Global Entry Made Easy
“As an expat and frequent traveler,” writes Correspondent Christian MacDonald, “I have occasion often to pass through the United States. And, as the years have gone by, the simple act of getting into the country–even if I’m just making a connection–has become more and more complicated.
“On a recent visit to the States via Miami, the scene at passport control was a zoo. I plunged into the sea of people and jockeyed among a horde of other passengers as we made our way slowly to the head of our respective lines.
“Using the same gift that I seem to have for supermarket lines, I managed to switch two times to lines that ended up being slower than the one I had been in before.
“Meanwhile, I watched as some people walked right by, without passing through immigration at all. They were not flight crew, and they were not accompanied by a border control officer. They looked like regular passengers.
“In fact, they were regular passengers…just like you and me.
“The difference was that they were part of a pilot program offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection called the Global Entry program. This is a ‘trusted traveler’ plan offered to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
“Now that I’m a member, I skip the immigration line altogether…not only at Miami, but at all entry points into the United States. I don’t need to fill out the Customs Declaration prior to entry, either.
“Global Entry is a program for pre-approved, low-risk travelers, and it allows you expedited entry into the United States. It’s intended for frequent travelers, but there is no minimum number of trips necessary to qualify.
“As a Global Entry program participant, you just walk up to an automated kiosk, scan your passport or green card, look at the camera, and place your hand on the fingerprint scanner. After you’ve answered a few Yes/No Customs questions, the kiosk prints you a ticket. With that ticket, you’re on your way…without going through the line.
“If the kiosk is out of order or tied up, you can still go to the head of the normal line, by showing the Customs and Border Patrol sticker that you’ll have in your passport.
“To be eligible, you must fill out an online application and agree to a background check. As part of the application process, you’ll be asked about your travel habits and the countries that you typically travel to.
“If you pass the background check and qualify, you’ll get a conditional approval, pending an interview.
“This interview can be scheduled at any Global Entry Enrollment Center, at many U.S. international airports. (The list is here.) It takes only a few minutes (you can make an appointment in advance), so it’s easy to schedule during a stopover at an international airport.
“At the interview, the officer will verify your identity by checking your ID and asking you a few questions. Your passport and driver’s license are normally sufficient for ID, but they’ll tell you in advance if you’ll need anything else.
“Also during the interview, you’ll need to show proof of residence. You need not be a U.S. resident to qualify, and they’re fairly flexible about how to prove residency. Often, a utility bill in your name is the best option. In my case, my foreign ID card and electric bill were fine.
“You’ll be activated in the program upon leaving the interview, so you’ll be able to take advantage of program benefits right away.
“The cost of joining Global Entry is US$100, payable when you apply.
“Remember, you can still be selected for a random inspection by customs. Any violations, and you’ll not only be tossed out of the program, but you’ll also be subject to any applicable enforcement actions.
“Personally, I’ll probably be more careful as a program member than I was before…
“Of course, there’s a privacy angle here that I should mention. After applying for the program, the government will have your fingerprints and iris scans… and you’ll have disclosed your frequent travel destinations. This may be a problem for some.
“In my case, it didn’t matter. Thanks to my military service and several background checks required for my foreign residency visas, my fingerprints are everywhere from the 17th precinct in Manhattan to the FBI and Interpol…not to mention the U.S. Naval archives. I had little to lose in the way of privacy.
“And, as my South American address is on my tax return every year, my foreign residency was not much of a secret either.
“The Global Entry program is still in the pilot stage. At this time, the only participant countries are the United States and the Netherlands. The vision is that the program will someday encompass a large network of countries that will grant reciprocal passage to each others’ citizens.
“If you’d like to apply, you can register at the Global Online Enrollment System. Then, next time you enter the United States, you’ll be one of travelers just passing through, while everyone else is trying to predict the fastest immigration line.”