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Updated October 15, 2018

Global Entry: What is it and How to Get it for Free

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Thinking of applying for Global Entry? Here's what you need to know about it, including how you might get it for free and application requirements.

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Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry

Waiting in long airport lines coming back into the US is one of the worst things about travel.

After a trip, you're tired and just want to get home as quickly as possible. But sometimes, customs lines can take over an hour.

If you are curious about a certain airport, you can visit the CBP Airport Wait Times website to track how long it's been taking U.S. Citizens and Non U.S. Citizens alike to clear CBP inspections at major U.S. airports.

What if I told you that for just $100 (possibly free, we'll explain below), you could bypass those lines?

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) created a system that makes getting through customs easier. It's called the Global Entry Program. This program has been accepting low-risk travelers since December 2013.

If you travel internationally, it is worth applying for this program.

Read on for everything to know about this program.

Note: Not every traveler will be eligible. But if you are, you'll sail right through customs. The process is fairly simple and in our eyes, pretty inexpensive.

What Is Global Entry?

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Global Entry is a fast track customs clearance system that allows those who have been pre-approved through Global Entry by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) to breeze through customs when entering the United States from abroad. This system was created by the CBP to make the customs process simpler and quicker for those individuals identified as "low-risk travelers," meaning those without a criminal history or unverified information.

This program is available for U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and permanent lawful residents.

Do I need to be an American citizen to qualify? No, Global Entry also accepts citizens from Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Panama, South Korea, India, Colombia, Singapore, and the UK.

The CBP is able to prescreen these "low-risk travelers" and store their information in a database. When entering the U.S. from abroad, the CBP agents simply pull up your info and sees that you've been pre-screened through the Global Entry system. The information is verified by confirming your identity with your fingerprints and photo.

Instead of waiting in the normal customs line, Global Entry members use special touch-screen kiosks. This is where your identity is confirmed. In less than 5 minutes, you gain entry to the United States.

Global Entry Airports

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Not all airports participate in Global Entry, but most of the major ones do. There are a total of 59 airports with Global Entry kiosks, including a few international ones.

Did you know: Global Entry also gives you access to expedited entry benefits in other countries including New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, many Canadian airports and U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam. There may be additional fees, interviews and steps, but you can apply for the Dutch Privium program, UK Registered Traveller program, the South Korean Smart Entry Service and the Mexican Viajero Confiable program, as they have reciprocal partnerships with Global Entry.

FYI: Despite the name, Global Entry was only intended for expediting entry into the U.S, but there are a few kiosks in other countries. Some examples are: Abu Dhabi, Ireland, and some cities in Canada and the Caribbean.

Here is a list of all participating airports:

  • Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH)*
  • Anchorage - Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC)
  • Aruba - Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA)*
  • Austin - Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
  • Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Burlington International Airport (BTV)*
  • Calgary International Airport (YYC)
  • Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT)
  • Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)*
  • Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
  • Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE)
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
  • Dublin Airport (DUB)*
  • Edmonton International Airport (YEG)
  • Fairbanks International Airport (FAI)
  • Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston (IAH)
  • Guam International Airport (GUM)
  • Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York (JFK)
  • John Wayne Airport (SNA)*
  • Lambert - St. Louis International Airport (STL)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Milwaukee - General Mitchell International Airport (MKE)
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
  • Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL)
  • Nassau - Sir Lynden Pindling International Airport, Bahamas (NAS)*
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)*
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Orlando-Sanford International Airport (SFB)
  • Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (YOW)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)
  • Portland International Airport (PDX)
  • Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)*
  • Saipan International Airport (SPN)*
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
  • San Antonio International Airport (SAT)
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • San Jose International Airport (SJC)*
  • San Juan-Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport (SJU)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport-SeaTac (SEA)
  • Shannon Airport (SNN)*
  • Tampa International Airport (TPA)
  • Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
  • Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
  • Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport (YWG)
  • * There are no enrollment centers at these locations

Does it get any better? It could. All Global Entry members are also eligible for TSA Pre-Check (which expedites the TSA security screening process). But it's not guaranteed for all flights. It's on a case-by-case basis and dependent on the airline. We'll go into more details later.

Note: If you are under the age of 18, you must have your parent or legal guardian's consent to participate in the program. All children need to have Global Entry in order to skip the regular line when coming back from abroad. Both parents do not have to be at the interview. It is also important to note that each child regardless of age needs to have their own separate interview.

Can You Get Global Entry for Free?

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There are a few credit cards that includes a statement credit for the Global Entry application fee. So before you pay the $100 fee, see if any of these cards interest you.

  • AMEX Platinum ($550 annual fee) and Business Platinum ($450 annual fee) from American Express (a CreditDonkey partner) both offer a $100 credit for Global Entry every 4 years. And what's more: additional Platinum cardholders (you can get up to 3) also get the $100 credit. So right there, that's Global Entry for 4 people.

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee) has a $100 credit for Global Entry. But this is not available to authorized users.

  • Citi Prestige ($450 annual fee) and Citi AAdvantage Executive ($450 annual fee) both offer a $100 credit. But this is not available to authorized users.

  • Ritz Carlton Rewards Credit Card ($450 annual fee) from Chase offers a $100 credit for Global Entry. This is not available to authorized users.

  • Capital One Venture ($0 intro annual fee for first year; $95 after that) offers up to a $100 credit for Global Entry every 4 years.

  • Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card ($95 annual fee) offers up to a $100 credit for Global Entry every 4 years. This is not available to authorized users.

For all of these cards, the application for Global Entry doesn't have to be for the cardholder. It's just a credit for the application fee, so it can be for any person. So even if you don't own (or plan to own) any of these cards, it doesn't hurt to ask a cardholder if they can gift you Global Entry with their credit. Terms and limitations do apply, but it is common to get the fee reimbursement the same day the transaction posted.

Don't want Global Entry? It's possible to get reimbursed by these special credit cards for the TSA Pre-check application fee if you prefer to join this program instead.

Furthermore, you're eligible for the application fee reimbursement every 5 years.

Can non-U.S. citizens join? Global Entry is also available to certain non-U.S. citizens. Citizens of India, Colombia, United Kingdom, Germany, Panama, Singapore, Mexico (nationals only), South Korea and Switzerland can apply. Also, citizens of Netherlands who are enrolled in FLUX and Korean Smart Entry Service members are able to apply. Canadian NEXUS members cannot join Global Entry, but they do receive certain Global Entry benefits. It is important to note that there may be additional requirements you must meet depending on your country of citizenship. Click here to learn more.

It is important to note that only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can get the Pre-Check benefits if approved for Global Entry.

Obstacles to Global Entry

Not everyone can get approved for Global Entry. Below are a few reasons that would make you non-eligible:

  • Criminals with a past history or pending charges
  • Anyone with violations pertaining to immigration or customs
  • Anyone with a DUI
  • Anyone with more than one misdemeanor

Remember, the $100 applicable fee is non-refundable, even if you get rejected. So before applying, make sure absolutely none of the above applies to you.

Note: You will also be denied approval if you provide false or incomplete information on the application.

Global Entry Application

Unfortunately, applying for Global Entry is not quick. We recommend starting the process long before you plan to travel.

The application itself is the fastest part of the process. The questions will take 15-30 minutes to complete. Consider applying early in the morning or late at night when the site is experiencing lower traffic. You can access the application on the GOES website.

First, you'll need to set up a GOES account (Global Online Enrollment System). From here, you can apply for a Trusted Traveler Program, and select "Global Entry." Each person applying for Global Entry must create their own account and pay the application fee accordingly.

You will be prompted to answer if you've ever applied for any of these programs before.

Expect to provide the following information:

  • Current and previous names and addresses for the last 10 years
  • Physical description
  • Birthdate and birthplace
  • Employment history
  • Passport information including expiration date
  • List of countries you visited within the past 5 years
  • Answers to certain criminal questions about felonies or denied access to the United States

Next come the fees, but these fess will be reimbursed if you can use one of our "how to get it for free" ideas in the post above. Either way, you will have to pay $100 at this time. And if approved, you will have Global Entry for 5 years. This seems like a good value. Time is money, and this could save many hours not waiting in customs lines.

You have the option to pay online with your credit card, mail a check, or send a money order. The fee is non-refundable, so make sure you are eligible before applying. If you are not accepted into the program, you will not receive the $100 back, unless you use one of our "how to get it free" ideas above.

Tip: Keep on reading for how you can get this fee rebated or waived by using the right credit card.

Once these first steps are completed, you have to wait for the next step - receiving the Conditional Approval Letter. In most cases, this doesn't take long (usually within 3-5 days, although it can take up to 2 weeks). When you receive it, you'll see it in your GOES dashboard. Check it daily because you won't be notified by email!

Within 30 days of getting this letter, you MUST schedule the in-person interview. This part can take a long time. It's not unusual to wait 6 months for an appointment with an U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office (especially at busy airports). This is why we recommend starting the process early.

You then choose the date and place of your interview from a list of enrollment centers. If possible, try scheduling your interview at the nearest international airport before your next flight somewhere or after your return flight home to save a trip to an enrollment center. As of July 2017, several US airports offer this expedited service called "Enrollment on Arrival" including: George Bush International (IAH), William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), Austin-Bergstrom International (AUS), San Francisco International (SFO) and Vancouver International Airport (YVR). This service is coming to more airports within the next coming months. When going through customs, simply head to the Global Entry booth to complete your application.

Most of the interviews take place in a CBP office in an airport (there are some options of outside facilities). If you do not have much time before your trip, consider checking other local airports or watching for cancellations.

Also note that it may be possible to walk-in to one of the enrollment centers. We recommend contacting your local enrollment center to confirm before going there in person as there is NO guarantee that you will be seen. Some centers are more accommodating than others. If you try to get a walk-in appointment, arrive early in the day and be prepared to wait a few hours.

Tip: The CBP will not call you to remind you of your appointment or notify you of cancelations. You must keep track of your appointment and watch the system for availability. Check regularly and be prepared to book quickly if a cancellation happens. You may have to rush to the airport right away.

Global Entry Interview

Interview is an intimidating word, but don't be scared. As long as you answered the questions on the application honestly, it is easy. The officer verbally confirms the information you provided on the application. There may be a few additional questions, but they keep it pretty brief. Being courteous and respectful to all CBP officers goes a long way.

Before you leave the interview, make sure you have the following documents:

  • Conditional Approval Letter
  • Driver's License or ID card
  • Passport
  • Permanent Resident Card (for US permanent residents)

The officer needs these documents to process your Global Entry. Once the officer is satisfied with your answers, they take your fingerprints. This is usually the final step in the process.

After the Interview - Receiving Your Card

Once the interview is complete, you receive your Global Entry approval! You will not receive your card right away - it will come in the mail in around 2 weeks. You will, however, receive a Known Traveler Number.

Add this number to all your airline loyalty programs. And remember to input it when booking flights, even if you don't have your Global Entry card yet. This helps you receive TSA Pre-Check on eligible flights (more details later).

Once you do receive your Global Entry card, go to your GOES dashboard again and click on "Activate My Card." You've now completed the final step. Did we mention it also counts as an official government issued ID, so keep your card in a safe place!

Tip:: You must activate your Global Entry Card within 30 days of receipt. Your card is then good for the next 5 years.

How to Use Global Entry Kiosk

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After the interview, most offices will walk you through the process at the kiosk so you know what to expect when you travel. The entire process should take less than one minute. Compare that to the hours you could wait to get through customs.

Here's how to use your new Global Entry status when you travel:

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When entering the U.S. (or another airport with a kiosk), just go straight to the Global Entry kiosk. There, you will provide your fingerprints, a photo of yourself with their camera, and your passport. You also may have to answer a few questions, such as confirmation of your flight numbers. Then you'll get a receipt that tells you to proceed to baggage claim (or see an agent if there a problem).

Keep this receipt even after you've collected your baggage. As you exit the airport and pass through the final baggage check, there may be a dedicated Global Entry line too. You'll to show the agent your receipt.

Super easy!

What happens if I get denied Global Entry?

You can always try to appeal to the CBP Trusted Traveler Ombudsman. It doesn't hurt to try if you feel that your Trusted Traveler application was denied due to inaccurate or incomplete information. Remember nothing is guaranteed, though, as the program has strict criteria for participation.

Tip: If your receipt has a "X" on it, see a Customs Officer for help. They will help you get through customs.

Global Entry Renewal

Your Global Entry membership only lasts 5 years. Fortunately, renewal is pretty easy and most likely, you don't even need to be interviewed again.

Just log in to your GOES dashboard and click on the "Renew" button. You'll have to update your personal information and pay another $100 fee. As for the interview, they decide if they need you to come in or not. So keep an eye on your GOES dashboard for additional instructions.

Start renewing it a few months up to one year ahead of the expiration date. You're never sure how long the process will take, and you don't want it to lapse!

If you happen to get a new passport, license or address within that timeframe, don't forget to update your information via GOES immediately.

TSA Pre-Check Benefits

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If you aren't convinced yet that Global Entry is perfect for frequent international travelers, what about getting TSA Pre-Check approval?

TSA Pre-Check allows you to breeze through airport TSA screening fast when you depart from the US to a foreign country and for domestic flights within the US without having to take off your shoes, belt, jacket, and taking out your electronics and liquids. Can we all agree that this is one of the most dreaded parts of travel?!

37 airlines are partners with TSA Pre-check including:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Allegiant Air
  • American Airlines
  • Aruba Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Boutique Airlines
  • Cape Air
  • Copa Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Dominican Wings
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • InterCaribbean Airways
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Key Lime Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Miami Air International
  • OneJet
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • Silver Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Southern Airways Express
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • Sunwing Airlines
  • Swift Air
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin America
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • WestJet
  • Xtra Airways

For a complete list of the 200 participating airports within the US, click here.

With Global Entry, you get a Known Traveler Number that you input when booking your flight. Make sure to always add your Known Traveler Number when booking and checking into your flights online at least 24 hours prior to departure to increase your chances of getting into the expedited lines. If you have any upcoming booked flights, now is the time to add your Known Traveler Number to your flight itineraries. This number will be included on your boarding pass. When scanned, you can get the expedited screening benefits if eligible and available.

It is not a guarantee that you will get TSA Pre with every flight, but the chances are good. It's determined on a flight-by-flight basis. There are over 200 airports and 37 airlines participating in TSA Pre, including American Airlines, Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue, Virgin America and Hawaiian Airlines.

Tip: TSA Pre benefits are worth $85 dollars for a 5-year enrollment period. Children 12 and under can get PreCheck screening for free as long as they travel with a member parent or guardian. If you are deciding between getting Global Entry or TSA Pre, we recommend spending an extra $15 for Global Entry. TSA Pre is included with a Global Entry membership, but you don't get Global Entry with just a TSA Pre membership. The approval process for Global Entry may be more of a hassle, but it will be worth it in the end just to get the extra TSA-Pre-Check benefits.

NEXUS and SENTRI Benefits for Global Entry Members

There are two other Trusted Traveler Programs: NEXUS and SENTRI.

NEXUS allows for expedited border crossing between the U.S. and Canada, while SENTRI does the same for between the U.S. and Mexico. Global Entry does include limited NEXUS and SENTRI benefits.

If you are driving from Canada to the U.S., you also get to use the NEXUS lanes with your Global Entry card. However, note that this is only for coming back into the U.S. You don't get the benefits going into Canada. If you would like that as well, you'd have to get the full NEXUS membership costs, which only costs $50 for five years.

For land crossings into Mexico, you can register your car in SENTRI as part of your Global Entry application (at no extra cost). SENTRI membership alone costs $122.25 per person. This would allow you to drive in the SENTRI lanes when you cross both ways. The only thing is that you need to get a vehicle inspection at a SENTRI enrollment center. And they're only located in California, Arizona, and Texas.

Tip: If you travel to Canada often or live near a NEXUS enrollment center, consider applying for a NEXUS membership. It's only $50 for 5 years. Not only do you get to use NEXUS lanes, you also get to use Global Entry kiosks when entering the U.S. Effectively, this means that you get Global Entry benefits for just half the price.

If you happen to lose your Global Entry, Nexus or SENTRI card, you can apply for a replacement card and pay the $25 fee online. By requesting the replacement card, the original card will be deactivated and no longer functional. You will receive the new card in the mail (make sure your profile address is up to date an your GOES account) in a plain white envelope. You may be required to go to another interview appointment at an enrollment center if there are changes made to the account when requesting the change. If you get an approval for your card replacement request, no interview was required.

Should I consider getting CLEAR as well?

CLEAR is a new program which uses biometrics, such as fingerprint and iris scans, to confirm your identity at a kiosk. Check out this video to see how seamless the experience is.

Clear is available in the following cities/airports:

  • Atlanta
  • Austin
  • Baltimore
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Houston
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Minneapolis
  • New York
  • Orlando
  • Salt Lake City
  • San Antonio
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Seattle
  • Washington D.C.

If flying out of one of the participating airports, simply go straight to the security check. Be reminded you still need the TSA Pre-Check to use the expedited security line, if available.

Baseball fans will love having CLEAR as it allows you to cut the security line at several Major League Baseball parks.

Annual membership for CLEAR is $179. That's just $15 per month. Kids under 18 are free. There is a way to become a member of this program without paying the full cost - if you are a Delta SkyMiles member. Delta Diamond Medallion members can get it for FREE. Membership for Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion members costs just $79 ($100 discount).

If you have the money and are frequently at the airport, it doesn't hurt to have CLEAR as well. Imagine if you have both Global Entry (which comes with TSA Pre-Check) and CLEAR membership? In all likelihood, there will most likely be little to no wait time when departing and returning home from participating airports.

Bottom Line

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Global Entry has many benefits for the frequent traveler at a low cost. We think the program is definitely worth your consideration. If you are able to get Global Entry for free through one of the ways we mention in this post above, it is a no brainer.

If you are unable to get Global Entry for free, $100 (just $20 a year!) for peace of mind that you won't spend hours at the airport after a long, tiring flight seems to be a good value. Global Entry is becoming more and more popular every year. As thousands more enroll into the program, their swift system is bound to slow down. So we recommend joining this program sooner than later.

Once you are a Global Entry traveler, you can use the participating airports and airlines to your advantage to save precious time. Plan in advance and your experience in airports will improve dramatically.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.

Disclaimer: The information for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, Citi Prestige® Card, and Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® has been collected independently by CreditDonkey. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed on this page are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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CreditDonkey does not know your individual circumstances and provides information for general educational purposes only. CreditDonkey is not a substitute for, and should not be used as, professional legal, credit or financial advice. You should consult your own professional advisors for such advice.