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If you travel regularly, you may start to count up the amount of time you spend in security lines at the airport and wonder about alternatives. This is where Global Entry or TSA precheck can come in. But, which one is best for you?
So, here we’ll present a Global Entry vs TSA Precheck comparison to help you discover the differences.
What Is Global Entry?
Global Entry is a TTP (Trusted Traveler Program,) which is administered by the federal government. The program is designed to help expedite the customs process when travelers return to the U.S from international locations.
Global Entry membership allows you to use special customs kiosks when you re-enter the U.S. This eliminates the need for in person customs interviews and you can skip filling out the customs paperwork. Instead, Global Entry Kiosks confirm your identity via fingerprint verification and you can complete your customs declaration at the same kiosk.
There are Global Entry kiosks in more than 75 airports across 13 countries. You can check if an airport offers Global Entry expedited customs, on the U.S Customs and Border Protection website. Global Entry is available to U.S citizens and lawful permanent residents. However, select foreign nationals may be eligible to apply.
What Is TSA Precheck?
TSA Precheck is another TTP that is administered by the Transport Security Administration (TSA.) After completing the application and passing a background check, you will be issued a known traveler number you’ll need to enter when you book a flight.
This known traveler number will be added to your reservation, which means the TSA Precheck symbol will feature on your ticket and you’ll be able to use the expedited security line at the airport.
This means that you won’t need to remove your jacket, belt or shoes to clear airport security. You can also leave TSA approved gels and liquids in your carry on and your laptop in your bag. However, there are occasional random screenings, so you need to bear this in mind when planning your airport arrival time.
TSA Precheck is available at 200 plus domestic airports across 73 airlines. As with Global Entry, you can check if it is available with your favorite airline or at your local website, you can visit the TSA website.
Global Entry vs TSA Precheck: Main Differences
In the following table, we can see the main differences between the programs:
International and Domestic Expedited Security
Domestic Expedited Security
Online application, in person interview and in depth background check
Online application & in person background check with fingerprinting
Number of Application Centers
$78 ($70 for online renewals)
With both programs, the biggest benefit is that you can enjoy expedited airport security. However, the key difference is that while TSA Precheck is limited to domestic travel, Global Entry is for international travel.
Furthermore, Global Entry membership provides TSA Precheck, which means that it also provides domestic expedited security.
The Global Entry application process is far more in depth compared to TSA Precheck. For both programs, you’ll need to complete an online application. With Global Entry, the application is more comprehensive, after which you may be conditionally approved for membership.
You will then need to set up your in person interview at your nearest authorized enrollment center and pass your in depth background check. The entire process takes 90-plus days, as the Department of Homeland Security needs this time period to process your application. In fact, the official advice is to not have travel plans for approximately six months.
The TSA Precheck application process involves a five minute online application and a 10 minute in person appointment at your local TSA Precheck enrollment center. During this appointment, you’ll be fingerprinted and receive a background check. Applications typically take up to 60 days to be processed.
It is also important to note that there are far fewer application centers for Global Entry. This means that it might not only be less convenient to complete your in person interview, but also you may need to wait longer to schedule your appointment. In some cases, you may be waiting weeks for your Global Entry appointment.
Since Global Entry includes TSA Precheck, it is to be expected that it will cost more, but the cost difference is actually less than you may have thought.
The application fee for Global Entry is $100, while the TSA Precheck application fee is $78. However, if you choose to renew your TSA Precheck online, the cost drops to $70.
Global Entry vs TSA Precheck: Similarities
Here's where the global entry and TS Precheck programs are similar:
U.S Citizens & Permanent Residents (although some foreigners may qualify)
U.S Citizens and Permanent Residents
Online, but a visit to an enrollment center may be required
Online or at an enrollment center
One of the most obvious similarities is that both Global Entry and TSA Precheck have the same membership period of five years.
This means that once your application has been processed and you have your reference number, you don’t need to think about membership renewal for at least four and a half years.
Both programs are available to U.S citizens and permanent residents in the United States of America. However, some foreign nationals may be eligible for Global Entry.
With both programs, you can renew your membership online, but there are a few minor differences. Firstly, with TSA Precheck, you can renew online or you can visit your local enrollment center. However, there is a monetary incentive for renewing online, as you’ll get a discount on your application fee.
In terms of Global Entry, the standard renewal process is online, but there may be some circumstances where you’ll be required to be reinterviewed before your membership renewal will be approved. You’ll need to periodically check the status of your renewal on your TTP account and await the email confirming your status change.
The Potential Drawbacks Of The Programs: Comaprison
As with any product or service, neither Global Entry or TSA Precheck is perfect and there are some potential downsides.
Here are the main limitations of the Global Entry program:
- Difficulty Getting an Appointment: Since there are fewer enrollment centers and the appointments take longer, it can be difficult getting an appointment. Some applicants have noted delays of weeks or even months before they could get an in person appointment. Since the processing time typically starts after your appointment, it could take months to receive your Global Entry approval.
- Intrusive Process: You’ll be required to undergo an in depth background check, which some people may find overly intrusive.
- You Need a Valid Passport: Before you can apply for Global Entry, you need to already have a valid passport. This should not be an issue for most people since Global Entry is for international travel, which requires a passport. However, since there is a long lead in time, if your passport is due to expire, you may need to wait until you’ve renewed it before you apply for Global Entry.
Here are the main limitations of the TSA Precheck program:
- Long Lines: This is rather ironic, since most people enroll in TSA Precheck to avoid long security lines at the airport. However, the TSA Precheck uptake has been so large that the program is now exceptionally popular. This means that when you travel, the chances are that you’ll be with other TSA PreCheck members who will all be using the “expedited” lines.
- Random Screening: The TSA reserves the right to randomly select TSA Precheck members for regular security screening. You’ll have no advance notice of this, which can be disconcerting when you’re used to arriving at the airport later. This means that you will never be 100% certain that you’ll go straight through screening each time you travel.
- It’s Not Nationwide: While TSA Precheck is available in 200 airports throughout the U.S, this is just a fraction of the total number of airports. This means that before you apply, you’ll need to do some research to make sure that it is available at your local airport and areas where you typically travel.
Which is Better For You?
There is only really one determining factor to decide which program is better for you and that is whether you are planning on traveling internationally. If you don’t typically travel outside the U.S, you are likely to prefer the shorter and simpler application process of TSA Precheck .
You also need to consider the longer time frame associated with Global Entry. If you have plans to travel a couple of times internationally in the next few months, it may be possible to take advantage of the Enrollment on Arrival program, which can speed up the application process. When you fly into the U.S, it may be possible to complete your interview when you clear customs rather than needing to arrange an interview in advance.
You will also need to think about how comfortable you are with having your background investigated. Although TSA Precheck does involve a background check, it is not as in depth as the Global Entry background investigation. So, if you’re not particularly happy about the federal government digging into your personal information, you may prefer TSA Precheck.
What’s the Difference Between SENTRI and Global Entry?
If you’re considering expedited security programs, you may have come across SENTRI. SENTRI or the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection is similar to Global Entry. It is operated by the U.S Customs and Border Protection and it is designed for expedited entry into the U.S from Canada and Mexico.
You can use the Global Entry kiosks at airports, but your SENTRI card allows access to a dedicated line with the card automatically populating your passenger and vehicle information to enter the U.S more quickly.
While the program can be used at the Canadian border, it is primarily for traveling between the U.S and Mexico. For this reason, the enrollment centers are typically near the southern border. To be approved for the program, you need to undergo a background check and attend an in-person interview at one of these centers.
The membership lasts five years and the current cost is $122.25 per person. Bear in mind that if you travel by car, each passenger needs their own SENTRI pass.
Does Global Entry Include Nexus?
Nexus is a similar program to Global Entry, so they are not included in each other’s package. Nexus is a joint U.S and Canadian program, which makes it easier for low risk passengers to cross the border. The program is open to both U.S and Canadian citizens.
When flying into the U.S from Canada, Nexus members will enjoy the same expedited entry as Global Entry members. By car, they can use a designated Nexus lane and electronically scan their Nexus membership card.
As with Global Entry, Nexus can take up to six months for application approval. The membership lasts for five years and the current cost is $50.
What’s the Difference Between CLEAR and TSA Precheck?
CLEAR is a traveler program which allows for identity verification at biometric, touchless security kiosks. The program has been certified under the Safety Act by the Department of Homeland Security and it is available in 50+ airports, arenas and stadiums in the U.S.
- The biggest difference between CLEAR and TSA Precheck is that while TSA Precheck is a government issued and operated program, CLEAR is offered via a private company. However, there are some other differences which may determine which is a better choice for you.
- The most obvious difference is the cost. While TSA Precheck costs $78 for five years, Clear has an annual membership cost of $189. The reason for this is that TSA expedites physical screening, while Clear expedites your identity and document screening.
This means that when you travel through a Clear enabled location, you can use a dedicated CLEAR line to speed up the airport security process rather than waiting for a TSA rep to check your boarding pass and ID.
After you go through biometric screening, a CLEAR Ambassador directly escorts you to the next screening stage so you can complete your luggage and physical scanning before you are taken to the TSA Precheck line or the regular screening line, depending on if you have TSA precheck membership
You can log into the TTP website and there is a dedicated section for Global Entry renewal. You’ll find the application in this section and further instructions if an in person interview is required.
This depends on how quickly you can schedule an in person interview. However, the official guidelines are that it can take up to six months for your application to be processed and your Global Entry status to be confirmed.
Although Global Entry includes TSA Precheck, it is not possible to upgrade from TSA Precheck to Global Entry. You would need to apply before your TSA Precheck membership expires to ensure continuous benefits.
Kids can hold Global Entry membership for expedited security screening. Under 18s will need parent or legal guardian consent to become a member, but that adult does not need to be a member themselves.
You will receive email confirmation about any changes to your Global Entry status, but you can also log into the TTP website to check if there are any updates.
The in person TSA Precheck appointment typically takes just 10 minutes. During this time, the representative will take your fingerprints, go through your application and initiate a background check.
If you receive your TSA Precheck membership after you’ve already made a reservation, you can manually add your Precheck number to your flight details before check in. Alternatively, you can call the airline customer service helpline and ask them to add your number to your reservation.