Global Entry Allowing Interviews for Arriving Passengers at Select Airports

Big news for any Houstonians and some others trying to get Global Entry. Global Entry is now allowing applicants to take care of their “interview” when arriving through immigration at certain airports. This is new feature called “Enrollment on Arrival” is available at both Houston airports IAH and HOU, as well as Austin (AUS) and Vancouver (YVR). It’s also expected to arrive at SFO sometime in the near future.

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a program that allows you access to an expedited line through immigration and often customs. It also comes with TSA Pre-Check so you can get through security in a breeze. It costs $100 for five years but you can cover this expense with free credits with certain cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or The Platinum Card® from American Express. Global Entry has saved me a ton of time and there’s no doubt to me that it’s worth it for anyone who frequently or semi-frequently flies internationally.

If you’re interested in Global Entry, I suggest also reading up on other programs that offer expedites access:

What’s so special about Enrollment on Arrival?

This Enrollment on Arrival feature is very good news. The biggest hurdle to Global Entry (aside from clearing the background check for some people), is the interview. In some areas, you have to travel pretty far to get to the interview locations but the bigger issue is that wait times can easily be over a month for many people and often involve an unnecessary run to an airport.

Now, you can take care of this interview without making an appointment when you clear United States Customs and Border Protection or Preclearance.

How does it work?

First, you need to have already applied and been conditionally accepted (which usually takes around a week). After you’ve done that then you can make use of this new system. You can read about how to fill out the application and get conditionally approved here. 

When returning to the US and go through Immigration, there will be signs pointing you to where you need to go, which will likely some type of booth with an agent. You’ll need to bring your passport (and I’d also bring my conditional letter of approval just to be safe) and the US CBP officers will complete your “interview” on the spot while also clearing you through Immigration.

I use quotations because when I did my interview in Houston it was a matter of being asked a handful of very simple questions I’d mostly already answered on the application and it all being done within 5 minutes. You can read more about my Global Entry interview experience here.

I see no reason why the interviews would last much longer for this new process although there could always be some hiccups when implementing a new policy like this.

The only question mark I have right now is how long can you wait until after you’ve been conditionally approved to do this? I know that you’re supposed to schedule (not attend) your interview within 30 days of getting conditionally approved, so I wonder how long you have to do Enrollment on Arrival after you’ve been conditionally approved? I”ll update if/when I get that answer.

Should I Sign-Up for CLEAR?

There are so many different types of programs out there for expedited access through airport security and immigration that it’s difficult to keep up with. Each of these type of programs offer something unique but often there’s overlap between them so it’s important to do some research on the programs and learn which program would be best for you.

Some of the most popular options to research include:

But there’s another program out there called CLEAR. CLEAR is a privately owned service offered to passengers that allows them to bypass the lines going into airport security, whether you are going into the standard security line or the TSA Pre-Check line. It was originally part of the Registered Traveler program and although CLEAR is privately owned, it still in some ways has to work with governmental organizations, including TSA.

How does CLEAR work?

CLEAR works very simply. You find the CLEAR line leading to security which should have little to no line and then you simply scan your boarding pass and biometric data and then you’re off to the races and able to skip whatever line you would have been waiting on. You don’t even have to show your ID. And again, you’ll be able to jump the line regardless of if you’re headed to the TSA Pre-Check line or the standard security line.

Image via CLEAR.

How much does CLEAR cost?

Out of all of these traveler programs, CLEAR is by far the most expensive. It costs $179 per year.

They do offer different types of promos so you can get that for about $30 cheaper or try CLEAR out for free for a couple of months but in the long-run, it’s gonna cost you $179 each year, which is a lot compared the other programs that are closer to $100 and good for five year.

How do I sign-up for CLEAR?

You can start the registration process online by filling out some personal information and then you can finish the sign-up process by finding a CLEAR location at an airport near you (no appointment necessary).

Completing the registration process at the airport is only supposed to only take a few minutes. It consists of you inputting your details into a kiosk and then allowing them to register your biometric data including iris scan and fingerprints. As soon as you register, you’ll be able to use CLEAR instantly.

What airports have CLEAR?

One drawback to CLEAR is that it’s still growing and therefore you won’t find it at every major airport. As of June 2017, here are the locations that you’ll find CLEAR kiosks at:

Image via CLEAR.

Does CLEAR have any other benefits?

CLEAR also provides you with expedited access to arenas and stadiums, too. For example, there are several sports venues where you can find CLEAR. However, these are limited to just a few like Yankee Stadium, American Airlines Arena, (Miami) AT&T Park (San Francisco), etc. Hopefully we’ll see this list grow.

Is CLEAR worth it?

So the big question is CLEAR worth it?

I think that for some people it’s definitely worth it. If you are a frequent flyer who constantly make their way through airports that have CLEAR kiosks during peak hours in the day when even the TSA Pre-Check line can get backed up then I think that CLEAR could absolutely be worth it. If you combine CLEAR with TSA Pre-Check, your journey through airport security would be an absolute breeze.

However, if you don’t fly a lot or don’t frequent an airport with CLEAR then I think it’d be difficult to justify the $179/year expense. Also, if you’re like me and often fly in the wee hours of the morning then CLEAR may not be necessary.

I regularly fly out of HOU and IAH early in the morning and never have issues with waiting on the TSA Pre-Check line (and even the standard security line is not a problem. Thus, for me CLEAR hasn’t proven to be necessary.

There’s also the security concern of handing over biographical information and biometrics to a private organization. Personally, this doesn’t bother because it’s not like Ive got a safe in my house with $10,000,000 that someone is going to use my iris scan data to access.

Still, I know some people are very conservative when it comes to handing over such data and CLEAR did have some security/bankruptcy issues dating back to 2008 when it was owned by Verified Identity Pass, Inc. It’s now owned by Alclear, LLC and reportedly is on the right track since it’s relaunch in 2010.

Final word

CLEAR is a cool concept that allows you to make your airport experience even less stressful. The biggest issue to me is the price — the fact that I’d have to pay $179 per year means that I’d need to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth and based on my travel patterns right now, it just doesn’t seem necessary. But for others, CLEAR could definitely be worth it.

Mobile Passport Control (MPC) Versus Global Entry: Which One is for You?

Mobile Passport Control is the new kid on the block everyone is trying to find out more about. It’s a new program launched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to help expedite the entry process into the United States. Meanwhile, Global Entry is a more established program with an intensive application process that requires an interview and $100 fee but also comes with more benefits. Here’a a look at the two programs and some factors to help you decide which is the better program for you.

Mobile Passport Control

Launched in the fall of 2014, Mobile Passport Control is an app, developed by Airside Mobile and Airports Council International-North America in partnerships with CBP, that you can download to use in order to expedite your entry into the US. It’s available in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

It’s an extremely simple process to use and it goes like this:

  • Download the app. Travelers can download the app as late as their arrival to the US (when you finally obtain service again), so there’s no rush to download the app.
  • Create your profile. Once it’s downloaded, travelers will be prompted to create a profile with their passport information, which will also include their name, gender, date of birth, and country of citizenship.
  • Create a “new trip.” Upon landing in the United States, travelers will complete the “New Trip” section by selecting their arrival airport and airline, taking a selfie photo, and answering a series of custom declaration questions. Like Global Entry, this eliminates the need to fill out the Customs declaration paperwork issued on the plane. 
  • Obtain your QR Code. Once the traveler submits (uploads) their customs declaration form through the app, the traveler will receive an electronic receipt with an Encrypted Quick Response (QR) code. This receipt will expire four hours after being issued.
  • Show digital bar code. Travelers then follow the Mobile Passport Control signs to the designated Mobile Passport Control line. There, they will bring their passport and mobile device with their digital bar-coded receipt to a CBP officer to finalize their inspection for entry into the United States.
  • The app is FREE and there’s no interview or application/interview process involved in using it.
Mobile Passport Control steps.

As you can see, it’s a very simply process. However, you’ll want to do some research to see if your local airport has MPC capabilities. MPC is currently available in the following cities:

  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Houston (IAH and HOU)
  • Miami
  • Minneapolis
  • New York (JFK and EWR)
  • Orlando
  • Raleigh Durham
  • Sacramento
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Seattle
  • Tampa
  • Washington Dulles
Mobile Passport Control locations.

Global Entry 

Global Entry is a program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. This means that you are required to submit a detailed application containing background information, such as where you have lived, worked, and traveled. And most importantly, you must disclose if you have any type of criminal history.

You’ll then need to schedule an interview and once you’ve passed the interview stage, you’ll be given access to the program for five years at which point you can renew your membership.

If you enroll in the program, you automatically are given TSA Pre-Check, which will allow you expedited access through security when flying on most domestic airlines and even some international airlines, such as Singapore Airlines.

Global Entry is not free and costs $100. However, many credit cards offer $100 credits for Global Entry to cover the costs including the Platinum Card from American Express and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of a few other countries are eligible for Global Entry membership. Global Entry is also available to:

  • Citizens of United Kingdom
  • Citizens of Germany
  • Citizens of the Netherlands
  • Citizens of Panama
  • Citizens of South Korea
  • Mexican nationals

Global Entry works very similarly to MPC, except you verify your information at the Global Entry kiosk after you’ve scanned your passport. You then typically go through a checkpoint with a CBP who likely will allow you to pass with almost no interaction (versus MPC where you might still be subject to some questions).

After you make your way through immigration, many airports also have designated lines for Global entry users to get expedited through customs (where your baggage might be inspected), so in many instances, Global Entry is 2X the time saver.

Read more about my guide to Global Entry here and also what the interview process is like for Global Entry.

The differences 

  • MPC is free while Global Entry costs $100 

The price factor is something a lot of people will obviously want to consider. If you rarely ever travel outside of the country, you may find it hard to justify paying $100 for this perk, especially if you don’t have a credit card that will credit you. But don’t forget Global Entry membership is good for five years, so it’s like paying $20 per year which I think it is well worth it considering how long the lines can be at times.

  • MPC does not require a interview process 

The biggest hurdle to getting Global Entry isn’t the price for many people, but going through the interview process.

There aren’t a lot of interview locations like there are for TSA Pre-Check and the waiting times for the interviews can be very long (sometimes months long). In addition, Global Entry requires you to have a squeaky clean criminal record, so people who may have slipped up with a misdemeanor a few years ago may not be able to clear the background check. For those reasons, MPC can be a much more practical option.

  • Global Entry is much more widespread

Global Entry is the more established program and because of that it’s presence is much more widespread. MPC is growing quickly, however, and is already in many of the biggest cities and can even be found in some secondary airports (e.g., IAH and HOU).

  • Global Entry is available to more foreigners 

U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors can use Mobile Passport Control. However, as stated above, Global entry is available to citizens of several different nations.

  • Global Entry comes with TSA Pre-Check 

TSA Pre-Check normally costs $75 but is included in the price of Global Entry. This is a nice benefit that makes getting through security much quicker and less stressful. MPC does not come with this perk and its benefits are limited strictly to gaining entry into the US.

  • MPC can be used for families 

The MPC app allows for families of four to submit a single customs declaration form. While family members can each obtain Global Entry individually, MPC allows you to quickly submit up to four family members. Plus, since it’s free, it’s likely better suited for larger families.

In addition, MPC is more practical for mixed-groups who don’t all have Global Entry, since you can still all access expedited entry.

  • The lines could be shorter for either program 

I’ve had a tremendous experience with Global Entry lines being short and quick but that’s not always the case. There are even reports showing that Global Entry lines have been longer than the MPC lines during certain times. This may not be the case for long as MPC rises in popularity but for now it would be a good idea to have MPC even on-deck even if you already have Global Entry so you could decide to enter into the shortest line at the time of your arrival.

  • MPC likely will not have an exclusive line for customs 

This is a big determining factor to me, as I’ve been able to avoid very long customs lines as a result of Global Entry. Airports differ in how they handle customs lines, but if your airport has a designated Global Entry line and then a separate line for “everybody else” (like at IAH), chances are you’ll benefit more with Global Entry and could save a lot of time exiting an airport. For this reason alone, I’d probably stick with Global Entry.

Final word 

Global Entry is probably better suited for those travelers who will frequently utilize the benefit and/or want to do whatever they can to avoid long lines at airports (since TSA Pre-Check is included and you often get to skip long customs lines). Mobile Passport Control, on the other hand, is likely better suited for the casual traveler who doesn’t want to shell out $100 or go through the interview process of Global Entry. However, I’d recommend everyone to download the Mobile Passport Control app and consider using it, since you never know when the lines might be even shorter than those found for Global Entry.

Guide to TSA Pre-Check

TSA Pre-Check is a relatively recent program launched by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) back in 2011 to enhance the pre-boarding security screening process. It started off as a bit of an experiment found in only a handful of airports and utilized by only American and Delta Airlines, but in 2013 it opened up to the public so anyone could apply. Now it’s found at over 180 different airports and involves 16 different airlines. Here’s what you need to know about TSA Pre-Check in order to decide if you should apply. 

What are the benefits of TSA Pre-Check?

TSA Pre-Check offers passengers expedited security screening that comes in the form of two main benefits. The first major benefit is having access to much shorter lines and the second benefit involves having fewer restrictions to abide by when you make your way through those shorter lines. 

Expedited line

In almost all cases, the line for TSA Pre-Check will be shorter than the standard security line. Thus, you’ll often be able to breeze through security and stress less about getting through a long, snaking line of nervous passengers. Notice I said in “almost” all cases. Sometimes the TSA Pre-Check lines get backed up just as bad (or worse) than the standard security lines so you can’t take this benefit for granted 100% of the time.

Also, sometimes, such as very early in the morning or very late, the Pre-Check lanes will not be open at some airports. However, during these times, the lines aren’t usually a problem so it’s not a major deal.

And finally, some airports don’t implement proper TSA Pre-Check lines. At some airports you may find that terminals that don’t serve the hub airline have no TSA Pre-Check or a “dumbed-down” version of it where you get to keep your shoes on but still have to abide by some of the standard rules like taking out your liquids and laptop. 

Despite the occasional exception, I’ve found the TSA Pre-Check line to be shorter the vast majority of the time when going through airport security, so I definitely think the expedited line benefit is worthwhile.

Fewer restrictions

The other major benefit is that you’re able to enjoy fewer restrictions when going through security. You often only have to pass through a traditional metal detector (as opposed to the 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) can stay in bag

On occasion, if your shoes or belt contains too much metal or your jacket is too bulky, you may have to remove them. 

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 9.24.33 AM

Is it guaranteed each time I fly? 

Unfortunately, getting TSA Pre-Check is not guaranteed every time you fly. However, your odds of getting Pre-Check once you are approved are somewhere close to 97% each time that you fly, so you can rest assured that you’ll be enjoying the benefit almost every time that you fly.

The application process is very simple

Compared to Global Entry, the application process of TSA Pre-Check is a breeze. (I finished the TSA Pre-Check application for both of my parents in about 10 minutes.) All that is required is very basic contact information and verification about any previous run-ins with the law and you’re done. You can find a link to the application here

Scheduling an appointment

There are many more enrollment centers for your appointment compared to Global Entry, which means that you can schedule an appointment and get approved much quicker. There are some reports of applicants having a hard time finding openings, but TSA has made recent attempts to provide more staffing and locations for appointments so hopefully that’s less of an issue now.

At the appointment, you’ll provide some form of official identification (e.g., passport) and the agent will take your fingerprints in order to complete the background check. You then pay the non-refundable $85 fee (good for five years) and then it’s all over. For many, the appointment only takes a few minutes and is a pain-free process.

After your in-person interview, you should receive your approval decision within 5 business days, likely by email. You’ll be able to check your status online and pull up your Known Traveler Number (“KTN”) but will need to wait up to 48 hours for it to be activated. If you don’t check your status online, a letter will arrive in the mail after about 10 to 21 days after your appointment.

Add your KTN to frequent flyer accounts

It’s very important that you remember to enter in your KTN number into all of your frequent flyer accounts. When you log into your accounts online, you should see an option to input your KTN number somewhere in your profile.

Once your KTN is saved into your frequent flyer accounts, you are often automatically eligible for TSA Pre-Check each time you fly but it’s not guaranteed that your KTN will be added to your future itineraries. Thus, you should always verify that your KTN is in your itinerary each time you fly — this is especially true if someone else is booking your ticket as part of their itinerary.

Tip: if you have pre-existing reservations when you get approved, I recommend calling into the airline before you show up to the airport to make sure that your KTN is on your itinerary. Also, have your KTN handy every time you check in at the airport to so that the agent at check-in can add in your number just in case it isn’t showing up.

How do you know you’ve been cleared for TSA Pre-Check for your flight? 

When you print out your boarding pass (or view it online), you’ll see “Pre-Check” somewhere on the boarding pass if you’ve been cleared. If for some reason you don’t see it, always check with an airline agent to make sure your KTN was in your itinerary. If it was, then you simply were unlucky and didn’t get cleared in that instance.  

What airports participate? 

There are over over 180 different airports that participate in TSA Pre-Check. You look up what airports are part of the program here.

What airlines participate? 

The number of airlines that participate in TSA Pre-Check is growing each year and is now over 30. Some of the airlines that take part in the program are:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Cape Air
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Emirates 
  • Etihad Airways
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airlines
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines 
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin America
  • Virgin Atlantic 

Not all of these airlines offer TSA Pre-Check when flying internationally, however. I recently flew Southwest to Mexico and it was confirmed to me that Southwest did not offer TSA Pre-Check for international flights as of that time. Update: Southwest offers TSA Pre-Check on international flights now! 

Membership is good for five years

Your membership will continue for five years. After that point, you’ll need to return to a TSA enrollment center to renew your application.

Use credit cards to cover the application fee

I mentioned the fee is $85 (non-refundable) for five years worth of membership, which isn’t bad at all. However, many credit cards offer statement credits that you can use to get TSA Pre-Check for free. Some of these cards are:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve 
  • Platinum Card from American Express
  • Citi Prestige
  • Citi Executive AAdvantage Card
  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card 

These cards offer credits for both TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry. Thus, you need to arrive at a decision about which one is better for you to apply for before utilizing your credit. 

Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check?

I’ll write a little more in depth on this decision at a later time, but many people are not sure which program is better for them to apply for. It’s actually a pretty easy decision to make, considering that if you get Global Entry, you also get the TSA Pre-Check with it. 

Thus, the question is do you need the additional benefits of Global Entry? The factors you should consider are: 

  • Do you fly internationally? Global Entry is allows for expedited entry into the U.S., so if you never fly internationally, this benefit will not be needed. 
  • Do you have a checkered criminal history? The standard for approval are much higher for Global Entry with respect to having a criminal history. If you have things on your record (e.g., DWI, possession, etc.), you might not be able to get approved for Global Entry but might still have a shot with Pre-Check. 
  • Are you near an enrollment center? If you’re very far away from a Global Entry enrollment center and aren’t crazy about the expedited entry into the U.S., you might not feel it’s worth it to travel that far when you can likely find a TSA Pre-Check center much closer. 

All things considered, if you’re not interested in Global Entry, TSA Pre-Check is worth the little bit of time it takes to apply. And considering that you can get this benefit for free with certain credit cards, it definitely makes sense to look into applying and making your travel experience a little less stressful. 

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