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What’s It Like to Get Global Entry?

If you’ve ever stood in an hours-long customs and immigration line when returning to the U.S., only to see a lucky few travelers jump the queue and use a kiosk instead, you’ve probably wondered what Global Entry is. Basically, it’s a program that allows trusted travelers to pay $100 for a five-year membership that allows them bypass the customs line upon re-entry to the U.S, as well as to get access to the TSA Pre-Check program (which lets travelers use special security lines at certain airports, and to keep their shoes on and liquids in their bags.) Read more about the program here.

So what is it like, exactly to get Global Entry? I applied for the program in mid-November. To apply, you have to fill out an online form, and submit a $100 payment (which is non-refundable, even if your application is denied.) The application is a pain to fill out—you must enter all of your addresses and places of employment (with contact information) over the past five years, using the month and year format, and you can’t have any gaps in history. If you’ve moved a lot or changed jobs in the last few years, it can be very difficult to remember exactly what months you spent where!

After filling out the extensive application, I received an e-mail just six days later informing me that I had been “conditionally approved” for the program, pending an interview. The interview must be done in-person at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers. As I live in Boston, I wanted to schedule my interview out of Boston’s Logan Airport. Unfortunately, the system didn’t show any available appointment times in Boston until May of 2014! Luckily, I would be flying out of Washington Dulles International Airport in December, so I scheduled an appointment there for before my flight. Dulles had many open time slots immediately available, so if you are flying through there, it may be worth checking for an appointment.

I had a flight at 8:55pm, so I scheduled one of the later time slots available for a Global Entry appointment—at 6pm. The interview area is very easy to find—it’s in the main terminal, international arrivals (ground floor.) The waiting area is very well-marked, however, it was a bit unclear if you were supposed to check in with someone beforehand (there is no reception area.) Turns out, you just take a seat and wait, and then a Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP) officer will come out at your appointment time and call everyone who is scheduled for that time. I got to the airport around 5:40 and both the 5:45 and 6pm appointments were called on the dot—so don’t be late! They were also taking people who had shown up early for their appointments at the 6pm time slot, so you may have luck trying to get a walk-in appointment at Dulles if you find yourself there on a long layover or waiting for a delayed flight.

Once called, I handed over my passport and drivers license to the CBP officer, and sat down to watch an instructional video on the program. However, I was called in for my interview about a minute later, so I didn’t even get to finish the video (I’m pretty sure I wasn’t missing anything though.) The CBP officer took my fingerprints (electronically) and took my picture. He then asked me just three questions: If I had ever been arrested (even if the charges had been dismissed; why I wanted Global Entry; and what I did for work. Then he told me I was approved (with the caveat that my Global Entry membership could be revoked at any time if I got in trouble with the law), and that I would receive my Global Entry card in the mail within a few weeks. I then had the opportunity to ask questions about the program—I asked how I could use the Global Entry card to get access to the TSA Pre-Check program, and he told me that I would receive a “Known Traveler Number” number with my card, which I needed to enter when booking airline tickets.

That was it! I was out the door in exactly five minutes. The process is definitely easy (minus filling out the application form, if you’ve moved around as much as I have), and I would recommend it to anyone who travels a lot. I figured, $100 for a five year membership can be justified even if you only take one international trip a year—wouldn’t you pay $20 a year to skip the immigration line?

My Global Entry card arrived in the mail exactly a week after my interview. To register it, I had to go to the Global Entry website and enter my ID number and a security card—it took just a minute. Now I’m ready to fly through customs!

Have you applied for Global Entry? Was your experience as painless as mine was? Tell us in the comments!

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