Is Global Entry Worth It?

For anyone who loves to travel and travels regularly, Global Entry is a no brainer.  I love being able to land at LAX and know that I’ll be able to get through in minutes.  Although Los Angeles is typically my main port of entry, I haven’t had any issues going through immigration at any port of entry.  

If you travel internationally more than once a year, it’s definitely worth getting.  The amount of time you’ll save is amazing and if your main port of entry is a major hub, you’ll love being able to fly through immigration. 

Having used Global Entry at some of the busiest airports in the US like LAX, SFO, JFK, ATL, and IAH, it has never taken me more than a few minutes to get through.  

Another benefit to having Global Entry is that it is a Real ID.  Starting in October 2020, you will be required to have a Real ID in order to fly.  However some states (like California) have licenses that don’t currently satisfy the Real ID requirement.  Since you don’t need a Real ID to drive in the state, anyone not flying wouldn’t have to get one. However, if you do plan on flying and want to avoid the DMV (does anyone enjoy going to the DMV?) you could use your Global Entry card to go through security.  

To a smaller extent, if you live near the borders, you can also get SENTRI (for the Mexican border) or NEXUS (for the Canadian border).  To some extent, NEXUS could be a better bargain but the drawback is that there aren’t many enrollment centers that are conveniently located (if you don’t live close to the Canadian border).  If you live near the Mexican border and drive across frequently, SENTRI will definitely be your best bet.  

Who can apply?

US citizen and legal residents are welcome to apply.  Also, citizens of Germany, Mexico, Panama, the Netherlands, and Korea are able to apply.  If from the Netherlands, you have to be enrolled in the FLUX program and if from Korea, be a part of the Smart Entry Service.  Canadians who have NEXUS will have Global Entry benefits but cannot join.  

Cost and process

The process is painless but fairly time consuming.  First, you fill out and send in your application along with the $100 fee which is non refundable.  That fee is paid regardless of approval. Global Entry is good for 5 years so it boils down to $20 a year.  

If you have a credit card, this application could be covered as one of the perks of having the card.  Some of the cards that have it are the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Amex Platinum, Capital One Venture, etc. There are a number of cards that offer this benefit and the best one off the top of my head is the PenFed Amex since there is no annual fee (but you do have to be a member).  

Then they’ll do a background check and if that clears, you’ll have to come in for an interview.  The bulk of the time for me was spent trying to find an opening at an enrollment center. At that point, you’ll go in and they review your file.  I don’t remember what was asked during the interview but it couldn’t have been that invasive since the whole thing took about 10 mins. Then they take your photo and you’ll get your global entry card in the mail about a week later.  I think the entire process took about 2 months from start to finish.  

If you are going through the process of getting Global Entry and are conditionally approved, you can stop in at the CBP office upon arrival at the airport for your interview without an appointment. However, every single time I’ve walked by the office in an airport, the line is out the door. I guess if you’re already there and have a super long layover, you might as well get it done.  However, I wouldn’t plan on it being a quick in and out procedure.  

Difference between Global Entry and TSA Precheck

Remember that with Global Entry comes TSA Precheck but TSA Precheck does NOT come with Global Entry.  I really don’t see why you wouldn’t get Global Entry for $100 vs. TSA Precheck for $85 unless you know you don’t do much international travel or if you have reason to believe you’ll be denied for Global Entry.  TSA Precheck allows you to go through security without having to remove your shoes, electronics, belt, etc. so it is nice to have (even though a lot of airports still don’t have a dedicated TSA Precheck lane for some reason).  

How to use Global Entry

Upon arrival, you’ll walk toward immigration and customs as per usual.  However, you’ll usually see a row of kiosks for Global Entry. There, you’ll answer the questions (only relevant if you have anything to declare) and you’ll place your passport on the screen.  You’ll also be asked to provide your fingerprints as well. 

**(Update) The last time I traveled internationally and came back, I didn’t even have to scan my passport. It took a picture and through facial recognition, knew who I was.

From there, the kiosk will take a picture of (typically of you looking down at the screen since it doesn’t tell you where to look) and a long receipt with a grainy image of you photo will print out.  From there just go straight to the Global Entry exit where you take your receipt and hand it to the officer. Some airports will just have you place the receipt in the basket as you leave and you won’t even be stopped.  Other airports will check the receipt to your passport. Either way, you should be through in minutes.  

Remember that you can use your passport for Global Entry at airports but you MUST use your Global Entry card at land crossings. Your passport will obviously suffice to cross the border but you won’t be able to use the special dedicated lanes for Global Entry holders without the card at land crossings.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think Global Entry is a no brainer for anyone who travels internationally more than once a year.  And if you’re the type of person who travels just once, when you’re standing in that immigration line at Los Angeles when all the international flights are arriving at 9am from Asia, you’ll wish you had it.  

However, if you don’t travel often or only travel domestically, it doesn’t make any sense to go through the hassle of getting it.  It is a bit of a time commitment since you have to either wait for an opening at an enrollment center (which could be months) or drive a bit if the one closest to you isn’t available.  Also, if you’re traveling with your family, you may want to rethink it since ALL of you need to have Global Entry in order to use the kiosk. If you have Global Entry but your kids don’t, your kids will have to go through the normal immigration line.  

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