If you’re traveling anywhere, and especially internationally, it behooves you to become a trusted traveler. Luckily, in four relatively easy and definitely worth-it steps, I gained a host of expedited travel clearances, which will definitely pay off over the next five years.
I was coming back from China this June with my boss and colleague. We flew from Hong Kong, to Narita, Japan, to San Francisco. I was scheduled to have a 6-hour layover in SFO, and hoped to schedule an earlier departure. Deboarding the plane, I waited in all the prescribed lines and succinctly answered questions from customs, gathered my luggage as fast as I could, and hoofed it to the Southwest Airlines desk. The very polite attendant broke the bad news that had I been there 10 minutes earlier, I would have definitely scored a seat back on a direct flight to Phoenix.
Alas, my journey ended up taking more than 24 hours total, and I waited for 6 hours in an airport terminal of innumerable fried gluten dining options. My boss, wise as she is, has Global Entry, passed quickly through customs, got a ticket on an earlier flight, and returned to Phoenix 6 hours before I did.
Here’s the deal. If you are a low-risk traveler with a clean record, you can apply for TSA Precheck for $85 dollars, and then schedule an interview and hopefully be approved. As I was digging, however, I discovered that I could apply for Global Entry for $15 more, same process, and elect a whole host of additional expedited entry benefits. It’s good for 5 years, so if I take an international trip or two in 5 years (I already have a couple planned), the $100 is well worth it to me.
The best part is that for my Benjamin, pending approval, I become a trusted traveler, with TSA Precheck, Global Entry clearance upon return to the United States from wherever, NEXUS to and from Canada, and SENTRI expedited entry when driving back into the U.S. from Mexico (for me and my car). I’m from a border town so this happens pretty regularly, and non-SENTRI lines can be oppressive – especially around the holidays. For anyone who travels domestically a few times a year and takes at least one international trip in 5 years, this seems like a pretty wise investment.
On July 6, not long after my return from China because I’m an impetuous Gemini, I created an account in U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s Global Online Enrollment System, or GOES (because I go). I was advised that the application would take an hour and a half, but because I had just been to China and had all my information handy, it took about 45 minutes. After that, the system notified me that I would have to keep checking back, and on July 20 – exactly two weeks later – I was notified that I had a change in status in GOES: conditional approval.
I scheduled my interview and background check for the next possible convenient date, which was October 6 (two and a half months later). On that date, I went to the Customs office at Sky Harbor Airport and waited in a Customs seating area by the baggage claim until an officer came out and asked fo4 my name and appointment time. He invited me into the office, where there was a row of cubes with people being interviewed.
The officer and I chatted for a bit – his mother and I had the same maiden name, he asked me the purpose of my most recent international travel to China and Cuba, I scanned my passport, he took my fingerprints and snapped an unfortunate photo, and told me I was approved. My GOES membership number was already useable, and my SENTRI card would show up in the mail, which it did on October 15, less than two weeks later.
Maybe having Global Entry is partly aspirational. Now that I have it, I’m able to hop a jet to wherever tickles my fancy. The reality is that nothing happens on a whim anymore, but the sky’s the limit, so to speak. Not only that, but I’ll have an easier time on my 6-10 domestic trips each year with TSA Precheck and numerous U.S./Mexico border crossings with SENTRI, for the coming 5 years. Seems like a no-brainer. Why didn’t I do this before? My long delay in the boring terminal of SFO served to teach me a lesson. You too can travel the world with expedited entry, or at least own that unhindered dream.