We really need to talk about Global Entry. I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this yet, but a lack of blogging is clearly a major side effect of working full time. Who knew that being busy 40 hours every week would cut so deeply into my free time?
Anyway, in case you don’t know what it is, Global Entry is a program for pre-approved, low risk American travelers that allows them to have expedited re-entry to the U.S. after international travel. The program has partnered with TSA Pre-check, so that GOES members also are automatically put in the fast lanes for security for both domestic and international flights.
Now when we travel, we zip through security on our way out. Upon our return, our passage through passport control and Customs is fast and easy. And since we don’t check luggage, things are all that much faster. People, this has fully revolutionized our travel experience.
No lie, when we returned from Bali, the time we spent going through the GOES kiosk to scan our passports, then bypassing the baggage claim, and then finally going through an expedited Customs checkpoint was well under 15 minutes. Compare that with the 30-60 minutes normally spent in line at passport control alone, then who-knows-how-long spent waiting for luggage (if it arrives), and then more waiting at Customs. Our whole Philly airport nightmare could have been avoided if we had enrolled in Global Entry. In fact, it was that experience that made us decide to go ahead and do it.
So how do you become sign up for Global Entry? The first step is to go to the website linked above and fill out an application. When I did ours, the first one (mine) took 30 minutes because of the learning curve. Each subsequent application was faster than the one before. All told, all four of our applications took about an hour. The fee is $100 per person for five years, which seems like a lot for four people, but it works out to $20/year. Believe me when I tell you that this money has repaid itself already.
After filling out the application online, you wait for the feds to finish your security check. Then you have to schedule an interview at a participating airport. For us, the closest one is Dulles, so we scheduled our interview for the day we were flying out to California since we were going to be at the airport anyway.
On the day of our interviews, we got to the airport at the scheduled time. We went to the office, which is just down a hall from baggage claim. One there, we watched a short video about Global Entry and everything we needed to know, had our photos taken, and then each of us had to answer a few questions with a Customs officer. (No lie, they asked my then-13 y.o. about her felonies and misdemeanors.) The process took less than 45 minutes. Within two hours, we got an email letting us know that we were approved and then our cards arrived in the mail within 10 days. Easy peasy.
Since then, travel has been more or a less a breeze. (Except for, say, getting stuck in an airport or two.) We go through the expedited security lines on our way out and our returns through passport control and Customs have been super fast. When returning, travelers go to the self-service kiosks in passport control to scan their passports and fill out those customs declarations cards that everyone hates dealing with. It’s all digital and there’s no writer’s cramp from filling out the forms. The kiosk prints out a receipt for each of us that we stick inside our passports and then we’re done. So far, we have managed get through the kiosks in under five minutes total.
Then we walk past the baggage claim (because remember, we don’t check bags) and go straight to Customs, where there’s another expedited line for people enrolled in Global Entry. We hand over our passports with the receipts to the Customs officer and, since it’s pretty rare for us to have anything to claim, we usually breeze through in just a couple of minutes.
And then we’re outside blinking in the sunlight, trying to remember where we parked the car. (Pro tip: Do not accidentally leave a roast beef/mayo/cheese/tomato sandwich in a lunch cooler in your car for two weeks in June. You will most definitely gag a bit when you open up your hot car and then will have to throw away the cooler and contents.)
There is an honor component to all this, in that you need to be honest when filling out your customs form. The Customs officers do make random spot checks on travelers and if you are caught having undeclared goods in your luggage, you’re immediately kicked out of the program for life. I tell you what, the prospect of ever standing in a hideous passport control line ever again is enough to keep me on the straight and narrow.
What about the rest of you? Who among you has Global Entry and/or TSA Pre-check? Do you just love it?