When it comes to simplifying international flights, most savvy jet-setters apply for Global Entry, which provides expedited clearance into a U.S. airport following an international flight. Like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry falls under the government’s Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) umbrella, but—unlike its domestic cousin—it’s the key to sidestepping what can often be monstrous lines coming back into the country, making it a godsend at the tail-end of long-haul flights.
And now that international travel is back in a big way—according to travel booking site Hopper, 34 percent of all 2023 travel bookings so far are international—Global Entry access is handier than ever. And there’s good news if you’ve been putting off your application: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that runs Global Entry, has worked through most of the backlog it experienced through the pandemic and re-opened enrollment centers that had been temporarily closed, according to Rhonda Lawson, a CBP spokesperson. The agency also has made significant improvements to streamline a final step of enrollment for applicants returning from an international trip, making the process even more convenient (more details below).
Here’s what else you need to know about how to apply for Global Entry, along with a step-by-step guide to getting through the Global Entry application process, from filling out the online forms to acing the in-person interview, so that you can secure your status and sail through those airport lines.
How much does Global Entry cost?If you need an incentive to finally apply for Global Entry, consider the application fee: For now, it’s $100, only $22 more than the current $78 price for TSA PreCheck alone. However, the Global Entry application fee could soon go up to $120 due to a proposed increase—the CBP does not have a date when that could go into effect. And just as a reminder, Global Entry also gets you TSA PreCheck access.
Oh, and a heads-up for families: It’s also possible to apply for Global Entry for kids under the age of 18, but they must have parental or legal guardian consent to participate. So, if you’re finally tackling the application for yourself, why not do it for the kids, too?
How do I apply for Global Entry?You have to earn the government's trust to be part of any Trusted Traveler Program and secure a Known Traveler Number, or KTN (which is the same thing as your Global Entry number, and it’s what you’ll enter in the corresponding section when booking airline tickets). Here's who can apply for Global Entry: U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents, and citizens of 18 foreign partner countries (depending on the country, visas may also be required for entry).
Your application may be denied if you have a criminal record; provide false or incomplete information on your application; have pending criminal charges; have violated customs, immigration, or agricultural laws in any country; are currently being investigated by any local, state, or federal agency; are inadmissible to the U.S. under immigration regulation, including applicants with approved waivers of inadmissibility or parole documentation; cannot satisfy CBP of your low-risk status; or fail to meet other program requirements. For questions about eligibility, contact the Global Entry Enrollment Center nearest you.
Lawson notes that if your application is denied, “you do have the option of requesting a reconsideration.” You can also supply supporting information to clarify an incident or arrest, and you won’t have to pay the fee again.
Create an account onlineAll applicants, regardless of age, have to create an account within the Trusted Traveler Program systems. This is where you can submit your online application, along with payment.
Understandably, the application covers a lot of ground. In addition to personal information like name, email address, gender, eye color, height, and language preference, it requires applicants to fill in their employment, address history, and travel over the past five years.
It also asks if you've violated any customs or immigration laws, or if you have been convicted of a crime. Fill out the application and submit the $100 fee (again, this is likely to increase to $120 when the CBP completes its review of public comment about the price increase, so take advantage of the lower rate while you can). Once you’re approved, the fee will cover a five-year Global Entry membership—but keep in mind that the cost is non-refundable, even if your application is rejected.
You can pay the fee by credit card or electronic bank transfer. Or, check out one of the many travel credit cards that offer reimbursement of the Global Entry application fee as a benefit.
How long does it take to get Global Entry approved?At the height of the pandemic, the Global Entry program experienced a major backlog of applications because of closed enrollment centers and limited appointments, which caused extensive delays in processing new applications and approving renewals. However, the agency has now worked through most of those backlogs, and about 70 percent of applications are conditionally approved within 15 days, according to Lawson. Applications that require a more detailed review, meanwhile, can take up to 18 months, according to the TTP website.
If you’re traveling internationally before you get conditionally approved, there’s still another option to reduce your queue time upon coming back into the country: Mobile Passport Control. This seriously underrated travel hack allows eligible travelers to submit their passport and customs declaration information through a free mobile app run by CBP. Unlike Global Entry, mobile passport control doesn’t require users to be pre-approved, but it does use dedicated lanes for speedier customs processing. The service is currently available at 38 locations.
Once your application is conditionally approved, you'll receive an email that there's a message in your Trusted Traveler account. You'll then be asked to schedule an in-person interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center, which can be found all over the country. Since the pandemic, travelers now have up to 730 days after your conditional approval to complete the enrollment process, according to Lawson. (Not that you should wait two years to wrap up the process, of course.)
If you are conditionally approved, you can also take advantage of another nifty offering by the CBP: the Enrollment on Arrival program. The EoA allows Global Entry applicants who are conditionally approved to complete their interviews upon arrival into the U.S., eliminating the need to schedule an interview at an enrollment center. When landing in a participating international terminal, follow the signage to CBP officers, who can complete your Global Entry interview during your entry inspection. And, thanks to recent improvements by CBP to streamline the EoA process, the agency has more than double the interview capacity compared to pre-pandemic figures, according to Lawson. Indeed, if you’re conditionally approved and traveling internationally, take advantage of this option, which the TTP site notes “may offer the fastest path to membership approval for individuals with upcoming international travel.”
Currently, 69 airports offer EoA operation, including several international locations (among them are Ireland, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates, just to name a few); here's a complete list.
For renewing Global Entry members, here’s a pro tip: As long as you submit a renewal application before your membership expires, you are able to continue to use your Global Entry benefits for up to two years after the membership expiration date, while you wait to complete the renewal process. If you're having trouble securing an interview slot, check back often—people sometimes cancel their appointments, opening up earlier slots. And keep in mind that smaller airports often have more availability than major hubs.
Ace the interviewBe sure to bring a valid passport and another form of ID, such as a driver's license or ID card, and print the conditional approval letter from your Trusted Traveler account. You’ll also need documents that show proof of residency, such as a utility bill or rental agreement. (Keep in mind that for EoA interviews, you'll need to pack these documents before your trip.) Oh, and just a heads up: You'll be getting your photo taken at the interview, and this headshot will go on your Global Entry ID card.
The good news is that if you're conditionally approved, you’re almost at the finish line: You've already been pre-screened, and your information has been checked by the government. Many of the questions you'll be asked are ones you've already answered on your application, or ones that officials already have the answers to, like: "Why do you want to join Global Entry? What do you do for a living? Where have you traveled in the past five years? Have you ever been arrested, or had an issue at U.S. Customs and Border Protection?"
Still, take the questions seriously and answer them as you did on your application. It’s almost time to celebrate, for sure, but don't ruin everything with an ill-timed attempt at humor.
At the appointment—which should last anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes—you'll also have to provide your fingerprints and, as mentioned above, get your photo taken. Within a few minutes you'll be confirmed for Global Entry (yay!) and be given a Known Traveler Number (KTN) that you can start using immediately to be eligible for TSA PreCheck. Lawson recommends storing your number in your phone so you always have it handy (like when booking a flight; you’ll need to enter it so it appears on your ticket, clearing you for that oh-so-sweet dedicated line).
An official Global Entry card should arrive in the mail within two weeks, and you'll need to activate it within 30 days. You won't have to show this card at the airport, though, as it’s only for land and seaports of entry—at the airport, just stroll up to the Global Entry kiosks and get started.
BY KATHERINE LAGRAVE AND BLANE BACHELOR