaration forms that are handed out on international flights traveling to the US. No more asking other passengers to borrow a pen!
Good for: international flights into the US and Canada
While Canadians can’t apply directly for Global Entry, they can instead apply for the NEXUS program which will include all of the benefits of Global Entry. To apply, you’ll need to create an account with the Homeland Security on the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES). You’ll need to submit details about your employment history and places that you’ve lived. A background check will be performed based on the information you provided. Then, you’ll need to schedule an interview with a customs agent near the US/Canada border because you’ll need to interview with both US and Canadian customs agents. Unlike Global Entry which uses fingerprint scans to verify your identity, NEXUS uses iris scans to make sure you are who you say you are.
The iris scan is fickle and you’ll need to remove eyeglasses and contact lenses in order for it to work. This is something to keep in mind if you do wear contacts, since you’d need to remove them each time you arrive on an international flight into Canada in order to pass the iris scan at a NEXUS kiosk.
NEXUS is only available for US citizens, US permanent residents, Canadian citizens, and Canadian permanent residents.
Having NEXUS will also automatically enroll you in the Global Entry and TSA Pre✓ programs. This is the best program to enroll if you ever travel to Canada because it’s cheaper and works in both countries.