Is Global Entry worth it?

How many times have you rushed to get to the airport to make your flight only to be stymied by the line at airport security? You peer over passenger shoulders looking at the front of the security line as if your stares will make it move faster. Do you find yourself hurling yourself towards the immigration hall like an Olympic walker, after an interminable flight hoping to be the first person in line, only to be foiled by three other flights that landed before you? The good news is that your airport experience is about to get a lot better.

While my recent experience with Global Entry didn’t magically upgrade my status to first or business class, I felt like a VIP. I travel quite a bit for both business and pleasure, so I’m always looking for ways to make the slog through the airport easier and simpler. So recently, I applied for Global Entry. Here’s how it works. 

The first consideration is whether to apply for Global Entry, TSA Pre check, or both? To be clear, Global Entry helps you breeze through immigration in the U.S. when returning from an international flight. TSA Pre check helps you move quicker through those annoying airport security lines, and allows you to keep your belt and shoes on, and your laptop in your bag.  Fortunately, if you apply for Global Entry and are approved, TSA Pre check is part of the deal.

After reading a few paragraphs from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, I filled out an online form, which took about 10 minutes and paid my $100 non-refundable application fee. Then I had to wait for my conditional approval which came via email in about five days. Sounds too easy? Here’s where the hurdle comes in. Next, you have to schedule an in person interview with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer… at the airport! Feeling somewhat defeated, I envisioned having to make a useless and dreaded round trip excursion to the airport? This prospect was so unappealing that I almost withdrew my application. (Check out the list of Global Entry enrollment centers as there might be one more convenient than the airport) After talking myself off the proverbial ledge, I decided to schedule my 30 minute interview at the airport prior to my upcoming trip to Madrid? I’m so glad I did.

I showed up a few weeks later at Newark Liberty International Airport, 30 minutes earlier than I normally would for my flight. The Global Entry office was clearly marked on the first floor, and I waited in a makeshift roped area outside the entrance. Curiously, there was no receptionist, or check in process, just a sign indicating that it was a high security area and to wait. Sure enough at 6:10pm, my scheduled time, an officer came out and asked if I was Tom Popper, and brought me to a counter inside to speak with another agent. The agent was friendly, and asked me a few questions, including what I did for a living, where I lived, and why I was applying for Global Entry. After I told her that I was the president of insightCuba, I wondered if it would be an impediment to my approval since I’ve made more than 30 trips to Cuba, albeit, all of them legally. Instead, she gleefully asked me if we did those people-to-people trips to Cuba? We both remarked how interesting it was. Within minutes she told me everything looked good and that I was approved. Just like that.  I figured it would be weeks or months before my Global Entry status would take effect. Instead, the agent explained that I should receive an email in a few hours with my approval but I could use TSA Pre check now and Global Entry kiosks on my return from Madrid. The whole process took 20 minutes and I was on my way to Madrid with enough time left over to get myself a sandwich and coconut water for the flight.

So is it worth it? Upon my return at Newark airport after a seven hour flight delay in Madrid plus the eight hours in the air, I hurried towards immigration like I always do. As I neared the hall, there was one line for passengers and another marked Global Entry. I skeptically chose the Global Entry line. I was quickly diverted into a room with kiosks. I was the only person in the room. Not even an immigration officer in sight. I put my passport into the machine, laid my fingerprints on the scanner and within seconds a receipt was printed. I continued through the Global Entry area, and then appeared on the other side of the glass immigration booths. I wondered for second if I just did something illegal. As I looked out beyond the booths, I noticed the immigration hall was packed with people waiting in queue. There must have been five flights that all came in at the same time. Not wanting to push my luck, I continued on to baggage claim, and since I didn’t check my luggage, went straight for the exit.  A customs agent took my receipt, took a quick a look and waved me through. I was curbside jumping into the backseat of my ride within 10 minutes after exiting the plane. Yes, check that, 10 minutes. Come to think of it, I never even saw an immigration officer.

I just booked my next international trip and can’t wait to go through the airport again.

Things to know:

  • While you will receive an official Global Entry card in the mail a week or two after being approved, your passport is automatically programmed as Global Entry.  No additional identification is required.
  • When you book your flight, you simply need to provide your Trusted Traveler number which can be stored online if you have an account with either the airline or your favorite booking site. Your bordering pass will automatically say, TSA Pre check.

Tom Popper is president of insightCuba, a leading provider of legal people-to-people travel to Cuba for Americans.

Here’s where to apply for Global Entry.