Why I Finally Signed Up for ‘Global Entry’ and Just How Easy It Was

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.

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. While a Criminal Record will get flagged as a no, so will prior “issues” with Customs, or so said the Agent in my interview.

    @ Wolfgang: Make sure your airline flight information *exactly* matches your passport. In my case, the middle name/middle initial discrepancy did me in. 100% since I made them the same.

  2. @ Wolfgang: To clarify Mark’s comment above, your airline information must match your “full name, date of birth, and PASS ID exactly as it appears on their membership card” (per TSA)… NOT what is on your passport (unless they’re the same, of course).

    I’ve been dealing with this issue a lot. While United is easy to change online, Delta and AA required faxing the name change request along with a copy of some gov issued ID.

    Delta – 404.773.1945
    AA – 817.963.7882

  3. I went to my interview last Saturday at JFK the agent didn’t mention anything about the card to be used between US & Canada. What’s that for?

  4. Is the 100 dollar fee reimbursed only if you use the regular amex platinum or do you get it with the mercedes benz platinum too?

  5. Just went today to CLT. Place for Global Entry was a little hidden, with offices down a long corridor leading back from the international arrivals area. They, the TSA folks, were friendly, and accommodating–they took me in at 11:00AM for a 12:40PM appointment. Total process was twenty minutes or so, including fingerprinting, photo, and GE kiosk demonstration. There was pretty minimal questioning about employment, any arrests, and type of travel. Immediate eligibility for TSA precheck was a nice added benefit.

  6. When is there going to be a reciprocal arrangement with other countries to introduce GE? If I have a South Korean passport, there is. If a Dutch citizen there is. There’s even a special relationship for Australians. But, as a UK citizen with a US work visa visiting the country maybe 9 or 10 times a year, I must queue up – in MIA the other day, for three hours, and that was simply to enter the US for a few minutes to catch a connecting flight which I missed.

  7. I was denied because I got into a fight 24 yrs ago..I said I was never arrested on my application since I wasn’t arrested I was called to come into speak with the judge and tell my side of the story. I was fined 100.00 and thought that was the end of it…24 yrs later I am still paying for it.

  8. @kay: You may or may not have been arrested. But you were cited–charged with a crime. You were subpoenaed to appear in court and you either plead guilty or no contest or the judge found you guilty, which is why you have a criminal record, genius.

  9. Can anyone confirm that a DUI is not an issue AFTER 10 years has elapsed since the event? How about a traffic violation…is that 10 years too?

  10. My wife and I were approved at our interview at LAX on Dec. 16, 2013, but we have not received our Global Entry cards yet. Is this normal? And if not, how do I contact GE by phone or email to follow up?

  11. Anyone knows where or what’s the location/address for “Dollar General Travel” for an interview? thx for info.

  12. Any criminal record at all no matter how long ago will most likely get you denied. I had an incident on my record from 17 years ago that I was wrongly accused of and the case was dismissed, and they denied me. Also I’ve been told a DUI is total deal breaker. @damntruth anyone can accuse you of a crime, that doesnt mean you did it! I was completely innocent and it was dismissed once they looked into the situation and I have to deal with this 17 years later. Great system we have here, protects the innocent??? not a chance.

  13. I completed my application last week and received approval for the interview yesterday. I live 1.5 hrs from CLT, the closest GE location. The only appointment available in the next 3 months is today so I’m in CLT. I think the lesson here is to grab the appointment when you can, particularly if your airport choices are limited.

  14. I am an American citizen, retired high school teacher of French, currently residing in Paris, France for the last twelve years. I recently received my conditional approval
    for Global Entry, and, like everyone else, was told to schedule an interview within the next 30 days, or my application would be terminated. Since I reside in Paris, and the centers are all located within the cointinental United States, what are my options? Where do I apply for the interview. I travel to the US at least two to three times a year. My next trip will not be taken until December 26,2014.
    Whay do I do? I need the benefit of your expertize.
    Alan Rattner alanrattner6@hotmail.com

  15. I went with the Global Entry program more to get TSA PreCheck than anything else. Yes, it cost $15 more than PreCheck enrollment but there are no PreCheck enrollment centers within 100 miles of my city so I figured I’d save more than $15 in gas since there was a Global Entry enrollment office at the local airport. Luckily we’ve lived in the same house for 11 years and worked for the same Federal agency for what seems like forever so entering the data on line was pretty simple. We have done a few International trips the last couple of years so my list of countries visited was fairly long but none were “hot spots”. I actually expected I might be questioned about our travels but the “interview” consisted of nothing more than looking at my passport, asking if I still lived at the address on the application, taking my photo, and scanning my finger prints. In and out in five minutes. The agent did tell me that my Known Traveler Number was the same as on my application approval letter so I could start putting that into my airline profiles immediately. Got my Global Entry card a week later. From on line application to card in hand was 17 days.

  16. Dulles CBP global entry office is a joke because it is so mismanaged. You schedule appointments there, so the long drive to show up and they’re closed. Oops the construction took too long and it’s still a vacant room. Never called or emailed any of us. Typical public sector no accountability place. Avoid this interview center. Is unreliable and untrustworthy.

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