U.S. Expedited Traveler Programs

flying airplane wing through the clouds

After standing in seemingly endless security lines staring longingly at the practically non-existent TSA Pre-Check line, I finally made up my mind to find a way to sign up for the privilege myself. The TSA Pre-check  program allows low-risk travelers to experience expedited, more efficient security screening at U.S. airport checkpoints for domestic and international travel. When the program first came into being, it was an invitation only sort of deal; however, that has now changed. Today you can actively apply for the program without being invited by one of the airlines, etc.

I applied under this independent option and found it to be much simpler than I anticipated. I applied online, scheduled an interview, and voila! I received my known traveler number in the mail about a week later. I’ve been flying through security ever since (smile).

Pre-check entitles you to a special line, which is normally much shorter and quicker. Generally, you don’t have to remove your shoes, laptop, liquids, etc. like you would in the regular security line. I say generally because most of the smaller airports I’ve been through have asked that I remove my laptop and liquids. I haven’t quite figured out the discrepancy, but given all of the other perks I see no reason to protest.

Now that I’ve experienced the benefits of TSA Pre-check firsthand, I’ve been thinking more about enrolling in the Global Entry Program. This program allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low risk travelers upon arrival into the U.S. (Kind of like the pre-check program for the customs line.) You complete the entry process through kiosks instead of the standard customs passport check lines.

From what I gather, signing up for this program is very similar to the TSA Pre-check program. The only complaints I’ve heard relate to finding a nearby Global Entry Enrollment Center, although it appears that most major cities/airports have one. The application fee is $100 vs. the Pre-check $85, but that’s not a hugely significant difference. Given my upcoming travel plans and success with the Pre-check program, I think it’s high time to get on that application!

For both programs, you cannot have been convicted of any criminal offenses, have pending criminal charges, or outstanding warrants. For the Global Entry Program, you must have a valid U.S. passport or permanent resident card; although the program is also available to citizens of a select group of countries through their own qualifying programs. It is also important to note that each program is member specific, so your traveling companions will need to be enrolled in the same program to enjoy the same benefits (the exception to this is that TSA Pre-check will allow children to go through with parents). There are a number of additional requirements for each program that you should read carefully before applying. Both programs are valid for 5 years and may be renewed.

airport terminal

A few people I’ve talked to about these programs have expressed reluctance to give the government any additional personal information/opportunities to play “big brother”/etc. My thoughts are along these lines – if you buy a plane ticket, they already know who you are and where you’re going. If you have a drivers license or passport, they already have that information too. In fact, it’s because they have that information that you can apply to be a “low risk traveler.” If you’re going anyway, and you qualify, why not make it easier on yourself?

I must admit that I’ve debated this post because encouraging others potentially erases that whole “short line” scenario, but in the end that’s selfish reasoning (smile). For anyone who has been on the fence about these options, I strongly encourage you to go for it – it’s totally worth the effort!

4 thoughts on “U.S. Expedited Traveler Programs

  1. I’ve been thinking about enrolling too but then to get full benefit I’d have to pay for my son but he doesn’t travel enough to make it worth the fee it seems. One of the things that has also kept me on the “oh these lines aren’t so bad” side is that, for some reason, the line is A LOT shorter and quicker at my home airport for US permanent residents than it is for citizens or visitors. I’m not sure if it’s just that I’ve had good luck but the past several trips have been a breeze -like behind ONE person in line kind of a breeze. I used to have to go through the same line as visitors and that was a really long and slow line but recently they added this third section to our airport immigration and it is wonderful. I do often wonder though how US citizens feel seeing green card holders get through much quicker. There has got to have been some complaints by now so it could change. For now I’ll enjoy…and then I’ll get global entry. 🙂

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    • That sounds like an excellent plan 🙂 There really are so many factors to consider with programs like these – how often, which airports, who goes, etc. It doesn’t help that every airport is different. I feel like something like this could take some of the guess work out of planning which airport to fly back through and the necessary length of layover. I’ve always been a little bemused that being a citizen doesn’t seem to carry as much weight in passport control as it does in some other countries. Of course there’s also not much point in bemoaning it too much 🙂 I definitely appreciate having an alternative option!

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    • Both the Global Entry and TSA Pre-check are valid for 5 year periods. So the value is linked to how often you travel outside the U.S. and whether any of the partner programs would be useful. It’s certainly an interesting concept!

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