Tim Foolery

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Global Entry – What is it? How do I get it?

On a recent blog post, I mentioned Global Entry and I received a question from a reader asking about the program.  This is a great question.

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a program managed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which allows you to bypass the traditional Customs and Border Patrol queues and use kiosks when returning to the U.S. from foreign travel.  Instead of completing that skinny blue form you answer the same questions on a self-serve terminal upon arrival.  It’s just like using the self check-in kiosks when you arrive at the airport.

Who is eligible?

When the program started only U.S. citizens were eligible, but that has since changed.  U.S., Dutch, South Korean and Mexican citizens, as well as lawful permanent U.S. residents are eligible to apply.   Canadians can obtain the same benefits through their NEXUS program.  Just because you are eligible of course doesn’t mean you’ll actually be approved to this program.

Application/Approval Process

The application process starts online (follow this link to be directed to the official application page). You’ll be required to complete several pages of personal information (name, address, etc) as well as other non-traditional questions – including listing the countries you’ve visited previously.  This last part can be difficult for some of us – you need to list the countries and the dates of your visits.  There is a $100 non-refundable application fee – but some credit cards (AmEx Platinum) and some Airlines (for top tier frequent flyers – United’s 1K) will reimburse you this fee.

Your application will then be reviewed and I’ve heard this application process taking just a couple of days to several weeks, depending on the number of other applications in the queue. My application took less than a week – I applied in January of 2013.  Once approved you’ll be allowed to set up a personal interview at a Customs and Border Patrol Office.  Most of these are located in airports, although there are more and more City offices. I visited a City location.  One thing to note though – you don’t have to schedule your interview at your local office. If you are transiting another airport, you can schedule an interview there. Be sure to plan ahead though – these offices can be land side and often times found in an international terminal – so if you are on a domestic connection you will need a lot of time to get to the office, go through the interview and  get back through security and to your connecting gate.

What does the interview consist of?  It’s pretty straight forward. My guy asked me about my past and my future travel plans.  I was 100% honest with these guys – and recommend you be the same.  A friend told me a tale of his interview where a fellow applicant was caught in a lie.  The CBP Officer asked the other applicant if he had ever been arrested and the applicant said “No” to which the CBP Officer said “Are you sure? Not even for driving while under the influence in 1994 in Springfield”.  I don’t know if this guy was accepted or not. I wonder if he just FORGOT he was arrested or if he thought it was so long ago it didn’t matter.  My suggestion – be completely honest though the entire process.

The final step is for the CBP Officer to snap your picture, register your passport and show you how to use the actual system. All in all, I was in the CBP office less than 30 minutes.

Is Global Entry Worth It?

This question is very personal.  For me, it absolutely is. I travel internationally 4-5 times a year and often I arrive at ORD during the afternoon rush period where the lines can be long – the longest I’ve ever waited at ORD for CBP was 1h15.   With Global Entry, I’ve been able to get from the plane to a taxi in less than 15 minutes – so it is totally worth it for me.  I say if you have a credit card or a frequent travel program that reimburses you the fee, go for it.

Do you have Global Entry? How long did the total process take you (from application to being an active user)? Did you pay the fee or did a credit card or an airline pay on your behalf?


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