Since 2001, multiple schemes have been floated to get passengers through lines at security and customs more quickly. Some were marginally successful, others failed, some never got off the ground. But with Global Entry, a customs fast-track solution in the making forever and finalized this past year, are we finally getting it right? Let's take a look at this increasingly popular program, which has travelers saying nice things about airports for a change.

What is it?

Global Entry is a voluntary program, co-developed by United States Customs and Border Patrol that offers you expedited service when re-entering the country via customs and immigration. This means no more dreading the immigration or customs lines in the arrivals hall when you return home from overseas – just walk up to the automated kiosk, check-in and go on your way – no filling out paperwork, no nothing. In addition, Global Entry members are automatically eligible for the increasingly popular TSA PreCheck service, developed by the Transportation Security Administration, designed to whisk low-risk types through the security checkpoints with less hassle: no removing laptops, shoes, jackets or liquids/gels.

Where do I sign up?

Head to, fill out an online application and pay your $100, non-refundable application fee. Note, however, that you will be required to schedule an in-person interview at one of the Enrollment Centers, located at airports around the country. (Make sure you live close to one of them, the complete list is located on the Web site.) An official will sit with you, ask you a lot of personal questions (don't get nervous) and then you'll either be approved or rejected for the program; membership lasts for five years.

Who qualifies?

The program is not only open to American citizens, permanent residents will also qualify, along with Mexican nationals and citizens of The Netherlands and South Korea. (The list of qualifying countries is expected to grow in future.) Also, Canadian citizens can sign up for the pre-existing NEXUS border crossing program available there and receive the same benefits.

Who shouldn't bother?

If you've got a criminal record, have ever been in arrears, customs-wise, in any country on the face of the earth or have previously tangled with US immigration, save yourself the trouble of signing up.

How to beat the system

There's no way around the interview process, but there are ways to avoid paying the application fee. Got an American Express Platinum card? They'll reimburse you the $100, and the $100 paid by any additional cardholders on your account. Citibank's Citi Prestige cardholders also qualify for this benefit, as do Global Services, Premier 1K and Platinum members of United's MileagePlus program. Also, if you're already a member of the existing programs that the U.S. government operates in partnership with the Canadian (NEXUS) and Mexican (SENTRI) governments, you're set. Designed to get you and your car over the border faster, membership in these programs also allows you to use Global Entry at any American airport. The NEXUS program only costs $50 for five years, so join that and you'll save a nice chunk of change. (All in, SENTRI ends up costing a little more than Global Entry, but at least if you're a member, you don't have to pay another $100.) With both programs, make sure to check that you've got the correct fingerprints and documentation on file before attempting to use Global Entry, or you'll be kicked to the next available immigration agent for the standard screening.

Oh, and a little more about PreCheck…

Again, Global Entry members are automatically enrolled in the program; all you have to do is make sure you enter your known traveler number when booking your flight – you'll get that once you're admitted to Global Entry. Once again, you're at an advantage – passengers without membership in Global Entry have to be invited to participate in PreCheck by their airline (if their airline is participating), and access is generally determined by their frequent flyer status.  

Why it's worth it

It shouldn't be too difficult to see the benefits. With both Global Entry and PreCheck, you've very nearly eliminated all of our least favorite things about airports – waiting in line at security, being forced to take off shoes and remove little baggies of toothpaste from our luggage, waiting in line at immigrations, waiting in line at customs. Talk about VIP status.  

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