How to Get Through US Customs and Border Patrol Efficiently

Get Global Entry.

Global Entry is a trusted traveler program that provides expedited pre-clearance into the US. In other words, you submit your info for a background check, and if you get approved, you get to skip all of the lines when you come back to the US from a trip abroad. It’s magical. The last time I came back from the US, I was literally off the plane and into a car to go home in less than 10 minutes because of Global Entry.

The application process is pretty painless, although the online application is slightly long and you do have to go to an interview at one of the interview sites (generally located at airports). Depending on the site, it may take a long time before you can schedule an interview, so I would advise applying for Global Entry several months prior to your next international trip. Alternatively, you can try walking in for an interview, although I’ve heard that some interview sites don’t like that.

The other barrier is that it costs $100 for the application, and you don’t get the application fee refunded if you get rejected from the program. Here are a couple of ways that I know of to avoid paying the application fee or otherwise getting the fee reduced:

  1. United Airlines will reimburse Platinum members and above for the application fee
  2. Amex will reimburse Platinum cardholders for the fee (this is valid for each authorized user on the account, and you can add up to three additional users to your account for $175 total)
  3. Nexus costs only $50 for its application, and you get access to Global Entry, but the enrollment centers are all near the border to Canada, which might be a deal breaker for many

It’s also worth noting that for the United and Amex reimbursements, although it might say that the reimbursement is supposed to be used for the status- or cardholder only, in my experience, you can use the reimbursement for anyone’s application.

Personally, even if I hadn’t gotten the fee reimbursed, I still think Global Entry is worth it. At $100 for 5 years, that’s $20 per year for expedited clearance. If I travel internationally three times each year, and each time Global Entry saves me 40 minutes of waiting in lines, then I’m paying $10 per hour of my life saved. Granted, there’s the upfront time spent to apply and interview for the program, but I have reason to believe that future interviews aren’t necessary for renewal, so I’m going to say that the upfront time investment can be amortized over the rest of my lifetime, so it’s relatively negligible.

As an additional bonus, Global Entry members can also enroll in TSA PreCheck, which can save you time going through normal security. Granted, TSA PreCheck hasn’t actually worked for me yet, and it’s a random process, so you can’t count on it saving you time, but in theory, I like the added benefit, and it can further decrease the relative cost of the application fee. UPDATE: After a couple of weeks of waiting, I’ve received TSA PreCheck on every eligible flight. It makes travel that much easier.

Do any of you have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck? What have been your experiences with either program?

3 thoughts on “How to Get Through US Customs and Border Patrol Efficiently

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