Don’t Lose Your Global Entry Privileges By Making This One Simple Mistake!

Global Entry is fantastic skipping the immigration and customs queues when you return to the U.S.

I didn’t love the fingerprinting or background check that went along with it, but I figured all my cell phone data was being logged anyway long before Edward Snowden was cool. So if the surveillance was inevitable I figured I might as well at least get the convenience.

Now that I have it, it’s hard to imagine life without it — and not just queuing up at immigration, but also that I always get PreCheck at TSA now rather than having it be hit-or-miss through my airline elite status.

A Customs and Border Patrol agent can mark you down with a strike that can take it away from you, though. So you’d better cross your I’s, dot your T’s, and respect their authoritah.

A reader shares this experience getting one ‘strike’ on her Global Entry:

…I flew from [redacted] to Toronto and so cleared US customs and immigration at the Toronto airport. I have Global Entry but my fingerprints do not record. I used the kiosk and replied “no” to questions on bringing in things/visiting farms etc. I was directed to secondary screening and explained about my fingerprint reading issue.

The officer asked me if I had any food, and I replied some chocolate candy. He asked if I had declared it on my customs form and I said no because I didn’t think I had to declare candy. He said I need to declare all food except gum and mints showed me the form said on line 11a

    We are bringing back fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, food, insects

The officer told me that he was recording a “strike” against my Global Entry status–and one more strike and I lose Global Entry.

I sent an appeal to the Customs customer service website, asking that the strike be removed as I did tell the officer I had candy but did not know to declare it. I just got an answer back today saying the officer was in the right making this determination and I could have been fined $10,000.

I will now declare food anytime I come back into the country in case I have stashed a protein bar or cookie somewhere in my purse or suitcase.

My immigration attorney has said for years that non-citizens should avoid crossing into the US via the Toronto airport. Now it appears that US citizens should, too.

And be sure to declare chocolates, candy bars, chips, or any various items of sustenance whether open or closed, for personal consumption at the airport or meant as gifts. Even if it’s just chocolates off of your flight.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I had a ridiculous experience at Toronto airport with Canadian CBPs power tripping and taking away my Global Entry card.

  2. Your reader doesn’t say when this happened. For a time, GE kiosks changed the food question and all had to be declared, then they switched it back. Candy does not have to be declared but depending on the discussion, she/he didn’t know enough about how to address it with the Officer, and he had an attitude they tweaked. CBP is fairly protective of their own, so she/he lost from the outset. It may have hurt to even try to remove the blemish

  3. My husband tells everybody who has a common last name not to fly in or out of Canada because of his awful experiences. He can drive in and out OK, it’s clearly the folks at the airports who have an attitude and training problem. Seems like people should think twice about paying money for something that can be taken away for no good reason. Everyone occasionally forgets to declare food that is not a threat to agriculture like candy or nuts. I had a bag of peanuts out to show the guard at I think Calgary but had not checked off on the form because well, it’s roasted nuts, who checks that off? The lady there was very kind and said in Canada food means all food and she just corrected the form for me. So it’s like people are making decisions based on what? Whether or not they had that second cup of coffee that day?

  4. Almost makes the Brussels Airlines chocolate departure gift more trouble than it’s worth on US-bound flights. Shame our gov’t has come to that…

  5. Four of us coming back from Paris. Landed in BOS along with at least 2 other planes. The line for customs was probably 1 to 1 1/2 hours minimum.

    It took us about 1 minute each to use GE and clear. It was the first time using GE, and we just looked at each other thinking “Are we forgetting something?”!!

  6. Absurd. I once declared chocolate candies at LAX and was explicitly told that I should not have declared it and that it was only meant for meats and fruits or other non processed items.

  7. It happens on both sides. I’m a Canadian Nexus/GE member and I was told by a US CBP officer that I needed to declare everything up to and including gum. On the Canadian form I check yes for the food question and write in “prepackaged candy”, “chocolates” or whatever and then tell the agent.

  8. I forgot to declare a box of cereal when flying from New Zealand to Australia a few years ago. Believe me, US CBP has nothing on the Aussies when it comes to paranoia about food products. Now I always tick “YES” and get waved through when I show them the candy or whatever.

  9. I can’t remember when I got Global Entry. It lasts for 5 years, right? Do they notify you when it is about to expire? How do you go about renewing? Don’t want to get stuck!

  10. Declared a box of cereal last week at LAX and got a dirty look from the customs official that seemed to say “you’re wasting my time”

  11. This is a known issue and the problem rests with the USDA.

    In order to avoid this exact problem for years I’ve marked yes to the food question if I’m carrying anything that might be construed as food (beer? wine?). Every time Customs says “that’s not food”, crosses out my answer and sends me on my way.

    Finally I decided to email both Customs and the USDA asking for a definition of “food.” More than a year later I received an email back acknowledging my email but without an answer to the question.

    By refusing to define what is and isn’t food authorities get to have their cake and eat it too so to speak. If you mark “yes” and they think it’s not food they can express exasperation at how you are wasting their time by not knowing what food is (or isn’t) but if you try and use your best judgement they can arbitrarily decide you failed to make a proper declaration and then nail you for it.

    I suggest anyone entering the US carrying anything that is edible mark yes to the food question. If you aren’t GE the immigration officer will generally ask what you have and if they decide it’s not worthy of sending you to the USDA red line, they’ll change the form in which case THEY made the decision not you.

    If for some reason I don’t get asked then while waiting for my luggage I seek out and ask one of the roving USDA agents or if I don’t see one a Customs agent (the ones with the dogs are generally very helpful) and ask them if any of the specific items I’m carrying should have me checking yes. Almost every time they say no.

    Failing that, which has only happened once, I proceed to the USDA line and tell them why I checked yes. They said it wasn’t an issue but since I was already there, put my bags through the machine since the line was shorter anyway.

    Until this matter is clarified I suggest always saying yes if you are carrying something that could go in your mouth and be swallowed. It takes a small amount of extra effort, but its worth it.

  12. Ugh. Toronto. In 2002, I was living in England for a year. I’m a US citizen and travel on a US passport. In late December, I flew London to O’Hare via Toronto and the US customs agent was the worst.

    “Why are you traveling to the US today?”
    “To spend Christmas with my family.”
    “Why?”
    “Um… because they’re my family? And it’s Christmas?”

    Seriously, how was I supposed to answer that?

  13. Wait, this is baffling. The Global Entry questions don’t ever ask about the broad category of food items (they ask a more specific question about agricultural food products). How are you supposed to answer a question they don’t ask?

    CBP FAQ says ( http://www.cbp.gov/faqs/must-i-declare-food-items-or-products-when-using-global-entry-kiosk ) => “Must I declare food items or products when using the Global Entry kiosk? Yes. You must declare all agricultural products that you bring into the U.S. Failure to declare agricultural products can result in up to $10,000 in fines and penalties.”.

    Some discussion of this discrepancy at http://milepoint.com/forums/threads/global-entry-declaration-at-us-customs.44136/ .

  14. I had a bad experience going to Canada for some business meetings. At immigration they started accusing me of working in Canada without a visa, saying that I needed a letter from the company stating I was just there for meetings. What BS. Now I avoid Canada if I can at all.

  15. Driving across the Canadian border is where I had the joy of being detained for many hours as a potential terrorist.

  16. Bob (comment 1), why would Canadian CBP care about Global Entry? You meant American CBP at a pre-clearance facility in Canada right?

  17. We declare food almost all the time with GE on our return, even if its just pretzels we have in our bag from flights. We also take a picture, on our cell phone of the food before we pack it. When we approach the officer at the end of the line with our GE receipt with the “O” on it, we should the picture. That seems to work.

  18. The question on the kiosk is different than the question on the blue form. You do not have to declare things like a granola bar on the kiosk.

    Answer honestly and correctly but answer the question being asked, not the one you want to be asked.

  19. Hi, will be travelling to Canada soon, I have many credit cards but no Platinum, does anyone have info on any other cards that will reimburse the $100? Thanks!

  20. When I did my in-person GE entry at BWI, the officer really harped on this point, using specific food examples and saying to always err on the side of declaring food or risk losing GE. As a result I have always declared everything – candy, bags of coffee beans, condiments, etc. I get the GE slip with the big X through it, take 30 seconds to show the food to the agents, who proceed to laugh at me and say it’s not food, and then I am on my way. Better safe than sorry.

  21. @wandering We read the GE machine each time. It HAS changed. They keep changing the description of the food option. I don’t know if its location specific or not, but we make sure to read what its asking.

  22. I was pulled to the side in Miami for secondary screening earlier this year. I waited over an hour to have them check my bag. The fat cow found a cliff bar in roller and read me the riot act. I got really angry but was able to hold it in other than a few sarcastic remarks. She was just pissed because she hadn’t seen her feet in 10 years.

  23. I got a strike too, albeit under different circumstances. About 3 years ago I was re-entering the US at St-Bernard-de-Lacolle. It was pretty late at night so there was a long line of cars at the two lanes that were open. There was also a NEXUS lane on the far left which was completely empty, so I took that. I had read the Global Entry card works in the NEXUS lane using radio technology. As I got closer to the crossing it became obvious my lane was now closed, however the lane was walled off with cones along the side so I had no where to go. A BP agent came out screaming at me for going through the NEXUS lane when it was obviously closed. While it was perfectly obvious it was closed by the crossing, the lane was open and marked “NEXUS ENTER HERE” a quarter mile back where I entered. He moved some cones to take me in his lane and then when he found out I had 6 non-US citizens in the car he went apeshit and said he was going to try to cancel my GE privileges. Apparently you cannot use the NEXUS lane if you have non-US citizens with you. Not sure what he ended up doing to my record while he was on the computer, but it’s the last time I ever take the NEXUS lane!

  24. @Mitch: Sorry, but that one’s obviously your fault. They very clearly state that you are not allowed to use the NEXUS lane if travelling with anyone who isn’t a NEXUS member.

    @Captain: Are you sure it wasn’t because you called her a fat cow who hadn’t seen her feet in ten years? Ass.

  25. I use GE at YYZ monthly at either T1 or T3. As others have noted, the question on the screen is very specific about items of agricultural products that must be declared but excludes the more general term “food items” that appears on the blue deflation form which does reference food specifically along with other ag items. So like others, I would question when this happened to your correspondent, and how he could even have GE without having fingerprints on file. As for the other person that reported Canadian officials took his GE away, I question that too since GE is a US program not a Canadian one, nor is it useable to enter Canada. One must have a NEXUS card and iris scan on file to use the (new) Canadian entry kiosks.

    The process if one does respond Yes to the “food” question does vary. Most of the time, the agent inspecting the printouts will ask what the item(s) is and based on that either pass you through or send you off to secondary. Chocolate is actually a variable since it is made from milk, and milk is one of the specifics on the ag list (milk and milk byproducts).

    As for using the NEXUS lanes on land crossings, all passengers must be registered individually regardless of their citizenship or the driver (even s/he has NEXUS) cannot use the lane. That is made clear in the NEXUS documentation.

  26. At SFO, I’ve had agents tell me that I don’t have to declare candy, and I’ve had agents send me to secondary because I checked the box and told them that I had candy.

    You can’t win for trying…

    Greg

  27. Interestingly YYZ was the most painless immigration experience out of all North American airports, in my experience, before I got GE.

  28. @AdamH and several others What you said EXACTLY. I’ve been yelled at for declaring and yelled at for not declaring but asking if I’m supposed to declare. (The why are you wasting my time? are you trying to provide a distraction for terrorists? anybody with a brain knows a candybar is not food! –oh yeah, mr. anybody ever heard of australia?)

  29. This Blog Uses Crazy Headlines!

    Stop Writing Obnoxious Posts Using This One Weird Trick!

    7 Ways You Annoy Readers With Post Titles!

    Gary — why are all of your blog entries lately so Buzzfeed-y? This is actually getting irritating to read. Recently you wrote one called “How To Get 90,000 American Miles for $89.” The title was so misleading; it was about a credit card. No problem with the credit card stuff that you mean, and I understand the need to compete for attention and readers, But The Constant Hype! And Excitement! Is Obnoxious! It just isn’t good writing.

  30. I’d say I bring food back on 80% of my international business trips. I always declare it. Typically, it is candy or baked goods (cookies, baklava, etc.). I often bring kangaroo and/or emu jerky back from Australia (the kids get a kick out of it). I ALWAYS declare the food item. I am almost always sent to secondary, but that takes, at most, 2 minutes and I am sent on my way. I’ve always been treated well when I do this. Seems like the smart play to me.

  31. Total insanity. NEVER have I had issues in Asia or the EU. Canada and the USA as well as Australia seem way overboard re this issue. Give me the good ol days! 🙂

  32. Well, I have been trying to set up my appt. to get GE via my Amex Plat card. Now, I don’t think I will waste my time. If minor things this can get your card rescinded, why bother?

  33. I believe that while the written declaration the officer was looking at uses the word “food” without further qualification, the on screen declaration on the GE machines has a more limited definition that does not include chocolate.

  34. The expectations on how to appropriately answer the question regarding food is frustrating if one has candy. Some CBP agents we’ve asked say “you don’t need to declare that” while others confirm that any and all consumable items should be declared.
    We support the advice some have given that the best way to deal with this is to declare it and write down what the food items are. The “better safe than sorry” approach.
    No one likes to be told how to do their jobs, so by declaring and documenting the food items it lets the CBP agents have the final say.
    I wish there would be more clarity on this as I feel bad if I’m wasting their time. As a parrot and animal lover the CBP agents are an important line of defense in the fight to enforce CITES, and for this I am grateful for their efforts.

  35. My GE account was canceled when I applied for NEXUS. In their infinite wisdom the Canadians decided that a situation that never actually happened in CA was enough to disqualify me. Then then notified the US and I was toast. That was 5 years ago, but every time I go to Canada, about 5 X per year, I get pulled aside for questioning. Thank you Canada!

  36. Here is something you can wave at the officer if they become angry because you declared something they don’t consider “food.”

    The operative phrase is “If it is dried, canned, frozen, could be eaten, could be grown, even the agriculture items they give you on the airplane, it should be declared.”

    I’m going to print this out and carry it with me.

    Hello Sir,

    My apologies. I recommend that you declare all agriculture items on the Department of Homeland Securities, Customs and Border Protection, Customs Declaration forms. All plants, fruits, vegetables, herbs, seeds, nuts, bulbs, berries, plant propagules, plant products, meats, dairy products, live animals, dead animals, ocean products, soil, consumables, and potential consumables should be declared. If it is dried, canned, frozen, could be eaten, could be grown, even the agriculture items they give you on the airplane, it should be declared. As for the definition of food and the “U.S. Customs and Border Protection Declaration Form 6059B” you will need to contact Customs (contact information below) as to any questions concerning their forms.

    Customs:
    Please declare all agricultural items on your Customs Declaration form and verbally to Customs. A Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection Agricultural Specialist officer will inspect the item and make the final determination as to if it is allowed into the United States. For more information concerning the Customs declaration process please contact them at (877) 227-5511 or view their website at http://www.cbp.gov and go to “ports” which is at the very bottom of the screen. Then scroll down to the state the port is in and find the direct contact information to that port.

    Thank you,

    Chris Bembenek
    Customer Support Communications Specialist, Team Leader
    United States Department of Agriculture
    Animal Plant Health Inspection Service
    Plant Protection Quarantine – Regulations Permits Manuals
    4700 River Road
    Unit, 133
    Riverdale, MD 20737

  37. Like others, I had noticed that the GE kiosks did not ask about food but specific types of agricultural products. However on a return trip from the UK two weeks ago, I was disappointed to discover that the GE kiosk does in fact now ask about “food”, the same as the blue form. I answered yes and told the officer I had chocolate and biscuits. I was sent to secondary and explained again. I told the secondary officer that I thought it was better to be honest and asked if I had done the right thing. He told me technically yes, since chocolate is a food and could be considered a dairy product. But off the record, no. I imagine a high number of passengers probably return with candy, for themselves or as gifts, and if everyone answered yes to that question, there would be an incredibly long line for secondary screening. So I agree it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation, and we just have to be honest with our answers, at least until the question changes again.

  38. I recently got disqualified from global program for driving in the sentri lane with a non global/sentri member. I had no idea all passengers in the card had to be a part of the program. I thought only the driver. Nope. I have an appt with the supervisor will I be reinstated?

  39. I am a Nexus card holder and a Canadian citizen.

    I have only used nexus crossing from a Canadian (airport only) into the US about 5 times.

    And I ended up with 2 strikes
    1. I had a TN visa whose date was extended and I hadn’t notified them
    2. I had a stale chocolate chip cookie going from Toronto to New York which I bought in chicago and failed to declare.

    Both times the CBP was ready to give me electrical shock but let me keep my nexus card. I never use it now.. ever! But I need it for TSA Precheck.
    My question is – has anyone in a situation like mine successfully renewed their Nexus card?

    If so, where did you do it?

  40. TL;DR

    You *may* annoy CBP for declaring candy/gum/etc.
    You *will* not be punished for doing so.
    You *can* be punished for not doing so.

    Bottom line, declare anything bought abroad. Even the 50 pills of over-the-counter Canadian Codeine that you legally can bring over every 30 days.

    CBP can groan all the want – they made it this way.

  41. Recently travelled from YYZ to the States with Nexus when I was given a strike for wearing my baseball cap when my photo was taken at the GE kiosk before I even had a chance to take it off because I’m too busy reading the instructions, but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t any instructions to remove any headgear.

    I’ve been on Nexus for over 10 years and I’m a frequent traveller to the States and I’m pretty sure I’ve worn my cap when going through the Nexus line at US Customs. I’d also like to point out that it wasn’t the Customs officer at the counter that gave me the strike but the one collecting the customs receipt.

    I’ve been trying to research what my violation was to warrant a strike so I’m wondering if this can be contested. Any feedback would be appreciated.

    Simon

  42. As NEXUS user (part of Global Entry) and having crossed over several hundred times in past decade I was always warned to declare anything minor if it meets those questions (I.e. wood, food etc). This includes coffee/bagel I’m eating, snacks, candies, wooden furnished items…..

    Rule of thumb is if you declare on form they will ask u what you have and if it’s minor/your being honest they will wave you through. If you don’t declare then they assume your not being honest and it’s up to their discretion to throw the book at you.

    Also reminded everytime I renew NEXUS that it’s an honor program and if a member isn’t being truthful then they’re not qualified. Consider yourself warned!

  43. YYZ is the WORST point-of-entry into the United States.

    A couple years ago, we got pulled into secondary by a female agent having a bad day. It took them almost two hours to bring our bags upstairs. Even the CBP officer waiting to screen our luggage was sympathetic. But, by the time the bags came up and got screened (with nothing discovered) , our flight had left and we had to spend an extra night in Toronto. Extremely slow CATSA screening also didn’t help.

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