It’s always nice to expedite your travels and avoid long waiting lines, especially when traveling internationally. If you are someone who may be crossing land borders between the US and Mexico, you definitely want to consider SENTRI.
In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about the program including what the benefits are and how to sign up. I’ll also show you how to get it if you currently have Global Entry.
Table of Contents
What is SENTRI?
SENTRI stands for the “Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection” and it’s a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that “allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.”
Participants may enter the United States by using dedicated primary lanes into the United States at Southern land border ports.
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The main benefit of the SENTRI program is allowing you to reduce your wait times at designated ports of entry and at airports. SENTRI allows you to reduce your wait times at designated ports of entry by:
- Using dedicated processing lanes at southern land border crossings,
- Using NEXUS lane when entering the United States from Canada by land, and
- Using Global Entry kiosks when entering the United States by air
- Using TSA Pre-Check when arriving at airports
Dedicated processing lanes
If you travel between the United States and Mexico via land border crossings on a frequent basis, then the biggest benefit might be the dedicated processing lines.
These lanes will expedite your entry back into the US or into Mexico and can save you a substantial amount of time.
Typically, it will save you about 20 to 30 seconds per vehicle inspection which can add up during busy rush-hour or weekend times. You can expect your inspection to take only about 10 seconds which is pretty fantastic.
As you approach the border crossing, you will see signs indicating the dedicated processing lanes for SENTRI. In some cases, these lines will be open 24 hours even on holidays so you can consistently get expedited entry. Other locations might have hours ranging from 4am to 10pm.
Keep in mind that this is not a joint program between the US and Mexico and so you only get expedited access back into the US.
These SENTRI Lanes an currently be found in the following locations:
- Douglas, Arizona
- Nogales, Arizona
- San Luis, Arizona
- Calexico, California
- Otay Mesa, California
- San Ysidro, California
- Anzalduas, Texas
- Brownsville, Texas
- El Paso, Texas
- Hidalgo, Texas
- Laredo, Texas
- Pharr, Texas
Nexus is the special program used when crossing the border between the US and Canada. When crossing by land, and entering the US from Canada you will have a special lane that you can use to expedite your entry. Once again, the benefit only extends to entry into the US and not into Canada.
For many applicants, getting SENTRI means that you can also use Global Entry kiosks when entering back into the US via air. Global Entry has saved me tons of time and getting back through customs and immigration and it is arguably one of the most valuable benefits for an international traveler residing in the US.
We have a full review of Global Entry that you can check out here.
Note: If you are a Mexican national in SENTRI, you must apply for Global Entry through your Trusted Traveler Programs account.
TSA Pre-Check allows you to enter a priority line at airport security and also provides you with some additional benefits that make your security screening process much less time-consuming and invasive.
You often only have to pass through a traditional metal detector (as opposed to the invasive full-body scanners) and you also get to enjoy the following benefits:
- Shoes can stay on
- Belt can stay on
- Light jackets can stay on
- Laptops allowed to stay in bag
- Liquids (3-1-1 Rule) can stay in bag
In order to take advantage of this benefit you will need to add your PASS ID/KTN (Known Traveler Number) from your SENTRI card to your flight reservation.
The great thing about SENTRI is that there are no citizenship or even age requirements. The program is open to all U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and all foreign nationals.
The biggest hurdle that can keep you from becoming eligible is if you have some type of criminal history or immigration related issue.
Specifically, you will not be able to participate in the SENTRI program if you
- Provide false or incomplete information on the application;
- Have been convicted of any criminal offense or have pending criminal charges or outstanding warrants (to include driving under the influence);
- Have been found in violation of any customs, immigration or agriculture regulations or laws in any country;
- Are the subject of an ongoing investigation by any federal, state or local law enforcement agency;
- Are inadmissible to the United States under immigration regulation, including applicants with approved waivers of inadmissibility or parole documentation; or
- Cannot satisfy CBP of your low risk status.
As mentioned above, there is no minimum age requirement for Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI). But it’s worth noting that if you are under the age of 18, you must have your parent or legal guardian consent to join the program. However, the parent or legal guardian does not have to be a member.
Regardless of your age, you must create a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) System account, pay a non-refundable application fee, and schedule an interview at a SENTRI Enrollment Center. If you are under the age of 18, a parent or legal guardian must be present.
How to apply
Applying is a fairly quick process.
The first thing that you need to do is create a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) System account. Regardless of your age, you must have your own TTP account.
Once you have created your account, you need to complete the application. You will be required to pay a nonrefundable fee when you complete each application and I’ll talk more about the fees below.
After your application has been accepted and the fee is paid, Customs and Border Protection will review your application. If your application is conditionally approved, then your TTP account will instruct you on how to schedule an interview at a SENTRI Enrollment Center.
Each applicant must schedule a separate interview.
Typically, these interviews are pretty quick and the officers just want to get a sense of your travel habits and background. If you have anything questionable on your record be prepared to answer questions about that. Also, you will need to scan your fingerprints during the interview.
When you show up to the interview, you will need to bring your valid passport(s) and one other form of identification, such as a driver’s license or ID card to the interview. If you are a lawful permanent resident, you must present your permanent resident card.
One thing to note is that you will be required to show vehicle registration and evidence of United States automobile insurance by a company authorized to write automobile insurance in the United States.
You do not have to have your vehicle inspected at the time of your interview although you might get your vehicle inspected upon first using your SENTRI pass.
The total fee that you have to pay per person is $122.25. This fee is actually a combination of three separate fees that are broken down below.
|Application Fee:||$25.00 per person (or a maximum of $50.00 for husband, wife and minor children)|
|Fingerprint Fee:||$14.50 (applicants 14 years of age and older)|
|System Cost Fee:||$82.75 per person (or a maximum of $165.50 for a husband, wife and minor children)|
|Total Fee:||$122.25 per person|
Noticed that some of the fees can be lumped together. For example, a family with children only has to pay a maximum of $50 for the application fee and $165.50 for the system fee.
Once you are approved and have paid the fee, your membership will be good for five years.
You can pay by credit card, certified check, money order, or through electronic bank transfer. Unlike Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check, you cannot use a statement credit on a credit card in order to offset the fee. For example, the $100 Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit on cards like the Sapphire Reserve cannot be used for SENTRI.
Also, all of the fees are not refundable so even if you don’t get approved, you will not receive a refund for your fees.
If a SENTRI member wishes to register more than one vehicle for use in the SENTRI DCL lane (maximum of 4 vehicles), or a SENTRI member wishes to be registered in more than one vehicle (maximum of 8 people per vehicle), an additional fee of $42.00 per vehicle will be assessed.
If you need to change a license plate, there is a $25 processing fee. Also, if you need a replacement for a lost, stolen or destroyed card you will also be charged a $25 replacement fee.
If you are already a Global Entry member, you can simply register a vehicle for SENTRI. The registration fee is currently $42. To do this simply log into your account and then look for the button that says “add vehicle.”
You will need to input details such as the make and model of your car and the VIN. It only takes a minute or two to complete the application and you should hear back pretty quickly once you submit your application.
Note: I have heard that there is no fee if you register your vehicle at the time of applying for Global Entry.
SENTRI enrollment centers
There are only three states where you will find SENTRI enrollment centers and they include Texas, Arizona, and California. All of the enrollment centers will also be located near the border with Mexico so in some cases you have to drive quite a ways to get to the nearest enrollment center.
Enrollment centers are located in Douglas, Nogales, and San Luis, Arizona; Calexico, Otay Mesa, and San Ysidro, California; and Brownsville, El Paso, Hidalgo, and Laredo, Texas.
You can find exactly where these enrollment centers are located here.
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If approved for SENTRI, you will be issued a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card that will identify you as being a SENTRI member.
You will need to activate your card whenever you receive it and you can do that by logging into your account. Be sure to activate your card as soon as you receive it because if you take longer than 30 days it will not work.
Using your card is also very easy. As you approach the border in the SENTRI lane, the system automatically identifies your vehicle and the identity of the occupants in the vehicle.
This is accomplished through the following steps:
- RFID card file number is read upon your arrival.
- File number triggers your data which is brought up on the CBP Officer’s screen.
- Data is verified by the CBP officer and you are either released or referred for additional inspection(s)
If you have a Global Entry card you can also use this in the SENTRI lanes. Just remember that you must activate your card and your vehicle must also be registered.
Most people only need to consider SENTRI if they do a lot of (land) border crossing between the US and Mexico.
If you are not frequently driving across the México-US border then there is limited value for you with SENTRI.
The main benefit of SENTRI is that you get access to an expedited processing line when traveling back into the US from Mexico via land crossings.
SENTRI Lanes an currently be found in the following locations:
San Luis, Arizona
Otay Mesa, California
San Ysidro, California
El Paso, Texas
Many people who get SENTRI will also qualify for Global Entry. But if you are a Mexican national in SENTRI, you must apply for Global Entry through your Trusted Traveler Programs account.
Yes, you will also get TSA Pre-Check with SENTRI.
No, the program is open to all U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and all foreign nationals.
The total fee per person is $122.25.
The fees are not refundable.
Your membership will be good for five years.
You can find where enrollment centers are located here.
Overall, SENTRI is a great program if you do a lot of traveling between the US and Mexico as it can expedite your entry process through the border. If you don’t do a lot of traveling between the land border of the US and Mexico then you probably don’t need this program and you might want to just considered a program like Global Entry.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.