Since we’re planning to travel a lot this upcoming year, and our plans for the future will hopefully include a great amount of travel as well, we decided to go ahead and apply for the US Government’s Global Entry program. The program provides pre-screened travelers with quicker access through security, customs and border patrol, as well as confers all the benefits from the TSA Pre✓ program.
Of course the main reason to get Global Entry is that it can greatly speed up entry when you return from abroad. However as “digital nomads”, we carry a lot of technical equipment with us, so one of the biggest perceived advantages for us is that in airports with TSA Pre✓, we won’t have to pull out all our laptops, game system and other devices to be screened separately.
To apply for Global Entry is a multi-step process. There is an application fee of $100/person, which is charged whether you are approved for the program or not.
1. Create Account / Online Application
First you must create an account and fill out an online application using the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) website. Each family member needs their own login. The application asks you basic questions about your past including things like places of residence, job and criminal history, etc.
From everything I read while researching, it is important to be very, very honest. Convictions from many years ago may be found out, included those that were dismissed or deferred. If you fail to disclose info or have a major crime in your past you may be denied, as this is a program for low risk travelers.
Once your application is submitted and the fee paid, it is sent off for pre-screening. For us this took 6-10 days, varying per family member. The website will email to alert you to a status change, but won’t tell you what is different, so you have to log in to see whether you were approved or denied.
2. Schedule Interview
Once approved, you are invited to schedule your in person interview at one of the enrollment centers. (In fact you *must* schedule it within 30 days after receiving approval, although you can reschedule multiple times if necessary.) Most of the centers are located in airports or at border crossings. There are NONE located in our state, so I looked at all the options within surrounding states. Since all three of us needed to interview, I was looking for three slots on the same day, preferably in a row.
For the locations nearest us (a few hours away from home) it was showing a wait of at least 2 months, to as long as 6 months out. Wait times varies highly per location. If you check often, you may be able to nab a cancellation slot. In addition, there are even programs to help people try to find an opening. There are just a few centers that allow walk-ins. None were near us, and research told me that many of those have lines starting in the early AM hours and only take up to 6 walk-ins per day!
While checking various options, I noticed that the border crossing locations near us seemed to have the least wait times, with many of them having same day slots available! We figured out that if we were willing to do a longer drive to interview, there was a chance we’d get our cards before our upcoming trip to Mexico. We decided to give it a shot, and booked our appointments for a few days away at one of the Minnesota/Canada border crossing areas, just over a 9 hours drive from our base. In a way it seemed nuts, driving 18 hours, but we knew that in addition to getting a more immediate slot we were also likely to experience a more pleasant interview, wouldn’t have to deal with crazy airport traffic, pay for parking, etc.
We got our interviews scheduled for Oct. 3rd in International Falls, MN, the closest location to us out of the three located on the MN/CAN line. We decided to stay in the night in a hotel in Duluth, MN – the same one we stayed at for the reunion – and drive up in the morning for our lunchtime appointments. Even so that meant it was nearly three hours on the road before the interview. It was a very easy drive and we couldn’t have picked a better time to experience the fall colors! Too bad we didn’t have more time to spend in the area.
We arrived at the location for the interview, which was not at the border crossing itself, but in a secured office building approximately a mile away. Luckily a map had been provided online. Once we arrived we were buzzed in and seated in a small waiting area. We were shown a 5 minute video and then waited for our turn. The officer invited all of us into the tiny office together. The interviews included a few questions, photos and fingerprints for each of us. We presented our documents. It was an extremely easy process and all done took less than 45 minutes for all of us! The officer told us we were approved and said that once we received our cards in the mail and that we’d have to activate them online within a short period of time, as you would with a credit card. She also said she didn’t think we’d get them in time for our trip. We then immediately started the long drive back home.
Within minutes we got the emails alerting us to another status change, which turned out to be our official approvals. Once you get your approval, you can immediately being using your trusted traveler number, even without having received your cards. As soon as we got home I went online and added the numbers to our mileage program profiles, and to the airline tickets for our upcoming trip.
Although everything online said we’d be waiting up to 2 weeks, and the officer herself did too, we received our cards in the mail in record time!! We interviewed on Oct. 3 and received our cards in the mail on Oct. 8th! I activated them immediately.
Our cards are good for up to 5 years. For approximately $20/year per person, one 18-hour drive and a night’s stay in a hotel, I am hoping that Global Entry turns out to be worth the effort and expense!