Unless you've isolated yourself on a pristine island far, far away from the reach of U.S. politics, you've probably heard the word "sequester" uttered a time or two over the past few weeks. Even if you aren't totally familiar with the impact of these budgetary cuts, one thing has become crystal clear for travelers: The sequester is increasing wait times for immigration around the country. In particular, the cuts have forced TSA and other government employees working at airports to cut back on overtime and staffing, which has led to immigration lines as long as four hours in Miami.
For those who only travel domestically, the cuts aren't as likely to impact you. But, if you routinely find yourself flying internationally, adding even a half hour onto your journey back into the United States isn't something I'd deem pleasant. After all – the last thing you want after catching an eight hour red-eye across the Atlantic is to stand in line for hours on end to have your passport stamped. Thankfully, there's a solution, and it's easier than balancing an entire nation's budget.
Global Entry is a program that's still technically being expanded, but the latest expansion (May of 2009) turned it into something that's tough to overlook. In a nutshell, this program enables frequent travelers to obtain a special Trusted Traveler number that allows them to bypass the conventional immigration line. Upon returning to the United States from abroad, pretty much every major international airport now has a Global Entry line that is far, far less crowded. If you're in the Global Entry club, you just waltz up to a kiosk, scan your passport and fingerprint, confirm a few details on the screen, and head over to customs en route to the fresh air on the other side.
Sound good? Let's talk details. For starters, you need to cough up $100 in order to apply for access online. It's important to note that this fee is non-refundable, so if your application is rejected, you won't be getting your money back. I recently applied, and it took me nearly 45 minutes. You're effectively giving the government every possible detail about your life in order for it to run a thorough background check, but that's to be expected as a way to gain easier access to entering the country. From there, I waited about a week for an acceptance e-mail, after which I had to arrange an interview with a TSA agent at one of only a few airports. I had to schedule my interview for three weeks out given that availability was tight.
At the interview, it's important to bring your passport, another government-issued ID (a driver license works well), a utility bill with your current address on it and a printed copy of your Global Entry acceptance e-mail. You'll have a seat, answer a few questions, have your hands scanned, and be sent on your way. The interview is actually the easy part, and you'll have immediate access to Global Entry as soon as you leave.
The $100 fee is looking like a greater bargain than ever before given the increased wait times for international arrivals. Better still, anyone accepted into the Global Entry program is automatically enrolled in TSA Pre-Check – a program that allows Trusted Travelers to enjoy a quicker security line at select U.S. airports.
So, will you be applying for Global Entry?
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