Updated: Sep 1
Since all airlines opened up and restrictions have dropped from most countries following Covid-19 in 2020, the amount of travelers is slowly increasing to get back to our pre-Covid "normal." What does that mean for travelers? That means getting up early to catch early booked flights, increased costs, strategically planning and preparing your travel days, and more time waiting in lines everywhere you go. Luckily, there is now a solution for Americans to get through the security lines quicker at the airport without having to take off your shoes, jackets, or anything else, for that matter.
The Transportation Security Administration and the Customs Border Protection have both come up with a few options to get travelers through the lines quickly and onto their planes easily with Clear, TSA Precheck, Global Entry, and the Mobile Passport Control App. This is all you need to know about what each of them do and how to get them. Check them out!
What is Clear?
As you probably know, it could take you some time to get from the airport entrance, through check in, then security, just to make it to your gate. If you don't know, prepare to wait in lines. Long ones. Clear is a biometric verification program that sends members to the front of the initial ID-check lines at airports (and some other venues), but it will not get you into TSA PreCheck lanes if you do not have PreCheck, too. Clear is currently available in 30 airports and sports stadiums around the country. You don’t have to be a US citizen in order to join. The program is open to US citizens, US nationals and legal permanent residents, so some foreign residents might be eligible to apply.
You still need to pass through security, so, to speed up the actual security process, you’d need TSA PreCheck/Global Entry on top of Clear, which isn’t included.
How do I get access to Clear?
A Clear membership will run you $189 a year. You can add up to 3 people to your CLEAR account for $60 and children under 18 are free, but you can currently test it out free for two months. Use this link to apply.
Things to know
Because Clear speeds up the document-checking process at TSA but doesn’t speed up the screening process, you may want to consider getting TSA PreCheck, too.
The Clear app also comes with Health Pass, which lets you manage your COVID-19 information on your smartphone, from testing to vaccination.
The Home to Gate feature integrates traffic data, security screening and terminal walking times to help you decide exactly when to leave to arrive at your gate on time.
Is having Clear worth the cost?
Clear isn’t at every airport. However, it also can be used at other places, such as stadiums and arenas. If it’s not at the airports or venues you visit the most, it may not be worth the investment. You may want to see where you would be able to use it before you cough up the money for it.
What is TSA PreCheck?
Launched in 2013, TSA PreCheck is a government program from the Department of Homeland Security that’s meant to streamline the screening process for airline passengers that are deemed "low-risk" by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Travelers with TSA PreCheck are usually screened with walk-through X-ray machines rather than the full-body scanners most people are subjected to and typically take less than five minutes to get through security.
You will find TSA PreCheck lanes at over 200 airports across the US. However, only a total of 73 airlines currently participate in the program. So even if you are traveling abroad from the U.S., you might still be able to use PreCheck lanes during the security process. You just won’t be able to take advantage of it when originating abroad and returning to the US.
How do I get access to TSA PreCheck?
If you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and over the age of 12, you will need to apply for TSA PreCheck before you get access to these special, shorter lines at security checkpoints. Children 12 and under can use PreCheck with an eligible parent. There’s an $85 fee for a five-year membership. Once you're approved, you can say goodbye to the days of removing your shoes or clothing and you can leave liquids and laptops in your carry-on baggage. As you can imagine, you could save a lot of time and hassle using TSA PreCheck. Here's how to apply:
The application takes roughly five minutes to complete online. You’ll need to pay an $85 nonrefundable application fee.
The second phase of the application must be done in person. There are over 380 enrollment centers available to choose from to schedule an in-person interview.
At the appointment, the TSA will verify you by fingerprinting you. You’ll need to bring your government-issued photo ID. In some cases, you may have to show proof of citizenship, such as a passport.
Once you’re approved, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number. Most applicants receive their KTN in three to five days after the appointment. Save the number — you’ll need it when you book flights. If you lose it, you can look it up online.
You must add your KTN to your frequent-flyer account profiles or when entering your personal information while purchasing tickets so that it is attached to your reservations.
When you check in at the airport or print your boarding pass, you should see a TSA PreCheck indicator. You can skip the long lines and go straight to TSA PreCheck points. If you do not see it noted, ask the agents at your airline’s check-in desk whether your Known Traveler Number is attached to your reservation. If it is not, you should be able to add it at the airport.
Is TSA PreCheck worth the cost?
If you fly frequently, especially with children, the $85 fee to save yourself from five years of removing all of your shoes, belts, jackets, and unpacking at a security screening is well worth the cost.
Things to know
You need to give yourself a bit of time to apply prior to your next trip because, even though most of the time you can get an approval for your application in a matter of days, TSA could take as long as 60 days to process an application.
Even if you have TSA PreCheck, there are times when you will be directed to use the normal security lines. This can be for any number of reasons, including security issues at certain airports. If it starts happening every single time you fly, though, you might want to contact the TSA to see if there is an issue with your membership
If you violate federal security laws and regulations, like interfering with security operations, using fraudulent documents, making a bomb threat, bringing a firearm onboard, or a variety of other actions, you can be disqualified from PreCheck.
You need to update your membership if your personal information changes by contacting the TSA at 855-347-8371 or by submitting an online inquiry. It's a good rule of thumb to also re-submit an application 6 months prior to your PreCheck expiration date so there is no lapse in coverage. The agency will let you know what documentation you need to provide in order to process it.
What is Global Entry?
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers when they enter the United States. Global Entry members can enter the U.S. through automatic kiosks at select airports and access all the TSA PreCheck benefits described above. Getting TSA PreCheck will NOT give you access to Global Entry, but Global Entry gives you access to TSA PreCheck for just $15 more than TSA PreCheck by itself. If your family travels internationally often, this may be something worth investing in.
How does Global Entry work?
When entering the U.S. at select airports, Global Entry members don’t need to fill out paperwork or wait in processing lines. Instead, Global Entry members can approach a Global Entry kiosk, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingers on the scanner for fingerprint verification, or use facial recognition, and complete a customs declaration.
The kiosk will print a receipt that you will need to give to an officer before exiting the baggage claim area. Know, though, that Global Entry members may be selected for further examination when entering the United States, so having Global Entry doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to bypass an interview when returning to the U.S.
How do I get access to Global Entry?
While the process of becoming a Global Entry member may seem cumbersome, it continues to be worth it. Although the program launched more than a decade ago, it’s always evolving and changing. This was especially true throughout the last couple of pandemic-era years. Here's how to apply:
You need to create a Trusted Traveler's Program (TTP) account, then log in and complete your application.
After accepting your completed application and $100 fee, CBP will review your application. If your application is conditionally approved, then your TTP account will instruct you to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Each applicant must schedule a separate interview.
For interview day, you will need to bring
Your valid passport(s) booklet
Evidence of residency (for example, a driver’s license with your current address, a mortgage statement or a recent utility bill)
If you are a lawful permanent resident, you must present your machine readable permanent resident card
A print-out of your letter of conditional approval
During the 10- to 15-minute interview, expect to be questioned about your application and about why you want to join the Global Entry program. They may ask to see your identification and confirm some countries you have visited. Then you will need to get your fingerprints done and get your photo taken.
Activate your card within 30 days of receipt or you will be unable to use it. To activate your card, log into your TTP account. After you sign in, click on the Activate Membership Card button under the Program Membership(s) section on the Homepage.
Things to know
Unfortunately, it’s common for some popular Global Entry interview locations to have absolutely no available appointments at any given time. If that happens to you and you can’t get a Global Entry interview appointment at your first-choice location, you can view all available appointments by date across all locations. Another option is to do a Global Entry interview when you get back into the U.S. from an international trip.
Once you’ve been approved, in some locations, you can simply head toward a Global Entry kiosk when you arrive at immigration and allow it to scan your face. Previously, and maybe still at some locations, you would have to scan your fingerprints, answer some questions, get a photo taken, and then hand a printout to a CBP officer. Parents should note that very young children who are Global Entry members may simply be too squirmy to scan reliable fingerprints. If they receive a crossed-out printout, show that to the CBP officer.
Global Entry service is available to more than just U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Currently, citizens of Argentina, Brazil, Bahrain, India, Colombia, Germany, the Netherlands, U.K., Panama, South Korea, India, Colombia, Switzerland, Singapore, Taiwan and Mexico can apply. Canadian citizens and residents are also eligible for Global Entry benefits through the NEXUS program. For more information about how citizens from other countries can apply for and get approved for Global Entry, check out the requirements and information on the CBP website.
Log in to your TTP account regularly after applying since you may not be notified when you get approved.
Getting your Global Entry renewed could take up to a year, so be sure to send in your renewal application months before your expiration date to avoid a lapse in coverage.
Children need their own Global Entry applications. They will not be allowed to go with you into the Global Entry line without their own approved membership.
Mobile Passport Control
What is Mobile Passport Control?
Mobile Passport Control launched in 2014 through a partnership between the Airports Council International-North America and CBP run by former TSA employees to speed up the administrative tasks done by customs officers and to reduce passenger wait times and paperwork at the airport. It’s available on Apple and Android devices and instead of waiting in line to tell a person, machine, or both, that you are who you say you are, you upload your info and a selfie to Customs and Border Protection via this app. C.P.B. will approve you, also within the app, sending you a QR code receipt to display on your phone that lets you breeze through passport control through a special lane.
How does Mobile Passport Control work?
MPC is an app that eligible travelers can download on their phone that allows them to submit their passport and customs declaration information instead of filling it out by hand. As a result, travelers may experience shorter wait times, less congestion and efficient processing. The app can currently be used at 26 airports (and three sea ports) and does not require a background check, interview, or pre-approval. The app also allows you to create additional profiles for family members, and up to four people can submit a single customs declaration form. If your family doesn’t leave the country often, this may be better for you than Global Entry.
Things to know
You can’t use both Mobile Passport and Global Entry in the same trip, so if the Global Entry line at the airport is long, it might be quicker to use Mobile Passport. If the regular immigration line is longer, head to the Global Entry line. But as a general rule, Global Entry is easier and more convenient. If you have it, there’s really no reason to use Mobile Passport unless you’re traveling with people who don’t have Global Entry.
Mobile Passport doesn’t replace a traditional passport, but you save time by completing the required documentation electronically when your plane lands.
While the basic paperless functionality of the app is still available for free, users can now pay a $15 annual fee (or $4.99 monthly fee) for the ad-free, premium Mobile Passport Plus version to be able to scan passports using their phone's camera and have the passport details saved in the app, along with a history of their trips so you can edit fields from past entries for a template for a new trip.
Is there a way to get Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or Clear for FREE?
Not at first, but many credit cards will reimburse you for part or all of the Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, and/or Clear application fees. You should be able to do this every four years. You can also use it for friends and family members, if you find you have more credits than you can use.