A Guide to TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, and CLEAR

 

Traveling isn’t all sunshine and rainbows – it’s excellent once you make it to your destination, but before that, getting through the various lines at the airport can be a hassle. The good news is that you can get different accesses such as TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI or CLEAR to minimize your wait in U.S. security and customs lines and get to where you want to be faster!

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA Pre-Check is a program that gets you expedited security screenings in most large U.S. airports. It often has dedicated lines at security, denoted by signs with the TSA Pre-Check logo, with extremely short wait times. Part of the reason for the short lines is that you don’t have to take off your shoes, belt, or light jacket, and you can leave your travel size liquids and laptop in your bag.

Who is Eligible for TSA PreCheck?

United States citizens, nationals, and lawful permanent residents are all eligible to apply for TSA PreCheck. However, your application will likely be denied if you don’t fill out the application completely and correctly, have been convicted of a criminal offense, have pending criminal charges, warrants, or are the subject of an investigation by law enforcement, have violated customs, immigration, or agricultural laws previously, or have been denied for the purchase of a firearm.

The TSA PreCheck Application Process

Submit an application at https://tsaenrollmentbyidemia.tsa.dhs.gov/programs/precheck. At the end of the application, you will have to schedule an appointment at one of the enrollment centers throughout the country. At your appointment, you will confirm your documents so that they can run a background check on you, pay the membership fee, and get fingerprinted. If everything goes well with the background check, you’ll receive instructions on how to retrieve your known traveler number (KTN) in an email.

There are plenty of websites that claim to allow people to register for TSA PreCheck, but if they do not have the ".gov" extension, they are definitely not an approved registration site. Also, for first time applicants, the application fee must be paid in person at the enrollment center. If you are asked to pay the fee online, it is not an official TSA PreCheck website and should not be used. 

How Long Does it Take to Get Approved for TSA PreCheck?

Getting a TSA PreCheck application approved can take up to 60 days. However, most applications receive approval in less than a week.

How Much Does TSA PreCheck Cost?

The initial TSA PreCheck application fee is $78 for a 5-year membership. If you renew your membership online, the fee for the following 5 years will be reduced to $70. You can also renew your membership at an enrollment center for the same $78 fee as the initial cost.

Children under the age of 12 can always join a parent or guardian that has TSA PreCheck in the appropriate lanes without their own membership, so they essentially have a free membership option. Children between the ages of 13 and 17 are more likely to have the TSA PreCheck icon appear on their own boarding pass when their travel reservation is with a TSA PreCheck member, but if it doesn’t, they have to go through the normal security lines. To guarantee TSA PreCheck every time, teens can apply and get their own TSA PreCheck membership for the normal $78 membership fee.

Before purchasing TSA PreCheck, review your credit card benefits; oftentimes the cost of TSA PreCheck will be covered, especially by travel focused cards! TSA PreCheck is also included in Global Entry, so there’s no reason to apply for both.

How to Use TSA PreCheck

As soon as you receive your KTN, you can start applying it to your airline reservations. For existing reservations, you can manually edit the flight to add your KTN, or call the airlines customer service number and have them add it. For future reservations, if you add it to your airline loyalty program profiles, it should be applied to new ticket reservations for those airlines automatically. And for ticket purchases on airlines where you don’t have a profile, manually add the number to each ticket purchase.

When you get your boarding pass for flights you applied your KTN to, you should see the TSA PreCheck icon on it somewhere. Look for that same icon at the airport for exclusive TSA PreCheck security lines. If the airport is in the U.S., but doesn’t have separate TSA PreCheck and non-PreCheck security lines, you’ll have to wait longer, but you can show the agents your boarding pass with the TSA PreCheck icon and you still won’t have to remove your shoes, belt, liquids, etc. when you go through the security scanners.

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a program that uses kiosks at select airports to expedite customs checks for members entering the United States. You will still have to declare any goods you are bringing into the U.S. at the customs entry point, but you no longer have to deal with filling out the paper customs declaration form, and the Global Entry lines typically have little to no wait times.

Who is Eligible for Global Entry?

United States citizens are all eligible to apply for Global Entry. US citizens that are permanent residents of select other countries are also eligible. For a list of those countries, check out https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry/eligibility. Canadian citizens and residents are indirectly eligible to get Global Entry benefits through NEXUS.

The same things that are likely to get an application denied for TSA PreCheck (listed above), will be a problem in Global Entry applications. In addition, permanent residents of other countries will likely be denied for Global Entry if they are not allowed in the U.S. for any reason.

The Global Entry Application Process

Start the Global Entry application process by creating a trusted traveler programs (TTP) account at https://ttp.dhs.gov/. Then log into your TTP account and fill out the Global Entry application. You will receive an email if you pass the initial screening, telling you to set up an interview at a Global Entry enrollment center. You’ll be required to bring two forms of identification, one being a valid passport, to the interview. The interview only takes about 10 minutes, and at the end, you’ll get the verdict on your final application status (approved or denied), your fingerprints will be taken if you don’t already have TSA PreCheck, and your picture will be taken for your Global Entry card.

You must complete the interview within 730 days (2 years) of receiving your conditional approval for Global Entry. However, if there’s not a convenient Global Entry enrollment center or time slot available for your interview, you are also able to do what is called “enrollment on arrival”. You still have to provide the same documentation, but instead of scheduling an appointment online, you can simply find the dedicated enrollment on arrival agent next time you arrive back into the U.S. from an International trip in the allotted 2-year timeframe. There should be signs showing you where to find this individual, or an immigration agent should be able to point you in the right direction! 

At any point during the application process, you can check your application status online by logging into your trusted traveler program account.

How Long Does It Take to Get Approved for Global Entry?

Typically, conditional approval is received for an application within 90 days. Scheduling the interview can then take anywhere from a few days to the allowed 2 years, depending on your location, appointment backlogs, and whether or not you choose to take advantage of the enrollment on arrival option. For most people, the complete enrollment process will take between 4 and 6 months.

You can start using your Global Entry and TSA PreCheck benefits as soon as you are approved in your interview, though!

How Much Does Global Entry Cost?

Applying for Global Entry costs $100 and is not refundable, whether the application is approved or denied. This does include TSA PreCheck (which by itself costs $78), and is valid for 5 years. Again, some credit cards will cover the Global Entry application fee, so, with the right travel card, it could actually cost you nothing at all.

Every person that wants to use Global Entry must have an application and fee paid for their membership, regardless of age. That includes children and teenagers. Anyone under the age of 18 that wants a Global Entry membership must have a parent or legal guardian approve and attend the interview with them.

How to Use Global Entry

Using Global Entry is extremely easy! When you enter the United States from an international trip, follow the Global Entry signs that are posted near the customs areas, and they will lead you to a line of kiosks. At the kiosk, follow the instructions displayed on the screen; they may have you scan your passport, fingerprints, or just use facial recognition to identify yourself, depending on the age and technology of the machine. Once it recognizes you, the kiosk may print you out a receipt and then will instruct you to proceed to the (short, Global Entry only) line for the customs agent. They will take your receipt if necessary and ask if you have anything to declare. If you don’t, you’ll be on your way, and if you do, they’ll document that appropriately. 

Side note: that Global Entry card that they mail you isn’t required for any part of the Global Entry process from an international flight, so you don’t need to bring it with you. The kiosk just uses the information that was entered during your interview to determine who you are and that you are, in fact, a member of the Global Entry program.

What are NEXUS and SENTRI?

NEXUS is a program that includes Global Entry, but also allows for expedited entry between Canada and the United States at land and sea entry points through its dedicated lanes at the border crossing and marine telephone reporting center.

SENTRI is similar in that it provides expedited entry into the United States from Mexico or Canada, but it does not provide expedited entry out of the United States to either of its neighbors.

Who is Eligible for NEXUS and SENTRI

To apply for NEXUS, you must be a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident, a Canadian citizen or lawful permanent resident, or a Mexican national that is a member of the Mexico trusted traveler program (Viajero Confiable). There are no citizenship or age requirements for SENTRI applicants.

Since these programs are designed for low-risk travelers, the same issues noted above for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, will likely cause a NEXUS or SENTRI application to be denied.  

The NEXUS and SENTRI Application Processes

The NEXUS application process is similar to that of Global Entry with one large difference; you must pass a screening in both Canada and the United States. So, you still complete an application on the TTP website (https://ttp.dhs.gov/), are screened by the relevant authorities, receive a notification of your conditional approval, schedule an interview at the NEXUS enrollment center, and then are eligible to start using your NEXUS benefits once you receive your NEXUS card in the mail and activate it.

SENTRI follows the same standard procedure as Global Entry for approval, but you will be required to bring a permanent resident card (if applicable), vehicle registration, and evidence of valid United States automobile insurance with you to the SENTRI enrollment center for your interview. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of SENTRI enrollment centers stationed along the United States border with Mexico, which may make scheduling an interview difficult if you don’t live nearby.

How Much do NEXUS and SENTRI Cost?

The NEXUS application fee is $50, and SENTRI costs $122.25 for a 5-year membership. These fees are nonrefundable for both programs, regardless of whether or not an applicant is approved. Both programs also include Global Entry and TSA PreCheck at no additional cost. Some credit card rewards cover the cost of NEXUS, but that is not the case for SENTRI.

Everyone in the car at the border needs their own NEXUS or SENTRI card to use the appropriate lanes, but membership to both programs is free for children and teens under 18 years old if they are applying with a parent or legal guardian. A parent or legal guardian does not have to have a NEXUS or SENTRI membership for the child to participate, but they must consent and attend the interview(s) with the minor.

If you want to add an additional car to your SENTRI account after your initial application, you can do so through your TTP account. There should be an option on your dashboard to add a vehicle, and it will cost you an additional $42.  

If your NEXUS or SENTRI card is damaged, lost, or stolen, you’ll have to pay a $25 fee in order to replace it.

How Long Does It Take to Get Approved for NEXUS and SENTRI?

The application processing and approval time is typically 12 to 14 months for NEXUS, and 10 to 12 months for SENTRI. Most of that time is devoted to scheduling and attending the final interview, so the process could be faster; it just depends on the application and interview backlog at the time.

How to Use NEXUS or SENTRI

NEXUS and SENTRI both have dedicated lanes at the land border. For either program, you will use those lanes and present your card to be read by a card reader. Again, every person in the car has to have a NEXUS or SENTRI card in order to use those lanes!

Once the card is scanned, you’ll proceed to an inspection booth, where an officer will either have you enter the inspection area or allow you to proceed across the border.

While Global Entry cards are not needed for air travel, the Global Entry card can be activated on the TTP site and used instead of the NEXUS or SENTRI card by program members for entry into the United States.  

What is CLEAR?

CLEAR is a program that uses biometric data instead of documents to verify your identity and skip the security lines at the airport and some other venues, such as stadiums. See where you can use CLEAR here. At airports, CLEAR members only skip the lines leading up to the security checkpoint, but still have to do the normal physical screening at the TSA checkpoint.

Who is Eligible for CLEAR?

Anyone who is a United States citizen or legal permanent resident over the age of 18 is able to apply for CLEAR. Since the CLEAR program just allows you to skip the lines, but doesn’t change the security screening itself, anyone who is eligible for CLEAR and pays the appropriate fee will be accepted into the program.

The CLEAR Application Process

You can begin the enrollment process for CLEAR online, but you’ll have to finish the process at an airport with a CLEAR station. You can also just complete the entire enrollment process at the airport. Simply walk up to a CLEAR lane and tell a CLEAR ambassador that you with you enroll – they will verify your identification, take your biometrics, process the enrollment fee, and activate your membership for you so that you can start using CLEAR immediately.

How Much Does CLEAR Cost?

CLEAR nominally costs $189 per year, but there are various discount and loyalty programs that will get you discounted or complimentary memberships for a certain period of time. Once enrolled, you can add up to three friends or family members to the account at a rate of $60 each per year to bring the average per year cost of membership down to $92.25 apiece. Family members under the age of 18 can join a CLEAR member in the dedicated security lanes free of charge, and students are able to get special CLEAR pricing of $60 per year, without needing to be tied to a full price membership account.  

How to Use CLEAR

Once you’ve enrolled in CLEAR, you simply walk up to the CLEAR lane wherever the program is supported, scan your iris or fingerprint at a kiosk to verify your identity, and get escorted by a CLEAR employee past the line to the security checkpoint, where you will proceed as usual through the security screening.

So, Which Program Should You Join?

Personally, I would not pay for CLEAR when all the other programs are cheaper and include more benefits - the TSA PreCheck line is likely only going to be slightly longer than CLEAR is and has the added benefit of simplifying the security screening process. But, if you have money to burn or just really, REALLY, hate waiting in lines, CLEAR can be paired with one of the other programs discussed here to ensure the fastest and easiest possible procession through U.S. airport security lines.

Between TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI, the program that makes the most sense for you will depend mostly on where you live and where you typically travel to. If you live in the United States and exclusively travel domestically, then TSA PreCheck is the way to go! If you ever travel internationally, then the additional $22 that Global Entry costs is well worth the upgrade. If air travel isn’t your jam, and you drive across the border a lot, then you should apply for NEXUS or SENTRI.

Just make sure that you get the most inclusive program for the traveling you plan on doing to make sure that you don’t end up paying an application fee for an additional program unnecessarily! I made the mistake of getting and paying for TSA PreCheck, and then finding out about and applying for Global Entry and paying the $100 fee for that as well. However, because of the difficulties associated with scheduling NEXUS and SENTRI interviews, I wouldn’t recommend applying for either of those programs unless you know you’ll be driving across the border frequently (even though you get all the benefits of Global Entry and TSA PreCheck included).



Comments

  1. This is really great information, and appreciate all the good advice.

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    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful! Thanks so much for the feedback! :)

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