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July 30, 2013

Signing Up For Global Entry- A First Hand Account

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Written by: Jason Rabinowitz
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Global Entry Enrollment Office at JFK. Credit: Yelp

After several months of listening to “you don’t have Global Entry?” I finally decided to pull the trigger and sign up for the “trusted traveler” program. For those of you that may not have heard of Global Entry, lets take a moment to go over what the program is. Basically, in so many words, it lets you cut the customs and immigration lines when returning to the United States into a participating airport. Participants are able to bypass the typical lines, clear customs at an automated kiosk, and go about their day. An added bonus to Global Entry is the automatic enrollment in TSA Pre Check, which again lets participants cut the typical security line, as well as lets you keep shoes on and laptops in bags. It is all quite magical, really. But what is the process for signing up, and how long does it take? Here is my experience signing up for Global Entry.

The first step to enroll in Global Entry is to fill out the rather lengthy application. Even if the NSA already knows everything about you, The Department of Homeland security still needs a lot of information, such as current and past employment history and residences, past travel details, and document information. Once properly filled out (I’m betting you miss a few things like I did), a $100 fee must be paid, and then your application is sent off for review. This process was very straight forward, and I encountered no hiccups along the way.

The initial review process can take some time, but you will eventually hear back. For me, the review process took just over two weeks, but I have heard from others that the wait was just a few days. It must depend on the current load to be processed, but who really knows. When the DHS is all done reviewing your application, they will notify you by email that you have been conditionally approved. Don’t party just yet, though, as there is still much left to do.

Once conditionally approved, you have to schedule an “interview” at a local enrollment center to become officially approved. At this interview, you have to bring your passport, any other documents you registered with (such as a drivers license), and proof of current residency. Do not forget these things, as you will be booted out of the office without them. Offices are scattered across the country, so finding a local office should be easy. Here in New York City, enrollment offices are located at JFK’s Terminal 4, Newark’s Terminal B, and right in Manhattan at the US Customs House at 1 Bowling Green (limited hours.

The enrollment office at JFK is open seven days a week, 7am to 8pm (9:30pm at EWR), so almost everyone should easily be able to schedule an appointment. I scheduled an appointment, but several days prior, my travel plans changed, and I had to reschedule. Thankfully, the Global Entry site allows appointment changes up to 24 hours in advance, so this was no problem. It was refreshing to see such ease of use from a government agency.

About a week later, it was finally time for my interview. I arrived to JFK’s Terminal 4, and found the Global Entry office well marked, next to the new Delta baggage re-check counters. I walked in about 30 minutes before my scheduled time, just to play it safe. Once inside, I saw a sign that read “waiting room,” so I walked in an took a seat. There were approximately five other people in the room waiting for their interview as well. I asked one of the others if there was a sign in sheet, and he responded that there was not. So, I sat, and I waited. In the small room, a television looped a short video about the program, mostly about how you can be kicked out. After 15 minutes, I wanted to smash the damn thing, but figured that would probably get me kicked out as well.

Periodically, an officer would come into the room, and ask who was next. Well, how would we know? Because there was no sign in sheet, the officers had no idea who actually arrived first, and just seemed to pick random people out of the room. This was quite annoying. I was scheduled for 4:40, as was another person. However, he arrived nearly 20 minutes after me, but was called in first. I was called in just minutes later, so it was not the end of the world, just slightly annoying. Additionally, people would walk into the office without an appointment to ask questions, further slowing things down.

Finally, it was time for my interview, the final step before approval. The first question I was asked was “how did you hear about the program?” I guess even the DHS does their market research! The officer conducting my interview was a very cool and an easygoing guy, and it was a pretty simple experience. I was never asked any real questions of any sort. The only thing that was done was a scann of my passport, a glance at my drivers license, a picture was taken, and my fingerprints scanned. Once all my information was gathered, the officer explained how the Global Entry process works for about five minutes, and gave a demonstration at a kiosk. Just like that, the interview was done, and my Global Entry privileges began immediately.

Although the enrollment process may have taken about a month, it really was quite simple. For anyone that travels internationally, I highly recommend Global Entry. The enrollment is valid for five years (unless you find a way to get kicked out, as explained by the lovely looped video), and TSA Pre Check is just icing on the cake. Even if you don’t travel internationally, the TSA has opened up Pre Check to the masses for $85, without the Global Entry attachment. What are you waiting for? Go. Go now!

About the Author

Jason Rabinowitz



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  • Mike

    Wouldn’t the cheapest option be to sign up for NEXUS, with an only $50 fee, and obtain a Trusted Traveler Number that way?

    • Jason

      For the limited number of people near a land border crossing that can sign up, yes.

  • I’m not sure if they’re still doing it, but I know that at least at one time, American Express was reimbursing Global Entry fees for their cardholders.