Global Entry for the Family
Global Entry is a program offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that allows pre-approved travelers to speed through customs upon entering the United States. Once accepted, you simply scan your passport and your handprint at a kiosk rather than wait in the (usually quite long) customs line. It's ideal if you're a frequent international traveler, but there is no minimum number of trips required to apply. Even if you only travel internationally once every few years, it might be worth it, especially if you travel domestically more than once a year. That's because Global Entry also gets you TSA Precheck. This allows you to more or less bypass the lengthy security line, keeping your shoes and belt on and your liquids and laptop in your bag, every time you fly. TSA Precheck costs $85 to Global Entry's $100, and doesn't require the in-person interivew, but those 2 things are a small price to pay for the added benefit of skipping the customs line.
The Application Process
If you don't already have a passport, stop reading and apply for a U.S. passport now. You'll be applying for Global Entry (and paying the fee) for your children as well, no matter how young they are, so you'll need to have passports for your children as well. The Global Entry programs is open to all U.S. citizens and permanent residents (among a few other groups). To apply for Global Entry, visit the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) and create an account by clicking the blue "Register" button next to the login form. The application might take 10-20 minutes depending on how often you travel internationally, how many places you've lived, and how many different jobs you've had over the last 5-10 years. In addition to detailing your personal history, you'll also be asked for plenty of personally identifying information, including your social security number, birthdate, passport number, driver's license information, height, weight, and even your eye color. You can leave the application at anytime and come back to it later by logging into the account you created. Also, keep in mind all of this information is already known by the government in some capacity, so any concern about the security of this info or how it will be used is probably unnecessary (or at the very least too late). Besides, they'll be running a background check on you to reference the information provided anyway.
Once you've submitted the application, and paid the $100 fee, you'll be asked to wait a week or more to hear back regarding the status of your application. The fee will not be refunded whether you're accepted or not, but there are ways to have the Global Entry fee reimbursed. About a week after applying, both my wife and I received email notification that our applications were "Conditionally Approved". This was also the case for 10 month old Eleanor's application. We were now ready to move onto the next part of the application process...the in-person interview.
The interview takes place at any one of a number of Global Entry Enrollment Centers across the country. Most of them are located in major international airports. Your Conditional Approval letter will list these locations, but you can also find a list of Global Entry interview locations here. I had read about the difficulties of scheduling the interview and how it may take months to get in. Given that we live an hour from the nearest GE Enrollment Center, Denver International Airport, and that we had 3 interviews to schedule, ideally back to back, we were worried about getting in with enough time to spare before we left on our trip. But with a little effort and maybe a little luck, we found 2 back to back interview slots open about a month out. The GOES website has a pretty decent interface for finding and selecting an interview slot. We spent about 10 minutes clicking around the calendar, back and forth between months, before the 2 slots magically opened up. We scheduled a 3rd interview for Eleanor a few weeks later in another open slot, hoping we could squeeze her "interview" into one of ours. If this doesn't work for you, setup a slot as soon as you can, then keep checking back periodically to see if something opens up sooner.
Though we had nothing to hide, I was still a little nervous for our interviews. What would they ask? Would I slip up and say something I shouldn't? These turned out to be completely unfounded concerns. The interview was really very simple. It seemed to me the officer was merely verifying the fact that I was the same person who had submitted the application he was viewing on his computer screen. He asked for the necessary documentation (a printout of your Conditional Approval letter, your passport, and something to verify your current address like a driver's license or utility bill), what I do for work, and to verify my current address. Then he took my picture, asked if I had ever been arrested for any reason, got my fingerprints, and that was that. He was also able to approve Eleanor during Deanna's interview, so there will be no need to return to the airport (until we leave for the trip of course!). While waiting for our interviews, we did overhear another interview of someone who must have been arrested in the past. The questioning was a bit more thorough, but it sounded like the person was able to provide some documentation of the incident and that seemed to help with their approval.
"You Are Approved for Global Entry"
It was pretty sweet to hear those words. The application process was really fairly painless and didn't even take as long as we expected. I suppose some of that depends on where you live and how long it takes to get an interview slot. But given that travel is already such a freeing experience, knowing that we can now come and go with a little less hassle feels pretty good. The only bummer is that Eleanor is too young for fingerprints, so instead of using the kiosk at customs we'll still have to visit an agent. We do get to skip to the front of the line, and once we show the agent our Global Entry cards, we'll be processed through immediately.
The Global Entry program is beneficial for both travelers and for the TSA and CBP. By pre-approving travelers who have agreed to be scrutinized in advance, the security and customs lines get shorter and less cluttered. This gives them more time and flexibility to concentrate on those individuals who may pose more of a threat. We haven't had an opportunity to use either the Global Entry or the TSA Precheck benefit yet, but I'm sure we'll learn quickly that the process, and the $300 it cost for our family of 3, will be worth it.
Have you applied for Global Entry or TSA Precheck? How did the process go? We'd love to get your feedback in the comments below.