Earlier this year, I signed up for the Customs and Border Protection (CBP)Global Entry Program. I have traveled to Europe twice and Canada once since then and for me, it has already paid for itself. This is one government program that outdoes expectations.

Here is how the program is described on the Global Entry Website:

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Though intended for frequent international travelers, there is no minimum number of trips necessary to qualify for the program. Participants may enter the United States by using automated kiosks located at select airports.

The first time a veteran international traveler passes through U.S. customs and immigration at Philadelphia, JFK or Dulles using the CPB Global Entry kiosks is cathartic. This new process saves so much time for both travelers and the CBP personnel and it allows travelers to avoid lengthy lines.

Simply slide your passport into the slot, look into the camera and put your fingers on the print reader, then fill out the entry card online right at the kiosk and a Global Entry passenger is on his way.

On an August flight that returned from Italy to JFK the passport arrivals area was a zoo. Lines were snaking back and forth. Passengers were shuffling. CBP personnel were trying to maintain order. Even the escalators were crowded.

I asked the first CPB person I saw, “Where is Global Entry?”

She directed me to the center lines where I found the Global Entry kiosks and within two minutes, I was on my to a connecting flight that I would have missed without the ability to bypass the lines at passport control.

The process is simple to sign up for Global Entry.

    Simply fill out an application online.
    Schedule an interview at one of the enrollment centers.
    At the interview you will have to answer some simple questions, have your photo taken and your fingerprints scanned.
    Bring your passport and one other form of ID and the officer will give you a Global Entry sticker.

I went through the process to see how seamlessly it worked and it worked perfectly. I even was able to schedule my CBP interview before a return flight from Boston so the interview didn’t require an additional trip to the airport enrollment office.

In addition to being able to move through the passport and immigration control lines more quickly, the Global Entry program automatically makes you eligible for the new TSA PreCheck program that allows known travelers to move through select domestic airport security more easily and eases customs and border issues to Mexico and Canada.

On Oct. 4, 2011 the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched an expedited screening pilot program called TSA PreCheck. CBP has partnered with TSA on this Department of Homeland Security initiative, which is designed to help TSA focus resources on higher-risk and unknown passengers while expediting the process for lower-risk and known passengers whenever possible. U.S. citizens who are members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI Trusted Traveler programs are eligible to participate in TSA’s program.

TSA PreCheck passengers could qualify for expedited screening through U.S. airport security checkpoints via designated screening lanes. Additional potential benefits may include:

    Keeping shoes on
    Keeping 3-1-1 compliant bag in carry-on
    Leaving laptop in bag
    Leaving on light outerwear/jacket
    Leaving belt on

There are still many unknowns with this program. It is a work in progress, but should, soon, make travel security checks less intrusive and time-consuming for known travelers.

Right now the program is in testing phase at the Miami, Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Detroit airports with American Airlines and Delta Airlines. Global Entry members must register their Global Entry number with their respective frequent flier programs in order to participate. I just did it. Both AA and Delta have a new block in their member information online form.

Bottom line: Global Entry is worth every penny for all frequent travelers, even if they have limited international flights because of the integration with the expanding TSA PreCheck program.