Global Entry has elevated our travel experience, prevented missed flights and saved our sanity in a number of instances. I highly recommend that all travelers—even those who aren’t frequent travelers—take a look at the program. TSA lines are predicted to be unusually long and stressful this summer even in a typically low-stress airport like San Diego International Airport.

Global Entry provides expedited immigration and customs clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival to the United States which means you skip the immigration lines by heading straight to kiosks that scan your passport. There is also a dedicated line to pass through customs after collecting luggage so you are skipping what can be a lengthy wait on the back end, too. In addition, Global Entry provides TSA Pre-Check expedited airport security benefits that can be used when departing the United States to international destinations as well as for domestic trips.

Joining requires an online application and interview that, for us, was just 25 minutes away in San Ysidro. I’ve updated this post since its initial publication in 2013 because I passed through immigration last weekend on the way home from Mexico via Dallas Fort-Worth and can confirm that worries of long lines as well as aggravating airport security and customs experiences during summer travel are completely valid.

And, if you’re wondering if you should get Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check, the answer is easy.

Global Entry vs. TSA Pre-Check

Global Entry members enjoy the perks of TSA Pre-Check, another Department of Homeland Security trusted traveler program that, basically, allows you to keep your shoes on as well as liquids and laptops in carry-ons as you speed through a (usually) dedicated security line. It sounds like a small detail but it is a huge time saver which means less stress or perhaps another glass of wine in an Admirals Club.

Total Global Entry cost is $1o0 per person for five years while TSA Pre-Check cost is $85 per person for five years (non-refundable application fees). This means that for an extra $15, Global Entry will also give you five years of expedited customs and immigration. These lines at busy airports are unpredictable and can be very long. I would highly recommend that you apply for Global Entry instead of TSA Pre-Check if you have any intention of traveling outside of the U.S. during the five-year membership. I promise that you will not regret it.

Global Entry SENTRI, NEXUS and Other Benefits

Global Entry also allows for some SENTRI (Mexico) and NEXUS (Canada) privileges for those who need to cross borders by land, though you’ll need to activate your card and perhaps register your car online to do so. These three programs do have reciprocal benefits so you’ll need to determine which is best for you. Global Entry also provides expedited entry to Australia without application using their Smartgate system.

Global Entry members do not fill out the blue U.S. customs forms so there’s no more worrying about having a pen handy on board a plane. This information is quickly entered digitally at the kiosk so feel good about saving paper.

Who Can Apply for Global Entry?

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are eligible for Global Entry application, however, the program has expanded to also include:

  • Citizens of United Kingdom
  • Citizens of Germany
  • Citizens of the Netherlands
  • Citizens of Panama
  • Citizens of South Korea
  • Mexican nationals

Residents of other countries may have further paperwork requirements.

Global Entry for Kids

Kids may also have Global Entry with consent of a parent or guardian. If your child does not have Global Entry and you do, this means you’ll have to go through the regular customs and immigration lines. There are no exceptions so make sure every member of your traveling family has it.

The Global Entry kiosks take a photo of you that prints on an exit slip. They very rarely are able to capture my daughter because of her height (apparently it’s a flaw with the cameras). The agents usually laugh so don’t stress about capturing the perfect photo. You can’t redo it anyway.

Global Entry Application and Interview Process

1. Register for a GOES account and submit an application that will probably take about 20-30 minutes to complete, roughly. You’ll need to create separate accounts for minors to fill out a separate application for them. Questions involve travel over the last 5 years, address history, criminal history and the like. You’ll need your driver’s license and passport handy, too.

2. About 10 days later, I received an email that our GOES account statuses had been updated to conditionally-approved and ready for interview scheduling, which you can do online.

3. San Diego residents can actually schedule interviews at the SENTRI offices in San Ysidro or Otay Mesa. If you intend to drive a car across the border, indicate this on your application and schedule your appointment in Otay Mesa where the mandatory 7-point vehicle inspections are available to allow use of designated, fast SENTRI lanes when crossing the border by car. Interview availability varies. My daughter and I scheduled a few weeks out from our conditional approval. My husband finished his application a week later than we did and was unable to schedule an interview less than two months out from his conditional approval.

4. Bring your passport and drivers license to the interview to verify your current address. No additional paperwork is required for kids other than their passport. And, yes, the kids need to attend the interview so you’ll need to find a block of back-to-back appointments and schedule accordingly.

The San Ysidro SENTRI Office

I hadn’t been to San Ysidro in some time, actually. Finding the office was pretty easy, given the directions in our conditional approval letter. Make sure to have cash handy. The lot we parked in required $7 in 2013 (no checks or credit cards) and there wasn’t any street parking available for me to jump out to use a nearby ATMs. The Tijuana border crossing is right here so the entire area is overflowing with people.

We checked in for our interview at office’s exterior window and were summoned to wait inside. The officers were very prompt and even called us a few minutes early. Our fingerprints were taken and I had to answer a few verbal questions. The process was so easy that I can’t believe I put it off.

You’re A Trusted Traveler… Now What?

Just because you’re a trusted traveler doesn’t make you exempt from random screenings. The one piece of advice the officer offered is that going forward I have to diligently declare absolutely everything on my customs form.

“So I don’t get kicked out?” I said.

He chuckled, “Well, I wasn’t going to say that, but… yeah, it’s a possibility!”

Global Entry Tips

The officer also advised that we carry our passports for domestic travel a few times to make sure our trusted traveler ID numbers attached properly to our frequent flier numbers in order to use TSA Pre-Check. Note that your entire family must have Global Entry in order to use the kiosks, even babies. Supposedly, you are eligible to use Global Entry the second approval is granted at your physical interview.

There isn’t a need to redo the application process when your passport expires during a 5-year term. My husband’s expired so all he needed to do was take the new passport back to San Ysidro for a quick scan. An appointment was not required. Renewing Global Entry after 5 years may or may not require another interview. They’ll let you know one year prior to expiration.

To use the TSA Pre-Check lines, “TSA Pre-Check” must be printed on your ticket. Always, always double-check airline reservations to make sure that your trusted traveler ID is inputted correctly (not just your frequent flier number) so that it prints correctly. If you accidentally check-in without a trusted traveler ID entered, there is no way for a gate agent to apply TSA Pre-Check to your ticket. Be diligent about having it inputted well before checking in so the airline has time to process the info and label your ticket accordingly.

Check to see if your credit card will reimburse the $100 Global Entry fee.

Also noteworthy is that the Las Americas Premium Outlets are a quick drive around the corner from the San Ysidro SENTRI office, should you be game for some designer bargain shopping.

Now, go skip the lines and make flying with kids much easier.

Global Entry will save your sanity at the airport this summer and beyond. Here's why it's better than TSA Pre-Check and how to get it.

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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  1. Hi,
    Thank you for sharing your experience!
    We are in process of applying for Sentri card for my family.
    Both my kids are just conditionally approved few days ago and I am still waiting mine — it is “pending review”. Do you know if once we got our Sentri card approved after the interview , is is automatically granted us the “global entry” privileges?
    Thank you

  2. I recommend NEXUS if you’re near the Canadian border. It’s only $50 for 5 years and you get Global Entry and TSA precheck with it….