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 www.globalentry.gov