I have long heard of Global Entry but I never applied because: 1) the $100 application fee always deterred me, and 2) I usually sit towards the front of the plane and make a habit of speeding out of the plane so that I’m one of the first in line for passport control anyway. I never wait that long.
Well, I changed my tune when work announced that they were going to foot the bill for TSA Pre-Check (this allows travelers to go through security a lot faster since you get a separate line and you don’t even have to remove your shoes, coats, belts, or laptop) or Global Entry.
I did some research on Global Entry and Pre-Check and chose to apply for Global Entry since approval in that program actually qualifies me for TSA Pre-Check. It’s a no brainer. I’m getting two programs with one application fee. Had I known that sooner, I might have applied for Global Entry a long time ago!
As a quick note, the application fee for Global Entry is $100 which is non-refundable and independent of whether or not you’re approved. If approved, you can use Global Entry for 5 years. In comparison, TSA Pre-Check costs $85 to apply and is also good for 5 years. Essentially, by paying an extra $15 (or $3/year) you’re getting the additional benefit of expedited security screening which I’d value at way higher than $3/year!
Anyway, applying for Global Entry was quite easy and consists of 2 main things: 1) submitting an online application, and 2) interviewing with a Customs and Border Patrol Officer.
The online application asks some basic questions about you, your employment/address/criminal history, and the list of countries you’ve been to (excluding Canada and Mexico) in the last 5 years which was the hardest part of the application for me. I can barely remember the countries I’ve been to last year, let alone name all the ones for the last 5 years… so that section took me a while to fill out.
After I submitted the application, I got a “conditional approval” notice the next day which told me to schedule an interview at an enrollment center and bring the following documents to the interview: the conditional approval letter, valid passport or permanent resident card, documents proving evidence of residency.
Now comes the hardest part – scheduling an interview. The interviews take place at various major airports in the U.S. (for a list of enrollment centers, click here) so you have to make sure you can get to one. You can either schedule an interview at the airport closest to you or schedule an interview for an airport you plan on flying to – it makes no difference. The available time slots (which are shown online), however, are far and few between. I didn’t see any openings until three months out and with the baby on its way I didn’t know when I could make it out to LAX for the interview. It didn’t help that I got another email notifying me that I had only so many days to schedule an interview or else the application would be rejected. So, I picked a time – any time- that I found so that my application would be in their pipeline still, and then checked every day to see if there were new (earlier) time slots available.
Since a lot of people schedule interviews at airports they are flying through, there is a good chance that people cancel at the last minute and I was right. I found a new slot for just a few weeks out. But I wanted something even earlier than that and preferably, for the day Mr. T and I were coming back from Punta Mita since we were already going to be at LAX. I decided we’d “walk in” to the LAX enrollment center and ask to be interviewed.
LAX doesn’t advertise that they allow walk-ins for Global Entry interviews, but it was worth a shot and I know that other airports do offer this service (although they may not advertise it either). It didn’t hurt to try especially since it’d save us from a dreaded trip back to LAX in the future.
Luckily for us – they put on us on the wait list with the caveat that we’re not guaranteed an interview but we were welcome to wait if we chose to. After 45 minutes, they called my name (woohoo!) and I went in for the interview.
The term “interview” is misleading. It’s basically just a meet and greet where the CBP officer explains the terms and conditions of Global Entry, asks a few questions, and then takes a picture of you. My guess is that they want to make sure you are who you say you are on the application and that you don’t have any criminal offenses.
My CBP officer was amiable and made sure to tell me that once I have my baby, the baby will need its own Global Entry card to go through passport/customs (but not TSA Pre-Check since that follows me – at least until the Traveler #3 is 12 years old). He then checked my documents and asked me a some questions like:
- How long have you lived at your current address?
- Who do is your employer? Do you have any other employers?
- Have you ever been arrested?
- Do you have any international trips coming up?
- Do you have citizenship with any other country?
Then he saw the large list of countries I listed on my application and said he wasn’t going to ask me anything about them because it was too long a list. Instead he asked how I have so many vacation days a year. I told him I love to travel and my work gives me a lot of vacation a year. He asked me if all the countries I listed were for leisure or business so I told him the one country that was for business (darn, I wish work sent me abroad more often!).
As a note, I’ve heard that the CPB officers basically know all the answers to the questions they ask so it is in your interest to be honest. In all, the interview was less than 10 minutes long including the intro, questions, photo, and fingerprinting.
Mr. T was still outside waiting to be called and about 30 minutes after I was called, he was called. Since the officer knew he was my husband, he told Mr. T he was super busy that night but only called him since “your wife is pregnant” (hey, whatever works!). He didn’t even ask Mr. T any questions and Mr. T was in and out in super quickly. That night, actually, Mr. T even got his Global Entry Approval Notification, which is the fastest turnaround I’ve ever seen for anything government-sponsored.
I, on the other hand, did not.
It took over 2.5 weeks from my interview date for me to get the approval notice. In fact, I actually went back to LAX on one of the days to ask if my application was lost since there was nothing to indicate that I’d even gone in for an interview already (I had tried calling the enrollment center multiple times but the number listed for the LAX Enrollment Center is not the correct number that rings at their front desk). The officers assured me that sometimes it just takes longer for the outcomes to go through (as long as 3 months) and Mr. T’s for whatever reason just went through faster than mine. Well, okkkkkkkkay then. The next day, I got the approval notice and a week later, my Global Entry card came in the mail and I promptly activated it online.
So the good news is that we both have Global Entry now although we have no international trips planned. Not only that, but I’m pretty sure our next international trip will include Traveler #3 so this means I’ll have to add “applying for Global Entry” to the list of to-do’s after I get her a passport. I can’t wait to see how they will interview an infant, but the officer was adamant that the baby needs her own Global Entry card, too.
If you’re planning to apply for Global Entry, here are some tips:
- Global Entry is open to the following travelers: citizens and residents of the United States, citizens of Mexico who hold a U.S. visa, citizens of Panama who hold a U.S. visa, citizens of the Netherlands who are enrolled in Privium, citizens of Korea who are enrolled in Smart Entry Service (SES) program, NEXUS members, SENTRI members
- You can apply online at the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES): https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/
- If you can’t get an interview right away, try checking back to find cancellations and/or walking in to an enrollment center.
- Be honest in your interviews. The officer has a say in whether you should be recommended for approval or denial and you should assume they’ve checked (or will check) your background against the many government databases they have.
- Some of the surprising causes for denial include being arrested (even if you were not convicted) in the last 10 years, DUI’s, or even trouble with the law that your spouse may have gotten into all the way before you even met them so if you’ve got anything tainted on your record, the interview may be the best time to clear the air. Basically, if you’ve ever run into trouble with the law, you may be denied. It actually makes sense, though, because Global Entry is supposed to be for “Trusted Travelers” so they likely don’t want to take any risks here.
- If you are denied, you can try to appeal (no guarantees though) to the CBP Trusted Traveler Ombudsman.
- If you want to avoid the $100 application fee, some credit cards (the Platinum Amex comes to mind) will reimburse you for the fee. United also reimburses their Global Services, 1K, and Platinum members.
- Once you’re approved, you won’t need to fill out the blue U.S. customs forms anymore.
- If you get a new passport during the 5 years your Global Entry is valid, you will need to give CBP your new passport information. The officer told me that I’ll need to do this in person at an enrollment center, however, I’ve heard reports of people being able to do this online as well.
- For more information, check out the Global Entry website.