Global entry sign up: I bet it will come as a surprise to many of my readers that I wasn’t one of the early adopters of Global Entry, the expedited customs and immigration program (that also comes with TSA PreCheck).
But the civil libertarian in me was initially really bothered by the program, and I just didn’t do it. Though that all changed a few days ago.
Concerns That Kept Me Away From Global Entry These Past Two Years
Global Entry requires the government performing a background check on you and also fingerprinting you and taking your picture.
Even though I was influenced a great deal by reading David Brin’s 1998 book The Transparent Society where he argues that low-cost surveillance, communication and database technology would mean an end to privacy as traditionally conceived, I still push back on notions like that the government now collects and analyzes all cell phone geolocation data (which is why Ron Wyden developed legislation to require warrants for this without divulging that the practice is actually already occurring, since his speaking about it would itself be illegal), like the government’s data mining of grocery store discount cards and widespread cameras such as in New York and DC and license plate readers to track the movements of law-abiding individuals.
I really didn’t like the idea of having my photo taken and getting fingerprinted. I did learn to get comfortable with the reservation information sharing involved in getting access to TSA PreCheck. And I finally became nunb to the data intrusions… once I remembered that I actually already had been fingerprinted (in 1993, before going to work at a public high school coaching debate while in college) I realized that all of the information on me was available anyway, why force myself to wait unnecessarily in lines?
I’ve rarely had much of a wait at immigration. The worst waits I’ve experienced have been several 45 minute waits at Washington Dulles, mostly when arriving with all of the other European flights in the afternoon. Otherwise I’ve been mostly very lucky — though in just a few minutes, even in Miami where I’ve found customs to usually take longer than immigration.
But I’ve also known plenty of people to get stuck in immigration lines lasting for hours, such as 3+ hours at O’Hare. Why risk that?
And while I usually get TSA PreCheck when flying American Airlines, I prefer my PreCheck not be dependent on my airline elite status — I can enter my Global Entry Known Traveler number into any US domestic reservation and have a shot at the security lines with no nude-o-scope or shoe carnival.
(At the same time I’m a little uncomfortable with the notion of requiring compliance with a set of rules in the face of government making life otherwise-more-difficult through more onerious so-called security procedures.)
Still, the process was remarkably easy, and as I say I had already come to terms with the idea that I wasn’t really giving up any more information that the government already had.
Applying for Global Entry
There’s a $100 fee to apply. I put it on my American Express Platinum card, and they credited $100 back onto my card within a couple of days.
United’s Platinum elites and above get a similar rebate, and increasingly other programs make similar offers.
The application process was really straightforward.
There’s an online application, the most onerous part of which was figuring out which countries I had visited in the past 5 years. They make it a bit easier with a list of countries to choose from. Still, when your list goes on and on — and when that list extends back past the start of your current passport — it can be a challenge. Did I visit Barbados in 2007 or 2008?
In the end I actually made a mistake in my list. I didn’t include the Bahamas, I’m fairly sure, but my application was approved anyway. And when I went for my Global Entry interview I wasn’t asked about it either. So clearly perfection – at least in my case – wasn’t a deal breaker.
One thing that apparently does cause real problems is any sort of criminal history, at least in the past 10 years. They say that it might pose a problem but from everything I’ve heard if it’s within a decade it generally does though if it’s been longer than that minor offenses shouldn’t be an issue. Had a pot bust or a DUI 8 years ago? You probably aren’t getting Global Entry.
About 4 days after I submitted my application it was provisionally approved. From most reports that seems really fast, it can certainly take up to a few weeks. You can check the status online at the same website where you submitted your application, but they’ll email you about any change of status so you don’t actually have to (unless you want to be sure their emails aren’t going to your junk mail folder).
The Global Entry Interview Process
Then it was time to schedule my in-person interview. You need to schedule something within 30 days of approval or your application terminates and you’d need to start over. Although if you have no idea when you can go in, just schedule something many months\ into the future. You can reschedule online later.
The Global Entry office at Washington’s Dulles airport didn’t have a single appointment for about four months. Others offices have plenty of availability right away. You can schedule to interview anywhere, and I found myself with nearly a four hour layover at New York JFK and that office is relatively easy to get appointments with, at least it was for me.
I landed at American’s Terminal 8 and walked out to baggage claim and then over to the Airtran which takes you between terminals. The Global Entry office is located in the arrivals area of terminal 4.
Once I was at terminal 4 I went down the esclataor to arrivals and turned to the right.
Facing the front of the terminal, to your left is the extreme end of the terminal and almost immediately to your right is the Global Entry office.
Even though I got there a full hour before my appointment I simply walked in. There was a waiting room to my left, a few people were there just waiting but none was actually queued for their interview.
There were three women working at desks inside, one of them was free and simply flagged me to come on over she was happy to take me early.
She asked for my passport and for my letter confirming my approval. The reason she wanted the letter is because it contained my approval number on it — the easiest way for her to look up my application. It seemed as though she could have found me without it, but that made it easiest.
She had me review a sheet of paper that explained the TSA PreCheck benefit of being approved for Global Entry. Then she said that once she approved me I would also get a card in the mail in a few weeks that could be sued to expedite border crossing back into the US from Canada or Mexico (but that everyone in my vehicle would need to have such a card in order to use it, unless I wanted to leave them behind, guffaw guffaw). Incidentally no mention was made of the benefit to use SmartGate upon arrival in Australia.
By then she had my application up and just asked if I still lived at the address I had input on my application (I do). There were no other questions. The country I visited but left off my application wasn’t mentioned. There was no question about the countries I had visited since submitting my application, either.
I was asked for fingerprints (no ink to smudge, they were taken electronically) and the woman interviewing me took my photo as well.
That was it. Nothing else, no other questions asked. She told me if I wanted I could go back into the waiting room to ‘view the video’ which was just running on a loop, but that I didn’t have to since “the system is really easy.”
All in all it was less than 45 minutes from landing at the American Eagle far end of Terminal 8, to the Airtran to Terminal 4, to the Global Entry office and with a successful, completed interview. I made my way back in reverse and settled into American’s Flagship lounge while I waited out the rest of my layover before the flight home.