Global Entry — A faster way through customs?


Can you shorten your wait in Customs and Immigration?

Most people who have traveled through an” international port of entry” recently may have seen the signs in the Customs and Immigration Area for “Global Entry” and wondered what it was. 

Global Entry is a preferred traveler program for people considered low risk by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Members of the program are granted “expedited entry” into the US (government speak for you get to skip all of the lines) in exchange for submitting to a background investigation and interview. In an effort to gauge the benefit of the program, I recently enrolled and used it on my last trip overseas.

Enrollment is fairly easy and good for five years. It consists of filling out a form on the CBP website with information that you would find on most standard background checks such as SSN, employer, place of residence, place of birth, driver license number and listing of any convictions plus some travel specific information like passport number and places you have traveled in the past five years. The form is then submitted along with a $100 fee for the screening.

The second step, once the background check is completed, is an interview with CBP at one of their enrollment centers. My interview took approximately 15 minutes and mainly consisted of a review of the form I had already submitted plus the “gathering of biometric data” (a photo and fingerprints).  The fingerprints played two roles. First, CBP ran a fingerprint check during the interview and second, they confirm identity during the entry process. Luckily, I was able to complete both steps prior to my latest trip to Scotland and give the system a trial run.

For those that haven’t crossed the border lately, you’ll now see three lines: one for US citizens, one for non-US citizens and one for Global Entry. As you enter the Global Entry line, you are directed to a series of kiosks that scan your passport and then confirm your identity using the photo and fingerprints taken during the interview. Next, you confirm your arrival information, in my case my flight number. Finally the system asks you a version of the questions that appear on the “standard” entry card most fill out on your flight back (Global Entry members do not fill out these forms) and prints a receipt. In the event that the kiosks are not operating or there is an issue with the kiosk, Global Entry members are sent to the head of the standard passport line. Once you have collected your bags, the receipt is then given to the CBP officers at the exit much like you present your standard entry card.

Finally, the big question, was it worth my time to join the program? Based on my first entry, no it wasn’t. While the global entry program worked as advertised and I arrived at the baggage claim 15 minutes sooner than most of the people on my flight, Continental’s baggage handling was so slow that ultimately it just meant I waited at baggage claim for 30 minutes instead of standing in line for immigration for 15 minutes and then at baggage claim for 15 minutes. I didn’t make it through the entire process any faster than the couple sitting next to me on the flight. It also doesn’t account for the half day I spent flying to nearest enrollment site for my interview plus the hour spent between the interview and filling out the form.  Hopefully on the next trip, the baggage handling will be more efficient and it will make a difference. I’ll with hold further judgment until then.

For more information on enrollment go to the Global Entry website at

  • Anne

    It is SO worth it at IAD since the lines at Passport Control can be extremely long in the afternoon when multiple flights arrive from europe. Well worth the time and money to enter the program if you travel overseas frequently.

  • Todd

    It is totally worth it if you do not check a bag. I fly through at EWR all of the time. In less than 5 minutes I’m off the plane, through customes and immigration and at the curb waiting for my car. Actually my longest wait at the airport is for the car service and that only takes 5 to 7 minutes!

  • DonnaE

    I used it in DFW on a recent trip from Europe. I got through to baggage claim long before the baggage started coming off the carousel. By the time my luggage arrived, many people whose luggage came off sooner and who weren’t Global Entry had already exited. However, I often travel internationally with only carry-on luggage and then it would be a boon. Additionally, the last 2 trips internationally this year, I’ve seen long lines after baggage claim as people turn in US Customs Declarations forms. There appears to be much more scrutiny at this point than previously. As a Global Entry travelee, I was able to go through the much shorter crew and diplomatic line.

  • Michael Anisfeld

    For those of us who truly travel a lot (I do about 20 international trips annually, AND never check our bags; Global Entry is terrific. In Chicago, my home base, transiting immigration at O’Hare if your plane lands mid-afternoon, can take up to 45 minutes.

    My only question is why cannot I use GE when entering US from Canada, where I must separately enroll in the Nexus program (also automated immigration)?

  • Matthew in NYC

    I originally enrolled in Nexus and was given complimentary enrolment in GOES when it became available. Travelling on Porter Airlines from Toronto City Center aiport to Newark without checked bags (or gate checked) it’s fantastic, cuts down my time at Newark to 7 minutes. I’ve also arrived at JFK from London and Dubai and found that it cut down the wait at terminals 4 and 8 enormously, AA and T4 must have better baggage handling, because I don’t recall being delayed waiting for checked luggage (I did have priority luggage tags though). Arriving at LAX early in the morning from Australia also makes it worthwhile – QF lands about half a dozen full, 747s & A380s around the same time, so the immigration lines are awful, even if you have to wait for your bags.

  • John Baker

    Michael … I have sent CBP a question asking why GE members have to pay the NEXUS fee when NEXUS members are allowed to use the GE kiosks. I’ll let you know when I find out.

  • Todd

    Apparently by the end of December, Global Entry members will be able to participate in NEXUS free of charge. This was told to me by an immigration officer last week.

  • David

    I hold a UK passport, but travel to/from the US many times a year. I understand that only citizens of the US or the Netherlands can currently use GE, but there has been talk for a long time that they are working on a deal to allow UK citizens to enroll. Has anyone heard about this, please?
    I live in the Cayman Islands and regularly have to travel via Miami where there is no in transit. Sometimes I have to enter the US for two hours in order to immediately leave on an international flight. MIA immigration is a nightmare. Anything to avoid this would be a boon.

  • William

    The reason why GOES members cannot automatically become Nexus members is that both the US and Canada have to screen Nexus members. Do the smart thing and enroll in Nexus first then GOES. Nexus costs $50 then $0 for GOES. Do it the other way around and it’s $150.

  • Eva

    Do any of you know how I can reset my ID# and password since what I have written down, does not seem to be working and I have no idea what answers I last gave to the ridiculous questions they are asking. I do not even recall answering them last time.