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Samantha Glauser By
Posted 16 Sep, 2019 | 6 Comments
Posted in: Planning, Travel Blogs

The United States Department of Homeland Security offers five Trusted Traveler Programs to speed up the process through security, border checks, and immigration. This guide walks you through each program and will help you to decide which is right for you.

Imagine arriving at the airport and going through the security line in only five minutes. Now, picture going right through the x-ray machine without rummaging through your bag to pull out your laptop and liquids, and without having to remove your shoes and jacket.

You no longer need to imagine it — the Trusted Traveler Programs are available in the United States. All of this is a reality. I’ve had Global Entry for a few years now and don’t know how I travelled without it.

using global entry to travel

Here’s my guide to the various Trusted Traveler Programs, including my personal experience.

What are Trusted Traveler Programs?

Trusted Traveler Programs allow members access to expedited lanes at United States airports and when crossing international borders by land or by sea.

First, you apply for the program and then go through a rigorous screening process — including an in-person interview. You can use the programs once you’re approved and all the requirements are met. 

These programs provide modified screening procedures to facilitate entry into the United States. They also improve overall security and help to make the travel experience a little more streamlined. 

☞ SEE ALSO: Travel Advice for Beginners – A Guide to Airports, Documents and Flying

Who is Eligible for Trusted Traveler Programs?

Eligibility is usually for United States citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents, though each program has slightly different rules (Canadians and other countries are eligible in some cases). Details are included with each program below to help you determine if you are qualified.

Only people deemed to be low-risk are eligible. You’re not eligible if you: 

  • Have been convicted of a criminal offense or have pending criminal charges.
  • Have violated customs and immigration laws.
  • Are a subject in an ongoing investigation.
  • Provide false or incomplete information during the application process.
  • Are not allowed to enter the United States.

airport security trusted traveler program

5 Available Trusted Traveler Programs 

Five Trusted Traveler Programs are currently available. These include TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST.

FAST is for commercial truck drivers entering the United States from Canada or Mexico. The other programs are for passengers traveling into the United States or within the United States at airports and at border crossings.

This guide includes the first four programs that are for passengers and not for commercial drivers.

1. TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck is an expedited security screening program used by travelers flying from United States airports for domestic or international travel. 

Eligibility

U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents are eligible.

How It Works

With TSA PreCheck, members enter a separate security line at the airport. You show your identification and boarding pass like any other passenger.

However, you don’t have to remove your shoes, light jacket, laptop, belts, or liquids! (Liquids are allowed that are 3.4 ounces or less in a quart-sized see-through bag).

Sign-Up Process

  1. Sign up for TSA PreCheck online by filling out the online application
  2. If your application is conditionally approved, go to a TSA PreCheck airport enrollment center to provide documentation for a background check. You will also be fingerprinted. You can make an appointment or do a walk-in visit.
  3. Pay the non-refundable fee of $85.
  4. You will receive written notification two or three weeks after the in-person appointment. 

Availability

TSA PreCheck is available at more than 200 airports in the United States. You can check availability at the airport before you head out as the program is not available at all times in the airports that offer it.

If TSA PreCheck line is not offered, show your boarding pass to receive faster screening in a standard line. (Only in airports where PreCheck is available). 

Cost and Membership Duration

TSA PreCheck costs $85 for 5 years.

Additional Information

  • You must enter your Known Traveler Number when booking your flight to get the benefit at the airport. This adds TSA Pre® to your boarding pass. You can usually add it to your profile or contact the airline to update it.
  • TSA Pre® must show on your paper or electronic boarding pass for you to enter the TSA PreCheck line.
  • You may still be selected for further screening at the airport.
  • The name on your application must match the identification you use at your in-person interview. The same name must be used for your airline reservations (For example, if you include your middle name or initial).
  • There is no age restriction for enrollment. Children under the age of 12 may join their parent or guardian who has TSA PreCheck.
  • Any violations of the program terms and conditions will result in “the appropriate enforcement action.” Program membership will be ended.
  • Check your status online while you wait for approval as many people are approved within days of the in-person appointment. You may use the program benefit as soon as you get a Known Traveler Number. 

tsa precheck trusted traveler programs

2. Global Entry

Global Entry is a passport control fast-track program. It allows expedited clearance for low-risk pre-approved travelers entering United States airports from international destinations.

Eligibility

United States citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and citizens of certain countries are eligible. These countries include the United Kingdom, Canada (through the NEXUS program) Germany, India, Taiwan, and several others.

How It Works

Program members scan their passport or U.S. permanent resident card at a Global Entry kiosk at immigration when entering the United States. Then you scan your fingertips and complete a customs declaration. You receive a receipt which you hand to a customs agent after picking up any checked bags.

Sign-Up Process

  1. Sign up for the Global Entry program online by creating a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) account.
  2. Fill out the application and pay the non-refundable $100 fee.
  3. If your application is conditionally approved, schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. At the interview, you must provide the required documentation for a background check. This includes your valid passport(s) and another form of identification including a driver’s license or ID. Lawful permanent residents must bring their resident card. You will also be fingerprinted. 
  4. You will usually receive written notification two or three weeks after the interview. 

Availability

Global Entry is offered at more than 200 airports in the United States. Not every airport that accepts Global Entry has an enrollment center, so make sure you check if your local airport has one.

Cost and Membership Duration

The cost for Global Entry is $100 for a period of five years.

Additional Information

  • Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck for U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents.
  • You must enter your Known Traveler Number when booking your flight to get the benefit at the airport. (This also adds TSA Pre® to your boarding pass for any domestic United States flights). You can usually add it to your profile or contact the airline to update it. It is a good idea to carry your Global Entry card with you in case you run into any issues.
  • You may still be selected for further screening at the airport.
  • Any violations of the program terms and conditions will result in “the appropriate enforcement action.” Program membership will be ended.
  • Each applicant must complete the process outlined above separately (including family members and children).
  • You can check the status of your application online by logging into your Trusted Traveler Programs dashboard.

3. NEXUS

The NEXUS program provides expedited border clearance for people who are determined to be low-risk travelers entering the United States and Canada. This includes crossing by land, air, and marine ports of entry that participate in the program.

This is a joint venture between the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Eligibility

United States citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, Canadian citizens, and Canadian permanent residents are eligible for the NEXUS program. Mexican nationals who are members of Mexico’s trusted traveler program, Viajero Confiable, are also eligible.

How It Works

Go through a NEXUS line and present the membership card and identification for all members traveling in your party. At designated airports in Canada, you can use available NEXUS kiosks. In the United States, you can use Global Entry kiosks when entering from approved Canadian airports.

Expedited processing lines are available at many sea entry points as well. Members call a marine telephone reporting center provided after approval to report entry into the United States and Canada.

Sign-Up Process

  1. Apply online by creating a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) account.
  2. Fill out the application and pay the non-refundable $50 fee.
  3. If your application is conditionally approved following the risk assessment, you will be instructed to schedule an interview at a NEXUS enrollment center
  4. At the interview, you must provide the required documentation for a background check. This includes your valid passport(s) and another form of identification including a driver’s license or ID. Lawful permanent residents must bring their resident card.
  5. Once approved, you must have your iris scan captured to use the NEXUS kiosks when entering the United States. The list of approved facilities for the iris scan is available online.
  6. Once you receive your NEXUS membership card, activate it on the Trusted Traveler Program website. Select “Log In” on the upper-right side of the home page to begin the process.

Availability

NEXUS kiosks are available at the major airports in Canada and there is an online list of NEXUS land border crossings. 

Cost and Membership Duration

The cost of NEXUS is $50 USD for 5 years.

Additional Information

  • You may still be selected for further screening.
  • NEXUS includes TSA PreCheck for Canadian citizens, United States citizens, and U.S. lawful residents.
  • All members in your traveling party must have a membership to use the NEXUS lane.
  • Both Canada and the United States must approve of your application. If either country denies you, you may not be accepted into the program.
  • Any violations of the program terms and conditions will result in “the appropriate enforcement action.” Program membership will be ended.
  • You can check the status of your application online by logging into your Trusted Traveler Programs dashboard.

4. SENTRI

The SENTRI Program (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) allows expedited entrance for travelers approved as low risk upon arrival to the United States by southern land border ports. 

It is a program run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

SENTRI trusted traveler program for usa and mexico

Eligibility

The SENTRI program has no citizenship requirements. 

How It Works

Go through a SENTRI program line. All members traveling in your party must have a membership card. You will not be required to show the card unless you are asked as it is a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card.

Members of SENTRI can use the NEXUS lane when entering the United States by land from Canada. Global Entry kiosks may be used when entering the United States by air. 

Sign-Up Process

  1. Sign up for the SENTRI program online by creating a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) account.
  2. Fill out the application and pay the non-refundable $122.50 fee.
  3. If your application is conditionally approved, you will be instructed to schedule an interview at a SENTRI Enrollment Center.
  4. At the interview, you must provide the required documentation for a background check. You will also be fingerprinted.
  5. Once approved, you will receive a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card. Activate it on the Trusted Traveler Program website. Select “Log In” on the upper-right side of the home page to begin the process.

Availability

SENTRI is available at border checks in Arizona, California, and Texas.

Cost and Membership Duration

The cost for SENTRI is $122.50 USD for five years.

Additional Information

  • You may still be selected for further screening.
  • SENTRI membership includes TSA PreCheck for Canadian citizens, United States citizens, and U.S. lawful residents. Global Entry is available for United States citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and citizens of certain countries
  • The benefit is available only for members entering the United States. It is not available for entry into Canada or Mexico.
  • Every person in the vehicle must be program members to use the designated lanes.
  • Any violations of the program terms and conditions will result in “the appropriate enforcement action.” Program membership will be ended.
  • You can check the status of your application online by logging into your Trusted Traveler Programs dashboard.

Choose The Trusted Traveler Program That’s Right for You

Where do you travel to the most? This is the best way to figure out the right program for you. Is your travel mostly international or domestic? Do you travel more to Canada and Mexico, or to other countries? 

The Homeland Security Trusted Traveler Program website offers an interactive tool to help you decide which program is right for you. It looks like this:

My Experience With the Trusted Traveler Programs

I travel overseas a couple of times a year. I fly domestically 10 – 15 times a year to see friends and family, and to explore places in the United States like my recent trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, to see the northern lights.

Usually, I drive to Mexico once a year. When I go, I drive down with other people who do not have a Trusted Traveler Program membership. Since everyone in the car must have SENTRI membership to use it, I didn’t purchase it.

Global Entry was the Trusted Traveler Program I chose a few years ago. I paid $15 more than I would have for TSA PreCheck. But, it’s worth it to me to get the expedited re-entry to the U.S. from my international trips.

I don’t wait in line with hundreds of other people, so it saves time and reduces my travel stress. On average, I clear immigration and customs in five or ten minutes. 

I have noticed an increase of TSA PreCheck participants and the line at security is often longer than the regular line when I arrive. However, it typically moves much more quickly.

line ups at the airport when you don't have a trusted traveler program

When Airports Do Not Have TSA PreCheck

Most of the airports I have been to have TSA PreCheck, however, not all of them have it at every security check-point. When this happened (in Newark (EWR), Albuquerque (ABQ), and Phoenix(PHX)), the TSA agent gave me a large neon card. It allowed me to go through the screening without removing anything from my bag or removing my shoes.

Issues I’ve Had

Both of the issues I had were my error with booking.

On one international trip, I took an airline I don’t usually take. Apparently, I didn’t add my Known Traveler Number to my profile so I didn’t get TSA PreCheck when I was flying within the United States. 

Another time, also on an international trip with a domestic connection, the name on my boarding pass was different than what was on my passport (and my Global Entry card). My passport and Global Entry card both include my middle name, but my booking did not. As a result, I was not provided TSA PreCheck benefits. 

I had no issue with using the Global Entry benefits either time. Now I double-check that my airline profile has my Known Traveler Number and my booking shows my name exactly as my passport shows it.

The Trusted Traveler Programs are an amazing benefit that significantly reduces time and stress. For that, they are worth the cost to me.

Credit Cards that Cover the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Application Fee

There are a number of credit cards and loyalty programs that cover the TSA PreCheck fees. Some provide a statement credit that covers the application fee. Others allow members to use rewards points to pay for the fee.

Additionally, there are cards that will cover either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. If you go on even one international trip a year, it’s well worth it to just get the Global Entry membership.

Final Thoughts

The Trusted Traveler Programs are a great way to reduce time and stress in United States airports and at border crossings. When you consider the cost over a five-year period versus the time you save, I think you’ll agree they are a clear winner and are worth every penny.

Note: Images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock

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Samantha Glauser

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Sam is obsessed with seeing the world and traveling as often as she can. She has big plans to become a digital nomad and travel the world with her dog in a few years. Until then, she uses every day off she gets to travel the world while planning to make the big leap. Follow Sam on her website My Flying Leap for inspiration and information on travel and getting out of your comfort zone.

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6 thoughts on “Trusted Traveler Programs: How To Decide Which is Right For You

  1. Sure I even have an experince of such issues On. One global trip, I took an airline I don’t generally take. Apparently, I didn’t add my Known Traveler Number to my profile so I didn’t get TSA PreCheck once I changed into flying in the United States. These issues need to be fixed.

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