Skip the Lines: Expedited Security and Immigration Programs

Female Passenger at Global Entry Kiosk (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on October 1, 2013. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, airport, Ed Perkins, security.

(Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Whatever the purpose, immigration lines at airports (and border crossings) and security lines at airports generally share one characteristic: You stand in line anywhere from minutes to hours for a face-to-face transaction that takes no more than a minute or two. The rest of the time is totally unproductive waiting and queuing.


Fortunately, a few programs let you avoid some of the worst of those lines, at least sometimes, and at some airports and borders. The federal government, through U.S Customs and Border Protection and the TSA, operates a handful of robust programs, both here and abroad. And a few private ventures have tried to move into the airport security process with limited success; presently, only one—Clear—seems to be operating.

Beating the Lines, at Least Sometimes

The key is to get into a "trusted traveler" program. That means you go through a detailed, one-time enrollment examination and provide fail-safe biometric identification. Once in, you can bypass at least some of the usual repetitive hassles every time you travel. As many of you would say, "It's about time."

The U.S. government operates five separate trusted-traveler programs for customs and immigration clearance at international gateways and one for TSA security clearance at domestic airports. Enrollment in each requires that you apply (you can do this online), submit a fee, then go to an "enrollment center" for an interview, with appropriate ID—typically, a passport plus a driver's license verifying a permanent address. At the interview—which is painless and easy to pass for most—you get your picture taken and provide some other biometric sample. The interview typically takes no more than a half hour.

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