Why I Finally Signed Up for ‘Global Entry’ and Just How Easy It Was

Global entry sign up: I bet it will come as a surprise to many of my readers that I wasn’t one of the early adopters of Global Entry, the expedited customs and immigration program (that also comes with TSA PreCheck).

But the civil libertarian in me was initially really bothered by the program, and I just didn’t do it. Though that all changed a few days ago.

Concerns That Kept Me Away From Global Entry These Past Two Years

Global Entry requires the government performing a background check on you and also fingerprinting you and taking your picture.

Even though I was influenced a great deal by reading David Brin’s 1998 book The Transparent Society where he argues that low-cost surveillance, communication and database technology would mean an end to privacy as traditionally conceived, I still push back on notions like that the government now collects and analyzes all cell phone geolocation data (which is why Ron Wyden developed legislation to require warrants for this without divulging that the practice is actually already occurring, since his speaking about it would itself be illegal), like the government’s data mining of grocery store discount cards and widespread cameras such as in New York and DC and license plate readers to track the movements of law-abiding individuals.

I really didn’t like the idea of having my photo taken and getting fingerprinted. I did learn to get comfortable with the reservation information sharing involved in getting access to TSA PreCheck. And I finally became nunb to the data intrusions… once I remembered that I actually already had been fingerprinted (in 1993, before going to work at a public high school coaching debate while in college) I realized that all of the information on me was available anyway, why force myself to wait unnecessarily in lines?

I’ve rarely had much of a wait at immigration. The worst waits I’ve experienced have been several 45 minute waits at Washington Dulles, mostly when arriving with all of the other European flights in the afternoon. Otherwise I’ve been mostly very lucky — though in just a few minutes, even in Miami where I’ve found customs to usually take longer than immigration.

But I’ve also known plenty of people to get stuck in immigration lines lasting for hours, such as 3+ hours at O’Hare. Why risk that?

And while I usually get TSA PreCheck when flying American Airlines, I prefer my PreCheck not be dependent on my airline elite status — I can enter my Global Entry Known Traveler number into any US domestic reservation and have a shot at the security lines with no nude-o-scope or shoe carnival.

(At the same time I’m a little uncomfortable with the notion of requiring compliance with a set of rules in the face of government making life otherwise-more-difficult through more onerious so-called security procedures.)

Still, the process was remarkably easy, and as I say I had already come to terms with the idea that I wasn’t really giving up any more information that the government already had.

Applying for Global Entry

There’s a $100 fee to apply. I put it on my American Express Platinum card, and they credited $100 back onto my card within a couple of days.

United’s Platinum elites and above get a similar rebate, and increasingly other programs make similar offers.

The application process was really straightforward.

There’s an online application, the most onerous part of which was figuring out which countries I had visited in the past 5 years. They make it a bit easier with a list of countries to choose from. Still, when your list goes on and on — and when that list extends back past the start of your current passport — it can be a challenge. Did I visit Barbados in 2007 or 2008?

In the end I actually made a mistake in my list. I didn’t include the Bahamas, I’m fairly sure, but my application was approved anyway. And when I went for my Global Entry interview I wasn’t asked about it either. So clearly perfection – at least in my case – wasn’t a deal breaker.

One thing that apparently does cause real problems is any sort of criminal history, at least in the past 10 years. They say that it might pose a problem but from everything I’ve heard if it’s within a decade it generally does though if it’s been longer than that minor offenses shouldn’t be an issue. Had a pot bust or a DUI 8 years ago? You probably aren’t getting Global Entry.

About 4 days after I submitted my application it was provisionally approved. From most reports that seems really fast, it can certainly take up to a few weeks. You can check the status online at the same website where you submitted your application, but they’ll email you about any change of status so you don’t actually have to (unless you want to be sure their emails aren’t going to your junk mail folder).

The Global Entry Interview Process

Then it was time to schedule my in-person interview. You need to schedule something within 30 days of approval or your application terminates and you’d need to start over. Although if you have no idea when you can go in, just schedule something many months\ into the future. You can reschedule online later.

The Global Entry office at Washington’s Dulles airport didn’t have a single appointment for about four months. Others offices have plenty of availability right away. You can schedule to interview anywhere, and I found myself with nearly a four hour layover at New York JFK and that office is relatively easy to get appointments with, at least it was for me.

I landed at American’s Terminal 8 and walked out to baggage claim and then over to the Airtran which takes you between terminals. The Global Entry office is located in the arrivals area of terminal 4.

Once I was at terminal 4 I went down the esclataor to arrivals and turned to the right.

Facing the front of the terminal, to your left is the extreme end of the terminal and almost immediately to your right is the Global Entry office.

Even though I got there a full hour before my appointment I simply walked in. There was a waiting room to my left, a few people were there just waiting but none was actually queued for their interview.

There were three women working at desks inside, one of them was free and simply flagged me to come on over she was happy to take me early.

She asked for my passport and for my letter confirming my approval. The reason she wanted the letter is because it contained my approval number on it — the easiest way for her to look up my application. It seemed as though she could have found me without it, but that made it easiest.

She had me review a sheet of paper that explained the TSA PreCheck benefit of being approved for Global Entry. Then she said that once she approved me I would also get a card in the mail in a few weeks that could be sued to expedite border crossing back into the US from Canada or Mexico (but that everyone in my vehicle would need to have such a card in order to use it, unless I wanted to leave them behind, guffaw guffaw). Incidentally no mention was made of the benefit to use SmartGate upon arrival in Australia.

By then she had my application up and just asked if I still lived at the address I had input on my application (I do). There were no other questions. The country I visited but left off my application wasn’t mentioned. There was no question about the countries I had visited since submitting my application, either.

I was asked for fingerprints (no ink to smudge, they were taken electronically) and the woman interviewing me took my photo as well.

That was it. Nothing else, no other questions asked. She told me if I wanted I could go back into the waiting room to ‘view the video’ which was just running on a loop, but that I didn’t have to since “the system is really easy.”

All in all it was less than 45 minutes from landing at the American Eagle far end of Terminal 8, to the Airtran to Terminal 4, to the Global Entry office and with a successful, completed interview. I made my way back in reverse and settled into American’s Flagship lounge while I waited out the rest of my layover before the flight home.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My interview was actually fun. It was in Miami last year. I’m from Kansas, and Mario Chalmers, a player for the Miami Heat NBA team, came from the University of Kansas.

    The middle aged white guy doing the interview looked at my application and commented, “I see you’re from Kansas….Mario Chalmers.” My reply: “Nice to meet you, Mario…Wait a minute, you’re not Mario Chalmers.”

    We had a good laugh and I was on my way within a couple of minutes. To me Global Entry is worth every penny. I was spared that horrendous line at O’Hare – less than five minutes from the aircraft to free and clear. The background check is a bit unsettling, but really I wouldn’t want them to just let people through immigration and customs like that without one.

  2. I started very early and since then, I have been in the taxi 20 min after touchdown at Dulles and through immigration in Miami in 10 min among other things. The best part is that AA remembers you after you add the TT number. and with prechekI in Chicago was able to go from downtown to plane in 55 min on a busy day

  3. I love Global Entry. It is great to sail right through. I have to deal with JFK as my home base, and the lines can be 20-30 minutes at times.

    The bad thing about Global Entry is that you sail through so quickly that it seems you are waiting longer for your luggage! We recently returned from Istanbul on Air France, via Paris. Since there was a long layover in Paris, our bags were probably the first to go into the plane. Even though they were tagged ‘Priority,’ they were nearly the last to come off. UGH!

  4. I have an interview shortly in Miami. They were backed up for weeks to get the first available time. I get Preheck already with AA, but need it for the many other airlines I fly domestically.

  5. I completed Global Entry but have been unable to get the TSA pre-check part of it to work. Any ideas on how to get the airlines to recognize your TSA pre-check number? I’m on a United trip right now and the agents don’t know anything and said to go to tsa.gov. The TSA folks at security are unpleasant and unhelpful as usual.

  6. I find it very effective and worth the money. I will be signing up my children as well since they travel the world with me.

  7. I had the same reservations as you, for many of the same reasons initially. I also realized that I had been fingerprinted already when I taught in the public schools and another time when I applied for a government job. So, I went ahead and got Global Entry and for the most part I have been glad I did, since I often re-enter through ORD or MIA and the lines are often long. I would however, like to offer a caveat to anyone using it. The last time I arrived at ORD most of the machines were out of order and when I finally got to use one of them I was not careful enough to get all of my fingers on the screen. This set off a set of circumstances that were much worse than a long line. I had just returned from a long trip from Accra, Ghana and this was the last thing I needed! My paper came out of the machine with a big X on it and I was asked to give the immigration officer my passport and sit in a room. I was unable to get my luggage and since I was traveling alone, I had no one to watch it. I had to wait in that room for quite some time and then finally got my passport back and was told everything was fine, and got my luggage. After I got my luggage, rather than being flagged through, I was told to go to another line for another inspection. Long and short of it, I was greatly delayed and although I didn’t miss my connecting flight, it was not the speedy process I had signed up for. No matter how distracted or tired you are, be sure to be very careful following the instructions at the Global Entry machine. One small mistake caused me a lot of time, stress and trouble!

  8. I was in the same boat, somewhat hesitant to go forward due to privacy concerns. I applied and got the reimbursement through AMEX Plat, but didn’t decide to actually follow through until a couple of days in advance of my interview.

  9. The “interview” is mislabeled. They should call it an “enrollment appointment” because the sole reason for the “interview” is to get you physically present to capture your fingerprints and pic for the Global Entry kiosks. If you travel though Chicago or Miami, GE is worth $500 a year. Pre Check is the icing on the cake!

  10. Wondering are there are issues with being overseas most of the year? or having dual canadian citizenship? do I mention countries I visited but are listed on my canadian passport?

    Thanks for the report

  11. @Karen – you just need to log into your AA, United, Delta, and US Air online accounts and add your Known Traveler ID to each of your profiles. Then you’ll be set up for Pre-Check going forward. Should be straightforward, although the location of the exact right input field on Delta’s site is a little quirky, I had to call and let them show me.

  12. I signed up for Global Entry when the Amex Platinum offer came up in January and haven’t been for my interview yet, but have been allowed through the express lane at security because I am “pre-approved.” No idea why. Possibly because I was a US Government employee 13 years ago?

  13. DUI is a dealbreaker for Global Entry.

    @Corky People can also get PreCheck via frequent flyer membership as well.

  14. I, also, had reservations about sharing my information and being fingerprinted, but realized that my prints are already on file with the FBI because I adopted two of my children and I am a substitute teacher. My interview is in two weeks.

  15. Looking forward to my ‘interview’ on the 16th @ IAD. How long after interview to get to use it? Have London trip @ end of month. 🙂

  16. Welcome to the club. I have not been quite so lucky and had to get Global Entry. At least with LAX, the customs line after immigration also has a global entry line so you don’t only fly through immigration but customs too. When not checking luggage, I got through in 10 minutes from door open to out of the terminal.

    Note on pre-check: I have noticed that when an airport is just starting up on pre-check, they may not automatically approve you even if you have your Known Traveler # entered. This has happened to me at PIT and most recently, RDU.

  17. Global Entry has been a huge time saver. We transit through Atlanta a lot, where the lines often run 30-60 minutes. We are generally through Immigration, Customs, security and on our way to the connecting gate in 5 minutes.

    We joined back in the beta-test phase about 4 years ago – one kiosk at only a handful of airports. The program has come a long way since.

  18. I did mine at Dulles. No reception area really, just sit on the bench until an officer wanders out. Tried to do a walk in in Philly and got rejected.

    They made us do the video. I forgot the letter but had the info on my phone. The guy didn’t care. I got an e-mail a day or so later, but I think it would have been live immediately.

    My interviewer did ask why I wanted it (int’l biz travel) and did ask a couple questions about my job.

  19. Not to be a total travel nerd…okay, to be a total travel nerd, but do you still get passport stamps with Global Entry? I really like passport stamps

  20. Does anyone know under what circumstances can government agencies access fingerprints stored in the Global Entry database? Just curious.

  21. I am surprised you didn’t already have it. 🙂 I fretted a bit about the whole background thing at first. But knowing the gubment already had plenty of info on me, including fingerprints, I bit the bullet. It has been well worth it.

  22. I don’t travel internationally enough to make it worth it to me, but what I don’t understand is why they don’t allow people with high level government security clearances automatic entry into the program. They’ve already done far more extensive investigations into me than Global Entry would do.

  23. Good for you that you’ve finally done this. As a foreigner who visits the US numerous times a year for business it is a shame that we can’t apply for some fast track system too. I can be found queuing at Immigration for hours at various US airports and worried about making my connection.

    It is also pretty annoying that you are asked numerous times about your travel plans and who you work for:- on the ESTA, on check-in, boarding, Immigration then at Customs. I often feel the US security could do things a little bit more efficiently without compromising on their main objectives.

  24. @ DAN. Dual citizenship makes no difference as long as you use your US passport when entering and leaving the US. I have US and am a citizen of two other countries. I just brought all three passports to the interview at ORD and all the information from each was recorded. Having been naturalized and adopted children both domestic and international, there is very little the government do not know about me. I am at the stage that I want to confirm that their information on me is correct.

  25. @Bill N DC I did my interview at IAD as well and the guy told me I was approved and could use GE as soon as he hit the “approve” button on his computer. I wasn’t expecting it to be instantaneous, but it was. I came back from an international trip a week after my interview and had no problems using the kiosk.

  26. Well, I’ve had Global Entry for two years now and have yet to clear a TSA pre. I have my Global Entry number in all my profiles and I’m about 0 out of 20. Interestingly enough my wife got Global Entry a month ago and immediately got cleared at a TSA pre checkpoint this week. No idea who to ask about this… AA has been unhelpful and the TSA agents keep saying: “it should just work”…

  27. Oh and at MIA make sure you take the exit (door) dedicated for Global Entry to get through Customs. We went to the other door since there was no one in the line there and sure enough every one in the Global Entry line (and quite a few people who joined the end of the line as we were waiting) were processed before us…. I finally moved over to the Global Entry line and got the stink-eye from the officer – until he saw that I actually had a Global Entry receipt in hand…

  28. I work for a large Defense contractor and have a security clearance and the Gov knows quite a bit about me already. So the GE process wasn’t an issue. Would have been nice to just provide my DoD security investigation id for the GE online application and have them look it up and make the process quicker. Of course that would mean 2 departments in the Gov would have to cooperate and that’s way too tough. If the DoD can coordinate medical records with the VA, there no chance of it coordinating with Customs/Border Protection.

  29. I haven’t gotten to use GE yet, but just with the few times I’ve used Pre-Check…THAT makes it worth it. To me, GE is the icing on the cake.

  30. @DAN – agree with last comment…but you need to disclose your 2nd citizenship on your application and they need to see it at the interview.

  31. Global Entry is symptomatic for what’s wrong with the country. They don’t trust their own people to re-enter without being prescreened.

    While as in many other countries, there’s no program to sign up for in order to use automated immigration. Put your passport on the reader, wait a few seconds, and you’re in.

  32. Does anyone know if it is important to enter something for the field of “issuing authority” with regards to your passport?

  33. I just had my interview at JFK last Saturday. I arrived 30 minutes early and they interviewed me early. They also waved away my proofs of address. Like everyone else has mentioned, it’s really an appointment to walk through logistics, get fingerprints, take photo rather than a serious interview. I had a few questions on my travel, but it was more out of curiosity.

    I’m not sure how strict the TSA will be on my name on my boarding pass vs Global Entry. My boarding pass has only a middle initial (like my driver’s license, but I’ve also used my passport for intl flights) and my Global Entry mirrors my passport which spells out my middle name.

  34. @Talha – enter your Known Traveler number into your reservation. Then go to Precheck and they will scan your boarding pass and decide if you get to use that lane or not

  35. @Jeremy “United States” will suffice for most people o “US Department of State” see what it says in your passport

  36. My interview in Honolulu was simple but the guy asked “why do you travel to so many countries?” I thought that question odd because who else but a frequent traveler would apply for GE?

    I signed on after waiting at Dulles forever. $100 for 5 years is only $20 a year – even using one time annually makes it cost effective.

  37. I am also a dual citizen and they didn’t even care about my other passport during the interview. I am sure they have a good enough file on me without it 🙂

  38. My Global Entry has saved me a lot of time, and I’ve gotten thru the Pre Check line on Delta at every airport that offers it. Got to get it for my husband, now I end up cooling my heels and waiting for him!

  39. JA- “Will AmEx absorb the $50 cost of Nexus?”

    Not only they will absorb the cost, you’ll be surprised how much they’ll absorb. Try it and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  40. Just an FYI for anyone completing the in-person interview. I applied for global entry at the San Diego office and when asked the question if I’ve ever done any illegal drugs, I answered it truthfully (yeah, I know.. Stupid!!). I said that I smoked marijuana about 4yrs back, but other than that, I’ve never done anything else. Well, my application was denied because of that little answer – Unbelievable! I plead my case stating that it was during a trip to NYC with some friends and that I honestly haven’t done it since.. Blah, blah, blah.. They still wouldn’t budge. So, don’t be a moron like me and just lie. Honesty is not the best policy in this situation. Now I have to write a rebuttal letter.

  41. Like Paul, I had a security clearance at a previous DoD job and didn’t have any qualms about applying. Best $100 I’ve spent on travel, ever. Being able to breeze through immigration and make tighter connections is wonderful, as long as I don’t have checked baggage. The PreCheck benefit is nice, though I do wish that PreCheck was valid for international departures as well.

    That’s a nitpick, though. Global Entry is wonderful.

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