Warning: This post has no poker content. If reading about things other than poker disturbs you, run away, run fast.
If you travel outside of the US more than once or twice a year, I highly recommend applying for the Global Entry program. It can be a bit of a pain to get initially but if my first experience using it is indicative of it’s utility, it is well worth whatever hurdles you have to jump over.
I guess I should explain what Global Entry is. It’s a program set up by US Customs and Border Protection. You basically offer to share way more information than you would normally be required to (as well as a $100 non-refundable application fee) and, in return, you can avoid the immigration and customs lines when arriving at select US airports.
How useful is that? Well, on my first trip using Global Access returning to the US I was able to get a side-by-side comparison.
I landed at Newark airport with a colleague who does not (yet) have Global Access. While she had to wait in the soul-crushingly long immigration line, I walked right up to the Global Entry kiosk, scanned my passport, answered a few questions, scanned my fingerprints, and was awarded with a slip of paper that allowed me to pass right through customs.
After exiting customs, I had to go through security again. There was a long line of people waiting but Global Access also qualifies one for TSA Precheck so I bypassed the line and went straight to the TSA Precheck line which only had about five people in it.
At TSA Precheck you do not have to strip down and remove your belt and shoes. You can also leave your laptop in your bag. You just remove your phone, walk through the scanner, collect your stuff from the x-ray machine, and you’re ready to go.
Unfortunately, my connecting flight was delayed several hours which would have caused me to miss another connecting flight so I went to the help desk and they got me on a flight that was immediately boarding so I could make the connection. I raced through the terminal and made the flight and as I sat there waiting for the plane to push back I texted my colleague (who was going to a different destination) that I switched flights and was sitting on the plane waiting to leave.
She was still in the immigration line.
So, yes, Global Entry does save you considerable time and anguish. There are few things more depressing than getting off a 10 or 20 hour flight, exhausted, only to see a line of 50 or 100 people in the immigration line ahead of you. That’s just a recipe for tilt.
But even if you are an infrequent international traveller, Global Entry comes with TSA Precheck which means you can avoid some of the security hassles when flying domestic as well. The only caveats are that you’re not guaranteed the preferential treatment.
First, you need to make sure that when you book your flight you specify your Global Entry number on the reservation. That way your tickets will be printed with a big TSA Precheck logo on them.
However, they can still “randomly” flag you for the full security treatment which means you’ll be removing shoes and belts and holding a little baggie with your 1 oz bottles.
Lastly, TSA Precheck and Global Entry are not available at all US airports. But the program is expanding and it seems to hit most of the major airports one would likely want to avoid these types of lines at anyway.
And getting it is not exactly easy. The background check is fairly extensive. There are more than a few tales on the internet of people with a small blemish in their background that were declined.
The whole process starts off online. You fill out a detailed questionnaire and submit your $100 application fee. Usually in about 7 – 10 days you receive an email indicating whether or not you were rejected or if you can schedule a in-person interview. Depending on where you live, the waiting time for the in-person appointment can be a month or longer.
When you go for your interview, they’ll ask you to bring various documents and your passport. Assuming you pass the interview you will be fingerprinted and photographed and given a ID number which you can use when booking travel to indicate that you are part of the Global Entry program.
The Global Entry status is good for five years so even if you only travel once a year internationally, at $20 a year, that’s not a bad deal.
All in all, for anyone who does any amount of travel, it’s probably the best $100 you can spend.