How to Clear Customs Fast with Global Entry

March 4th, 2014 by
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You know the old adage, time is money. It’s also something you don’t want to waste standing in a long, long customs line. You’re tired, you’re hungry, and after a 15-hour journey you have little patience for the turtle-slow pace at which that line tends to move. Now Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program, aims to help you avoid that wasted time and frustration. Use your Global Entry card, and you don’t just cut the line, you don’t need to stand in it at all.

“Taking to the air as much as I do, to just scan my passport instead of dealing with immigration and customs is an incredible time saver and stress reliever. I love my Global Entry card!” says Toni Neubauer, President, Myths and Mountains.

What It Is

Global Entry expedites your passage through customs. You simply put your passport or U.S. permanent resident card on a “reader” at a free-standing Global Entry kiosk, look at the camera, press four fingers on the fingerprint scanner (more about that below), make a customs declaration, and you’re free to go to baggage claim after giving your receipt to the CBP person at the exit point. (Unfortunately there’s still no way to hurrying that process.)

Who Can Join

U.S., Dutch and South Korean citizens, lawful U.S. permanent residents, and Mexican Nationals. Canadian citizens and residents can join the NEXUS program. If you pass as a “low risk” traveler and your residence and employment history can be confirmed, you’re in.

Who Can’t Join

Anyone with a criminal history or a pending criminal charge is rejected. So is a person who has been convicted of any criminal offence–even those that seem minor, like a DUI. Being investigated by local, state or national law enforcement? You’re out of luck. And if you have violated customs or immigration rules in the past, forget joining.

How to Join

It’s a multi-step process. You fill out an online application and pay a $100 application fee, but you don’t pass go until your application is reviewed and you’re invited for an in-person interview at an enrollment center. (There may be a wait for an appointment, so plan ahead and get your card before you need it.) Most enrollment centers are at major airports, but a few cities, like Washington D.C. and Houston, have them in town as well. (By the way, you don’t get your $100 back if you fail the “low risk” criteria.)

Other Perks

Once enrolled you can apply for programs in other countries, such as SmartGate in Australia, Viajero Confiable in Mexico, the Dutch Privium program in Holland, and the SES program in Korea. Joining another program is worth the additional cost if you frequently travel to one of these countries.

You can also use TSA PreCheck on some airlines by entering your CBP ID on flight reservations information and frequent flyer accounts. Participating airlines include Alaska, American, Delta, United, US Air, and Southwest. Be sure to let your travel agent know you have a Global Entry card and tell him to enter your ID number in the “Known Traveler” field before finalizing your reservation.

Good-To-Know Facts

Children—yep, even babies—and spouses must have their own Global Entry card.

With a Global Entry card, you’ll never have to fill out that customs form on the plane again.

Some credit cards—Amex Platinum, Citi Thank You Prestige, Mercedes-Benz Platinum—reimburse the registration fee. So does United Mileage Plus Premier 1K and Mileage Plus Premier Platinum.

The card qualifies as a Federal ID.

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