Global Entry: Everything you need to know

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There’s little that’s more frustrating than having to wait in a long line after traveling for hours and hours. But that’s the fate of many who enter the customs checkpoint after returning to the U.S. from a trip abroad. I once waited in the security line for over an hour when returning home from South America in the Miami International Airport.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. With a Global Entry membership, you’ll be able to skip the lines and make your way through security and customs a lot more efficiently.

Here’s what you need to know.

(Photo by Arne Beruldsen/Shutterstock)

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) system that allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to have expedited entry back into the United States after an international trip.

Upon your return to the U.S. after an international trip, you’ll go straight to the kiosks marked Global Entry, where you’ll scan your passport and fingerprints, answer a few questions on the screen and get a printed receipt. You’ll take this receipt to an agent (usually without having to wait in line) and be on your way.

Is Global Entry better than TSA PreCheck?

Yes, Global Entry is better because when you have Global Entry, you also get TSA PreCheck. It’s a two-for-one deal.

TSA PreCheck allows low-risk travelers expedited security screening at US airports. PreCheck customers go to a different (and usually much shorter) line than the regular security queue and don’t have to take off their shoes or take out their laptops or toiletries. The service is offered in more than 200 airports.

Normally, to get this service, you would have to pay $85, submit an application and have an interview with a background check and fingerprinting, but PreCheck is included with Global Entry.

Once you’re approved for Global Entry, you’ll receive your Known Traveler Number. Enter this number into your frequent flyer accounts, and after checking in for your flight, you should automatically see TSA PreCheck on your boarding pass.

Is Global Entry worth it?

If you travel abroad with any regularity, even if it’s just once a year, I think the answer to this question is a resounding yes! It’s a no-brainer if you have a credit card that offers reimbursement for the Global Entry application fee.

My family and I have had Global Entry for 5+ years and it has undoubtedly saved us hundreds of hours passing through security checkpoints and immigration checkpoints. And we don’t travel that much. I find it especially useful given I have a toddler who doesn’t appreciate long lines.

Even if you pay out of pocket for it, it still could be worth it if you value the time you’ll save.

How much does Global Entry cost?

Global Entry costs $100 and is valid for five years. But again, certain travel credit cards offer a statement credit for the application fee, meaning it could be free to you.

How to avoid Global Entry application fees

Many credit cards offer a statement credit for Global Entry (up to $100). This means when you charge the $100 fee to your credit card, you’ll soon see a statement credit for the $100. This benefit is usually available on your card once every four to five years, depending on the card. Here are some of the cards that reimburse the up to $100 charge:

  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express 
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • United℠ Explorer Card
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

Here’s an in-depth look at our top cards for Global Entry.

How long does it take to apply for Global Entry?

After filling out an application, paying a fee, completing an interview and getting approval, you’ll receive your Global Entry card. The whole process can easily take a couple of months, so be sure to plan accordingly.

A lot of it has to do with how quickly you’re able to get an in-person interview. If you don’t live near a major airport it can be a bit of a hassle. But don’t forget that you can do your Global Entry interview upon arrival.

Nearly 50 airports allow you to do your interview upon arrival, which is an easy alternative to scheduling one. The next time you go through customs after an international trip, look for signs that say ‘Enrollment Upon Arrival,’ or ask a customs agent where to go.

The interviews (both scheduled and upon arrival) are typically only a few minutes long, and agents may ask you about your travels, stamps in your passport or other information. Then, you’ll get fingerprinted, have your photo taken and be on your way.

Before you take the time to go through the application process, make sure you read up on reasons why your Global Entry application may be denied.

How often does Global entry need to be renewed?

Once you are approved for Global Entry, it’s valid for five years. A year before it expires, you can begin the renewal process to ensure there’s no interruption to your benefits.

Do you need to show your Global Entry card?

Although you’ll receive a Global Entry card upon approval, you won’t need to show this when arriving at the airport. You’ll already be in the system, and your information will pop up on the Global Entry kiosk screen. You won’t be asked at any point to show your card. But it’s worth knowing that your Global Entry card also qualifies as a form of government identification.

Do you need to enroll your children separately?

Unfortunately, yes, families need to enroll kids separately. You won’t be able to go through the Global Entry line unless everyone in your group is enrolled in the program. You’ll have to pay a separate enrollment fee for your kid(s) and you’ll also have to schedule and attend an interview with your minor.

That said, TSA PreCheck benefits do extend to children 12 years of age and younger in your family, so you can use the PreCheck line when you’re traveling together within the U.S.

Bottom Line

Applying and being approved for Global Entry is no walk in the park. Be prepared to spend at least half an hour on the application. It will ask you to provide a lot of information, things like where you’ve lived, worked and traveled over the past five years. So make sure you have that information handy. Then, of course, you’ll have to schedule your in-person interview.

But once you’re approved it will save you time and your sanity, so it’s well worth it in my opinion.

Here’s our detailed guide on how to fill out a Global Entry application.


Meghan Hunter is an editor for Million Mile Secrets. She covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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