For international fliers, nothing is more frustrating than hustling to the airport only to wait in a mile-long security line at Customs.
What if there was a relatively simple way to bypass that nightmare?
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s "Trusted Traveler" program has been around for a few years, but it's only recently truly entered the mainstream. As a member, you're granted the luxury of making it through customs in under 60 seconds.
The application process is rigorous and doesn't come free, but it just might change your life. Here's what you need to know to become a Trusted Traveler:
Trusted Traveler status levels: There are three different branches of the Trusted Traveler program individual passengers can choose from.
Global Entry: Covers international travel to and from the U.S. for U.S. citizens, permanent residents, Dutch citizens, South Korean citizens and Mexican nationals. ($100)
NEXUS : Covers travel between the U.S. and Canada. ($50)
SENTRI: Covers travel between the U.S. and Mexico. ($122.25)
American Express customers may qualify for reimbursement for application fees, so check before you sign up.
The application process: Once you pay your fee (upfront, non-refundable), you'll be able to schedule an in-person interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. During the interview process, a Customs official will put you through a round of questioning (travel history, employment status, home address, etc.). Everyone is pre-screened for criminal history, cross-checked against terrorist watch lists and vetted for possible customs violation. On top of that, your fingerprints and photo will take a spin in the FBI and Homeland Security database before you're officially cleared.
What you get for your trouble: Once you're a trusted traveler, you can walk up to a designated Global Entry kiosk in Customs and scan your passport and fingerprints. The machine will spit out a receipt, which you can hand to a Customs official and scoot right past the line.
What you still have to deal with: You're not entirely home-free once you've passed the background check. Even trusted travelers are subject to random searches at the airport. On top of that, all bags and passengers are still screened by detectors.
How the program works once you're enrolled: If you've been accepted into the Trusted Traveler program, congrats! Your life just got a lot easier. Not every airport supports the program, however, so check each program's list of airports first (Global Entry; NEXUS; SENTRI).
Bonus: Once you're enrolled as a trusted traveler, you also qualify for TSA's Pre-Check program. This lets you bypass security checkpoints without having to remove your shoes, take your laptop out of your bag, or take off your jacket and outerwear. And gentlemen, rejoice! You can keep your belts on. With TSA Pre-Check, you'll have a special code embedded in your boarding pass, which is scanned by a TSA official at designated checkpoints in the airport.
All the information you'll ever need to find out more about Trusted Traveler status and TSA Pre-Check can be found here:
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