You may have seen TSA PreCheck signs at airports all around the country. Less published, however, are the "Trusted Traveler Programs" from CBP. These programs include TSA PreCheck but also get you expedited border crossings in the US (and Canada if you are part of NEXUS). If you travel, even very infrequently, getting membership to these programs can be a huge time saver.
Understanding the TTP
There are a variety of "Trusted Traveler" Programs. The benefits stack, as shown below.
- Expedited entry to Canada at Canadian airports (iris scan no longer required)
- Expedited security at Canadian airports (for domestic, transborder, and international flights)
- Expedited entry into Canada at land and sea borders with dedicated lanes
- AND Global Entry / SENTRI benefits
- Expedited entry into the US at air, land, and sea borders
- Global Entry lanes for airport, including CBP preclearance zones
- SENTRI lanes when entering the US on land from Mexico
- NEXUS lanes when entering the US on land from Canada
- AND TSA PreCheck benefits
- Expedited security at US airports on participating airlines
- Expedited entry into the US at air, land, and sea borders
TSA PreCheck offers accelerated security at US airports. You also do not have to take off your shoes and can keep your laptop in your bag. It can be a huge time saver when traveling, meaning more time in the airport or potentially missing a flight. If you travel frequently, the time and stress savings can easily be worth the fee.
The program works by pre-screening you at an interview. These interviews are not intense. They do background checks ahead of time and make sure you are familiar with the rules of the program. Check the rules before you travel, but at the time of writing, children can travel with a parent who has PreCheck and get PreCheck benefits themselves.
Global Entry is the next step in the TTP offerings. It includes PreCheck and also allows for expedited crossings at borders. That means that you can skip the long lines and manual reviews. When I have arrived in the US through major airports (JFK and LAX) using Global Entry, it has saved me upwards of half an hour. In fact, one time, I was the only person in the line (I was on a Saudia flight that landed at an unusual time). Anecdotally, I know someone who flew over the holidays through JFK and got into Manhattan in less time than he would've spent in customs and immigration.
I am Not a US Citizen. Can I Apply for Global Entry?
Certain foreign nationals can apply to Global Entry, even if they are not a US citizen or permanent resident. Check the web page for the latest details, but at the time of writing, people can apply from:
- United Kingdom
- South Korea
NEXUS is a program between the CBP and CBSA/ASFC. It allows Americans and Canadians expedited entry across land and sea borders (and airports in some circumstances) into both the US and Canada. Many major crossing points have dedicated lanes, and in Niagara Falls, there is even a dedicated bridge for members.
You may be wondering, what is the difference between NEXUS and Global Entry? Both Global Entry and NEXUS allow for expedited entry to the US. NEXUS, however, allows for expedited entry through land and sea borders into Canada, and at certain Canadian airports with an iris scan.
A person with Global Entry membership could only cross a US-Canada land border in a NEXUS lane when entering from Canada to the US. When entering from the US to Canada, they would have to use the normal lanes.
NEXUS vs Enhanced Drivers License (EDL)
Some border states have what are called "Enhanced Drivers Licenses." These allow you to cross Canadian and Mexican land borders using a driver's license, rather than a passport. I am Californian, and California is not a part of the EDL program.
When you become a Global Entry or NEXUS member (or SENTRI member), you get a card for the respective program. That card can be used to cross the border, like an EDL.
EDLs, however, cannot cross using NEXUS or SENTRI lanes unless they also have a TTP card. Being a member of a TTP program means that proper background checks have been done, which grants the expedited process. People can get EDLs even if they may not pass a TTP background check. PreCheck does not include a TTP card.
For Global Entry and SENTRI members, your background check will be done by CBP and your home country if you are not a US citizen.
For NEXUS members, your background check will be done by both CBP and CBSA, regardless of nationality.
I started out by getting Global Entry. It was super simple. I signed up for an account on the CBP website, and got a notification in a couple of days that I had been conditionally approved.
I did not live near an enrollment center, but I did have an international trip planned, where I would return through JFK. Thus, I decided to do enrollment on arrival.
When I arrived, I started by going through the normal immigration process. Note, until your enrollment is confirmed, you are ineligible to use Global Entry lanes.
The actual interview itself was very straightforward. They asked a few questions and went over the rules again. As long as you have never had any customs, immigration, or legal offenses, and you meet the eligibility criteria, you should not have any issues. I was then allowed to proceed into the customs area, just like everyone else.
A couple of months later, I was arriving in LAX. I followed the Global Entry signs, and took a kiosk. At the time, there were only two people in the Global Entry area, including myself, and plenty of kiosks. After following the instructions and making my declarations (you do not need to fill out a paper declaration card if you are Global Entry), I gave my recipt and continued on.
Even though there were massive delays in getting my bag, the other Global Entry member and I left customs before most of the people from our flight got to customs. There were no Americans who I saw on my flight that were not in Global Entry, so I don't know how long it would've taken for non-Global Entry citizens to pass the line. We also arrived in between flight banks (only plane arriving), so it may be different if we arrived in a larger flight bank.
Global Entry versus APC
The CBP is running Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks for:
- Lawful permanent residents
- US and Canadian citizens
- B1 or B2 Visa holders
- People who have previously arrived on ESTA
This still requires that you present yourself to an officer, even if the checks are automated. I have used this line once since I got Global Entry (I was traveling through Philadelphia with non-GE members). The lines for this are much better than lines I have had at airports like CDG or Heathrow without APC but are usually somewhat longer than Global Entry lines. I don't have a direct comparison for my LAX flight, since Saudi Arabia (the flight origin) is not ESTA-eligible.
Ultimately, I am very happy with Global Entry and even decided to switch to NEXUS. If you travel very infrequently, and usually enter at airports with APC, it may not make sense. However, I have heard that at JFK, Global Entry can save lots of time compared to APC.
Now that I live near the border, I decided to upgrade to NEXUS. Though I don't travel often to Canada, renewal is pretty easy and the time savings at land borders is enough that a daytrip from Rochester to Toronto is theoretically possible.
I paid for my membership using a benefit from a Chase credit card. Note that many other cards only cover PreCheck or Global Entry, not NEXUS.
CBSA/ASFC is slowly rolling back pandemic-era measures. However, there is a massive backlog, so it may be difficult to find appointments.
Needless to say, at least in the current environment, don't expect fast turnaround. I booked in June 2022 for a Niagara Falls, NY appointment in February 2023. Some places have more available, but it is pretty rough across the board. Sault Ste. Marie is the only place that had significant availability before February 2023.
My interview took fifteen minutes. Since I was already Global Entry, I had only a brief conversation with the American interviewer and a slightly longer conversation with the Canadian interviewer.
Since NEXUS is run by both the US and Canada, you must talk to border officials at both countries and meet eligibility criteria for both. I had forgotten to put my new Drivers License in the TTP portal, so we updated that during the event. He also went into a brief overview of how the program works for both land and air crossings:
- Present the card for every member in your vehicle. You will then be sent to immigration for questioning
- If at an airport, scan your card and enter the immigration questions at a kiosk (similar to Global Entry). You will need your passport the first time to link to your card, and then can use just your card after
- If at YYZ T1, the kiosk is at a SmartGate similar to EU entry gates or Germany's EasyPASS
- Present your card to use expedited security at Canadian airports
Enroll for "Free"
I admit, this article had a clickbait title. However, if you have a credit card, you should check to see if PreCheck, Global Entry, and/or NEXUS fee credits are included. When I signed up for both Global Entry and NEXUS, I used credits included with my cards. If you have a card with an annual fee, it would be worth looking into whether you have credits in any of the above programs. Availability varies by card, but many mid-level cards include credits. Saving time and having shorter connections for free is a pretty good deal.