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TSA PreCheck Versus Global Entry: Costs, Benefits, Sign-Up & Suitability

For frequent fliers, international travelers, and those who want to cut back on the hassles of air travel, there are a pair of government travel programs available that might help. For international travelers, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) offers its Global Entry program, which also includes the benefits offered through the Transportation Safety Administration’s (TSA) PreCheck program.

Global Entry and PreCheck provide a range of different benefits designed to make flying easier. Both have application requirements and fees associated with them, so you need to know what’s involved before you apply.

Choosing Between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

Both PreCheck and Global Entry have similar benefits and application requirements, but they are not ideal for all travelers. Before we dig into the details, here’s a quick way to determine if either is a good match for you.

TSA PreCheck

PreCheck is ideal for personal or business travelers who take frequent flights within the United States. It’s also a good idea if your travel itinerary does not allow you to comfortably handle long security lines.

If you rarely fly commercially, PreCheck is likely not worth your time.

Global Entry

You should consider Global Entry if you fly internationally more than a few times per year, or have plans on doing so shortly. Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, so if you already fly domestically several times a year, the extra coverage may be worth it.

If you do not plan on traveling internationally within the next several years, you don’t need to apply for Global Entry.

Now, let’s take an in-depth look at each offering.

TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck allows approved air passengers to go through a faster, simpler security screening process at airport security areas. If you’ve flown recently, you know that security lines can be long. The process of removing your shoes, clothes, and other items can be tedious, and even minor delays can eat up your time.

TSA PreCheck is designed for both frequent and occasional travelers who want to minimize the amount of time taken up by security checkpoints. If approved, membership in the program lasts five years from the date of acceptance. After that, you must reapply.

PreCheck is a streamlined airline security process introduced by the TSA in 2011. Travelers with TSA PreCheck can, usually, skip some of the security screening measures that other air passengers cannot. When you have PreCheck, you can:

  • Go through security screening without removing your shoes.
  • Keep liquids and gels in your carry-on.
  • Keep your laptop in your bag.
  • Keep your jacket or outerwear on.
  • Keep your belt on.
  • Go through a PreCheck-only line that is usually much shorter than the other lines.

According to the TSA, the average security wait for PreCheck-approved passengers in 2017 is five minutes. PreCheck is currently available at more than 180 airports and used by 30 airlines. (Some airlines, such as Spirit and Frontier, do not participate in the program, so you may not always be able to use it.)

Please note that even if you have PreCheck, you’ll still have to go through metal detectors, and may still be asked to submit to a pat down or go through an enhanced scanning device. Also, those in TSA PreCheck can be randomly selected to go through the normal screening lines and procedures.

man getting scanned by personnel at an airport security checkpoint

Qualifications

Criminal History
TSA PreCheck is not available to people who have been charged with, convicted of, are under indictment for, or have an arrest warrant issued for several specific crimes. The TSA maintains a list of crimes that will disqualify a person, most of which are rather severe, such as espionage, robbery, and distribution of controlled substances.

Anecdotally, applicants have been denied TSA PreCheck for “lesser” offenses, such as driving while intoxicated. These anecdotes are hard to verify, though the TSA reserves the right to reject an applicant if it believes the applicant could pose a security threat.

Documentation
To become a TSA PreCheck-approved passenger, you must meet several basic requirements. Active duty members of the Armed Forces or Coast Guard, students in any of the Service Academies, or those serving in the Reserves or National Guard can use their military ID to gain the benefits of TSA PreCheck. Wounded Warriors may also qualify, though they need to contact the TSA Cares helpline at 1-855-787-2227, or email them at [email protected] prior to traveling.

You must be able to prove your citizenship or legal resident status by providing at least one, and possibly two, documents with your application. If you have any of the following documents, you do not need additional proof of citizenship or residency:

  • Current U.S. passport or passport card.
  • Current Enhanced Tribal Card (ETC).
  • Current Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card.
  • Current U.S. Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) or Current Enhanced Identification card (EID).
  • Permanent resident card (I-551), or “green card.”
  • Current foreign passport and immigrant visa with I-551 annotation of “Upon Endorsement Serves as Temporary I-551 Evidencing Permanent Residence of 1 Year.”
  • Current reentry permit (I-327).

If you do not have any of the above documents, you must provide a valid photo ID as well as valid proof of citizenship.

The TSA will accept the following as valid forms of photo ID:

  • Current state or outlying possession driver’s license.
  • Current temporary driver’s license plus expired driver’s license. (Both together count as one document.)
  • Current photo ID card issued by the federal government or by a state or outlying possession. These must include a federal, state, or state agency seal or logo. For example, a state university student ID card is usually acceptable, as are state ID cards. State permits, such as hunting or gun permits, are not accepted.
  • Current U.S. military ID card.
  • Current U.S. retired military ID card.
  • Current U.S. military dependent’s card.
  • Native American tribal document with photo.
  • Current Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/Transportation Security Administration (TSA)/Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).
  • Current Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC).
  • Expired U.S. passport within 12 months of expiration, and at least one other document from this list or the proof of citizenship list.

In addition to a valid photo ID, you will have to have at least one of the following:

  • U.S. birth certificate.
  • U.S. Certificate of Citizenship (N-560 or N-561).
  • U.S. Certificate of Naturalization (N-550 or N-570).
  • U.S. Citizen Identification card (I-179 or I-197).
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad (FS-240).
  • Certification of Report of Birth Abroad (DS-1350 or FS-545).
  • Expired U.S. passport within 12 months of expiration and at least one other document from this list, or the Photo ID list.

Applying

Submit a Truthful Application
If you want to apply for TSA PreCheck, submit an application at www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck. The application will ask you for a lot of details, including personal information and details about any criminal history. Answer all questions as honestly and accurately as possible. A simple mistake or omission can be enough for denial.

Pay the Application Fee
As of 2017, it costs $85 to apply for PreCheck. This is a nonrefundable fee – once you submit payment, there is no getting it back, even if you change your mind or are denied. However, you do not have to submit the fee when you submit the online application, but you must pay when you go to the security interview.

Complete an Interview
Once you submit your application, you’ll receive an email with a Universal Enrollment ID, and a link to where you can schedule your security interview. You have 120 days after the day you submit your application to complete your interview at an enrollment center. In the interview, you will need to prove your identity by providing the appropriate forms of identification, submitting to having your fingerprints taken, and answering questions about the truthfulness of your application and its contents.

The scheduling process is notoriously problematic, with many applicants reporting that the only available interview times are months in the future, or even after the 120-day window has expired. If you are worried about scheduling a time, you can recheck the available times through the website as often as you like. When a cancellation occurs, those times will become available on the website.

Many travelers have had success completing their interview on a walk-in basis, without making an appointment. Most centers appear to accept walk-in applicants, but you might want to call ahead and confirm with an agent at the center.

After Your Interview
Once your interview is over, you’ll likely have to wait three to four weeks before you hear back about your application. Instead of waiting for an answer through the mail, you can check the status of your application through the Universal Enroll Portal. Many travelers report they were approved within days of their interview, but did not receive official notice by mail until weeks later.

Usage

Known Traveler Number
Once you receive notification of your approval, either through the mail or online, you’ll get a Known Traveler Number, or KTN. You can only take advantage of PreCheck if you include your KTN in your ticket reservation. You can do this by adding the number to your profile on any participating airline or travel website.

To use PreCheck benefits, you must have a ticket or boarding pass that is printed with the PreCheck symbol on it, or have a phone app with your boarding number and PreCheck symbol. To add your KTN to a flight you have already booked, you need to update your reservation on the airline’s website so that your KTN is included prior to check-in. If you don’t include your KTN prior to check-in, you will not be able to use PreCheck on that trip.

man holding passports and boarding passes and standing with luggage in an airport

Global Entry

Global Entry is a streamlined security process open to eligible travelers. Unlike PreCheck, Global Entry is offered by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) to international travelers entering the United States at a border or customs checkpoint. Like PreCheck, Global Entry is only open to qualified applicants, involves an application process and fee, and lasts for five years once approved.

All travelers approved for Global Entry are also eligible for PreCheck. If you want both programs, all you need to do is apply for Global Entry, which provides additional benefits not provided by TSA PreCheck, including:

  • Automated passport control kiosks.
  • Reduced wait times at passport control and baggage collection.
  • No required customs declaration form.
  • Expedited entry benefits in some foreign countries.
  • After-hours or early entry. (For example, if CBP Immigration isn’t open at your airport when you land, you can still use the Global Entry automated kiosks instead of waiting until Immigration is open.)

Qualifications

Citizenship
Like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry applicants must be either U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents with no significant criminal history. Also, citizens of other select countries can use the program, as long as they meet all other qualifications. Currently, citizens from the following countries can apply for Global Entry:

  • Canada
  • Colombia
  • Germany
  • Panama
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • Mexico

Each international applicant must go through the proper application process, which differs depending on the country of citizenship.

Applying

Fill Out an Application
To apply for Global Entry, you’ll have to fill out an online application at www.globalentry.gov. Complete the application in full, including your name, prior addresses in the past 10 years, a list of foreign countries you’ve visited, passport information, etc.

You’ll also be asked about your criminal history, and you must be honest. Like PreCheck, you can be denied if your criminal history makes you a security risk, but failing to include any history will make a denial more likely.

Pay Your Fee
Unlike PreCheck, you must submit your Global Entry fee when you submit your application. The fee as of 2017 is $100 and nonrefundable.

Schedule and Complete the Security Interview
After you’ve submitted your application, you’ll have to wait between 24 hours and 10 days for your pre-approval notice. Upon receiving the notice, you have 30 days to schedule a security interview at an approved Global Entry Enrollment Center.

If you do not schedule the interview within 30 days of receiving pre-approval, you’ll forfeit your $100 fee and will have to reapply and pay another application fee. (Note, you must schedule the interview within 30 days; completing the interview before the 30-day window expires is not required.)

Scheduling online can be difficult, and it’s common for applicants to have trouble finding available time slots. Walk-in interviews are possible, but you should call the enrollment center and ask beforehand. Some travelers have had success stopping by a Global Entry Enrollment Center while in an airport and asking if there is anyone available to conduct the interview then and there.

When you go to the interview, you must bring several specific items:

  • A printout of your conditional approval email or letter.
  • Valid passport or permanent resident card.
  • Proof of residency, such as a driver’s license, state-issued ID card, utility bill with your name and address, etc.

As part of the interview, the CBP officer will take your fingerprints and ask you whether the information you’ve submitted in your application is accurate and truthful. The officer will also take your picture, which will be used on the Global Entry card you will receive in the mail if you are accepted. The officer may give you your Known Traveler ID number at the end of the interview, or you may receive it later with your mailed ID.

Usage

Activate and Use Your Global Entry Card
Once you receive your Global Entry card, you’ll have to go online and activate it through the GOES website. Once activated, you can use your card as identification when traveling, and use the CBP PASSID number on the back of the card as your Known Traveler Number.

desk of a frequent traveler displaying map, money, passport, and credit cards

Using Credit Cards to Reimburse Application Fees

Many popular credit cards, such as Citi Prestige and American Express Platinum, reimburse cardholders for PreCheck and Global Entry application fees if you use the card to pay for those fees. Other cards, such as the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card, provide rewards points or credits that you can use to pay for the fees, assuming you use the card when you attend the security interview.

If you don’t know or aren’t sure if your card offers a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee reimbursement or benefit, you can check the TSA website. However, since the TSA does not maintain a complete and up-to-date list of all the cards that offer these benefits, it’s best to review your card terms or contact a customer service representatives to be sure.

Final Word

For anyone who flies regularly, especially those with limited time, both TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are programs worth investing in. If you’re not flying internationally, or don’t think you will be anytime soon, Global Entry is probably overkill, but TSA PreCheck may be worthwhile.

If you already have a credit card that will reimburse you for Global Entry or PreCheck fees, or just want the extra convenience of fewer travel hassles, applying for either program will make any trip you take that much easier.

Are you a frequent flier who uses TSA PreCheck or Global Entry? What has your experience been? Is it worth the time and expense?

Mark Theoharis
Mark Theoharis is a former attorney who writes about the intersection of law and daily life, covering everything from crime to credit cards. He mostly writes for legal publishers, marketing agencies, and law firms, but gets the occasional chance to publish fiction. When he is not writing, Mark restores vintage and antique typewriters, though his editors have made it quite clear that typed submissions are strictly prohibited.

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