If you've ever been on an international flight, you're probably familiar with the annoying yet necessary hassle of having to pass through TSA check lines. You might have also noticed that some travelers aren't subjected to the same scrutiny and are able to pass through special lanes without being bothered as much.
There are several ways to gain access to expedited TSA screening at the airport, but the two most commonly used methods are applying for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck programs. In this quick guide, we'll explain each of these programs and introduce you to the main differences between them.
Global Entry Explained
The Global Entry program was launched in 2008 as a means of “expediting clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers” who are arriving in the U.S. Once you're approved for Global Entry benefits, you can bypass customs and immigration faster by scanning your passport and fingerprints at a check-in kiosk.
After you've checked in, the kiosk will print a receipt containing a confirmation number that allows you to proceed to the baggage claims and lounge/lobby areas.
If you're approved for Global Entry benefits, then you're also eligible to go through TSA PreCheck lanes at airports where Global Entry is accepted.
TSA PreCheck Explained
TSA PreCheck was introduced in 2011 as a means of granting expedited screening to approved travelers who are arriving from domestic (and certain international) flights. PreCheck approved passengers aren't required to remove or take off their shoes, belts, jackets, laptops, or liquids.
However, not all airlines offer access to PreCheck lines. Fortunately, there are 67 airlines that do and that includes most of the major ones the vast majority of travelers fly with.
Note: If you're attempting to use your Global Entry benefits to pass through a TSA PreCheck lane at a participating airport and you don't have a PreCheck logo on your boarding pass, you'll need to have your Global Entry number ready in order to proceed.
Explaining the Key Differences
From the above explanations, you can deduce that the first major difference between these two programs is that one is primarily for arriving in the U.S. on inbound international flights (Global Entry) and the other is mostly for domestic and outbound international flights (TSA PreCheck). Now that you know what each of these programs is and how they can be used, let's cover some of the less obvious differences.
Regional Eligibility Requirements
One major difference between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry has to do with the regional eligibility requirements. TSA PreCheck is only available to eligible U.S. citizens, residents, and nationals.
Global Entry is available to U.S. citizens and residents, as well as citizens of the United Kingdom, Colombia, Germany, Panama, Singapore, India, Switzerland, South Korea, and Mexico. It should be noted that some applicants may also need to have a visa if applying from some of the aforementioned countries.
Additionally, Canadians are eligible for Global Entry benefits through the NEXUS partnership program and citizens of the Netherlands are also eligible thanks to FLUX – the nation's Trusted Traveler Program.
Where You Can Use Your Benefits
The availability of TSA PreCheck has been steadily expanding since the program's inception. As of 2019, there are 67 airlines that offer PreCheck lanes at more than 200 airports in the U.S. There's a complete list of airlines that have PreCheck lanes, so you may want to take a glance at that, as it will tell you which tickets allow you the convenience of expedited screening.
Participating airlines and airports have been approved to carry out TSA's standardized expedited screening process for any passengers who have a TSA PreCheck logo on their boarding pass.
For Global Entry, the ability to use your benefits will not depend on the airline. Instead, you'll need to be arriving in the U.S. at one of more than 70 participating airports. You can use the PreCheck lane at any of those airports by presenting your Global Entry number instead of the boarding pass logo.
Global Entry Doesn't Cover Kids
If you're using your Global Entry benefits at a check-in kiosk, any family members or travel partners that are with you will still need to go through the regular TSA screening process, regardless of their age. Conversely, if you're using TSA PreCheck then any family members who are under the age of 12 will be able to go through the express screening lane with you.
The Cost of Approval
Assuming you're eligible, the fee for Global Entry is $100 for five years of access. Meanwhile, the fee for TSA PreCheck is $85 for five years. While Global Entry is a bit more expensive, when you consider the fact that it includes eligibility for PreCheck lanes and can be used for incoming international flights at more than 70 airports, it seems like it might be worth the $15 for many travelers.
It's worth noting that some credit cards and loyalty programs provide discounts and reimbursements when you pay your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees. For example, there's the American Express Platinum card for Global Entry or the Chase Sapphire Reserve card for TSA PreCheck.
How to Apply for Both of Them
You won't find enrollment centers for Global Entry at airports. To apply, you'll need to create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account online and submit an application. After being pre-approved, you'll be able to set up an in-person appointment at a Global Entry Enrollment Center.
The process is similar for TSA PreCheck, as you first need to submit an online application before you can schedule an interview at one of more than 380 enrollment centers throughout the U.S.
How to Know Which Program is Right for You
If you're still not sure which program you should enroll in, try using the Department of Homeland Security's Trusted Traveler tool to receive a personalized recommendation based on a short questionnaire. You may also want to look into the relatively new Mobile Passport option or a third-party, biometric clearance service provided by a company called Clear, both of which can help you facilitate expedited screening at 26 airports around the country.
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