What the hell is Global Entry, and how do I get it?

Nothing screams jet-setter quite like the dude who blows right by the herd of disheveled, bleary-eyed passengers stumbling off an international flight. You've seen him before, near the customs booth, bypassing the lines as you stand waiting… and waiting… and waiting to hear those magical words from the agent, "Welcome home, Mr. Jaccoma". 

Turns out, you can be that dude! And it's not even hard. All you need is Global Entry. And since you probably don't know what that is, or how it works, we're here to answer all of your questions.

Flickr user Karl Baron

What is Global Entry?

Basically, it's the express lane for coming home from overseas. No more rubbing shoulders with the riffraff after your international flight lands; US Customs and Border Protection pre-approves you as a low-risk traveler and you zoom through upon your return.


Who is eligible?

Pretty much everyone, unless you’re a convicted criminal. In that case, stop committing crimes. Classifying members as “low risk travelers”, Global Entry was intended to help Americans who don't routinely rob banks or kill people, but do frequent international destinations.

However, since there’s no minimum number of trips required to qualify, pretty much anyone with a passport can get Global Entry. So-called low-risk travelers also include docile Dutch citizens, South Koreans, Germans, and Mexican nationals.

So if I’m a US citizen, I'm golden?

Essentially. You’re only ineligible if: you lie on your application (which would be stupid, since this is a Federal program); are a convicted felon; have pending criminal charges or outstanding warrants; have been found in violation of any customs, immigration, or agriculture regulations or laws in any country; or are the subject of any sort of criminal investigation.

TL;DR: Don't be a criminal.

Is there an age minimum?

Nope, anyone under the age of 18 simply needs the consent of a parent or legal guardian. However, kids need to have Global Entry to bypass customs with their Global Entry-toting parents.

Flickr user US Customs and Border Protection

So I can just waltz back into America after my trip to Kuwait?

So long as you know how to waltz. But yes, and you get to use those newfangled ATM-like kiosks at customs, too.    

How do the kiosks work?

Simply swipe your passport or permanent resident card, then scan your fingerprints, make a customs declaration, and voilà! You’re on to baggage claim to stake out the spot where the luggage comes out.

Is Global Entry everywhere?

Weeell, no. Currently, there are 45 US airports in the Global Entry program (with some scattered in Canada, Guam, and Ireland).

Flickr user J.Elliot

Is it worth it?

Well that depends; how valuable do you consider your time?

The CBP claims the benefits are many, but a lot of them just sound like different ways to say you get to skip a line. Not that that's a bad thing. Benefits include:

  • No processing lines
  • No paperwork
  • Access to expedited entry benefits in other countries
  • Availability at major US airports
  • Reduced wait times 

Actually, the no paperwork bit is cool. It means that you don’t have to fish around in your bag for a pen to fill out that customs form on the plane, then realize you have to find your passport to fill in your passport number, then realize you have to find your boarding pass to fill in your flight number. Global Entry eliminates all of that.


How is it different from TSA PreCheck?

Well, here’s everything you need to know about PreCheck. But basically, TSA PreCheck is about having an easier time leaving destinations in the US, since you don’t have to take off your shoes, belts, etc. at security. Global Entry makes getting back into the country easier. 

Unlike TSA PreCheck, Global Entry requires you to have a passport. That said, Global Entry holders get TSA PreCheck when they're approved, granting them access to PreCheck lines with participating airlines by entering their Global Entry ID number into their flight reservation or frequent flyer account. Basically, it's a two-for-one deal, for only a few dollars more.

Flickr user US Customs and Border Protection

What do I have to do to get it?

Fill out an application online, which you can find here. The application asks you to list where you've lived -- and which countries you've visited -- in the last five years. Aside from that, it's just the basics of passport numbers and other identification data. The provision approval takes a few weeks.

From there, you have to schedule an in-person interview at one of 38 Global Entry Enrollment Centers, where a CBP officer will ask you a few perfunctory questions (like, why are you applying?) for a grand total of about seven minutes, under the guise of a “rigorous background check”. You’ll also get your fingerprints scanned, and a photo taken for the ID card.

If you're approved, you'll be handed a sheet of paper giving you provisional approval, along with your trusted traveler number. You can then begin using that number for any flights you've already booked, or plan to book. The ID card should come in the mail in just a few weeks.

How much does it cost?

There's a $100, non-refundable (read: even when denied) fee for the application, though certain credit cards (like an American Express Platinum or Business Platinum card, and the Citi Prestige) will reimburse you for Global Entry fees. In contrast, TSA PreCheck costs $85, and doesn't give you Global Entry. So $15 more gets you both.

It's worth the extra $15.

And it lasts forever?

No, you’ll have to renew it every five years, for an additional fee. But $100 over the course of five years isn't that bad a deal, right?

What if my passport expires?

You’ll need to re-visit your favorite, tight-lipped CBP officer with the new passport.

I picked up this woman on the flight – can she skip ahead with me?

While this might be the only reason she's even speaking to you, let her down easy; only Global Entry members can use Global Entry kiosks.

Where can I apply?

Click right here.

Sophie-Claire Hoeller is Thrillist's über-efficient German associate travel editor, and has had frequent flyer status since she was born in a Lufthansa terminal. Follow her @Sohostyle