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If you’re a U.S. citizen who travels internationally—or plans to go abroad sometime in the next five years—there’s a $100 investment I recommend you make. It’s more comprehensive than TSA PreCheck, the fast-pass option that gets you through airport security with your shoes on and dignity intact, and only costs $15 more. Global Entry is a five-year membership that allows travelers to bypass the lines at customs by checking in at a kiosk with an entry pin number—your “Trusted (Known) Traveler number”—and a fingerprint scan. It also includes TSA PreCheck eligibility on domestic airlines in participating airports. (More on that in a minute.)
I finally bit the bullet this spring and signed up for GE. It took less than a month to complete the process, and only had two steps: Fill out an online application (which took about 20 minutes), and schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center at a nearby airport.
An interview with U.S. Customs sounds intimidating enough, and when I met Agent Spellman at JFK Airport, he wasn’t messing around. He summoned me to his desk with a deep baritone—“Missssus Redmaaaan”—and pointed to a seat with a nicely manicured hand. (I guess if you have to fingerprint people all day long, you start to pay attention to cuticles.) No prelude here: Much like the speedy passage through customs that Global Entry offers, this GE interview was 100 percent efficient. No smiles. No full sentences. Just commands:
“Passport and driver’s license.”
[LDR: Hand them over without making eye contact.]
“Proof of residence.”
[LDR: Repeat step 1.]
“Pose for a photo.”
[LDR: “Can I smile?”]
“You can smile or not smile.” [Smile goofily.]
“Four fingers right hand there.”
[LDR: I place my right hand on a green scanner that takes my fingerprints. Having never been to jail, this was new and exciting for me.]
“Four fingers left hand.”
[LDR: Still exciting.]
“Two thumbs simultaneously.”
[LDR: Ooh! A new challenge.]
“Now: Why do you want to do this?”
[LDR: Woah, that’s kind of deep. I start planning a long response about why I love to travel, and how I do it for work, and I have a trip to France planned for August, when my husband—who’s also getting his GE card—interrupts my thoughts.]
Husband: “To get through security faster.”
Agent Spellman nodded in approval and handed us a one-page printoff with all the details of our Global Entry rules and privileges. Most notable: The membership was effective immediately, will last until my birthday in 2019, and there’s a 75 percent chance I will be approved for TSA PreCheck when I fly through participating North American airports (which basically includes every major U.S. and Canadian city). TSA PreCheck is a bonus with Global Entry, but not a guarantee.
He asked if we had any questions after we read it. No? Then you’re approved!
That took 10 minutes. The trip to and from JFK Airport—where we had to arrange our interview—took about an hour and a half. Still worth it.
SOURCE: CONDE NAST TRAVELER