Understandably, there's confusion surrounding two of the most important travel-related programs in the United States: TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. One is administered by the TSA (we'll let you guess!), and the other by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. While each do play a role in expediting the time you spend dealing with security, we're going to break down the differences between them, how to qualify and enroll, and explain which service makes the most sense for you.
What is the difference?
TSA PreCheck costs $85 to enroll for five years, whereas Global Entry costs $100 for the same period.
If you're enrolled in Global Entry, you're automatically enrolled in TSA PreCheck, but the same isn't true vice-versa. (This makes it a bit of a no-brainer to just apply for Global Entry from the outset, which we'll elaborate on in a bit.)
TSA PreCheck allows you to access dedicated, expedited security lines at your originating U.S. airport, whereas Global Entry doesn't kick in until you're returning to the United States from an overseas trip, granting you access to speedy re-entry lines.
The TSA PreCheck program is open to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents, while Global Entry can be obtained by that sect as well as citizens of the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Panama, South Korea, and Mexican nationals.
What are the benefits?
TSA PreCheck enables those flying on eligible airlines to keep their shoes, belts, and light coats on while passing through a dedicated, speedier security line. There's no full-body scan (just a metal detector to pass through), and you're able to leave your small liquids and laptops right inside your bag. All told, the process is a few minutes faster once you reach the screeners. The real magic, however, is avoiding the general security lines, which can stretch out nearly an hour at major airports in Chicago, Seattle, and New York.
There's also a psychological benefit: being able to pack your liquids and electronics the way that suits you at home, knowing that PreCheck will allow you to keep everything nice and tidy at the airport. No more rummaging through your carry-on to find your liquids for screening, only to discover that you can't quite pack everything back up as nicely once undone. It's the little things, you know?
Global Entry comes into play for international travelers. It doesn't do anything to speed things up on your outbound journey (that's what PreCheck is for!), but it makes immigration far more seamless once your journey concludes. On your return into the U.S., you'll be shown to a line of dedicated kiosks where you scan your passport, answer a few simple questions about your journey, and can then flash the resulting print-out to a Border Control agent. In our experience, the average re-entry time for a Global Entry user is under five minutes. Meanwhile, standard re-entry lines at major airports can easily hit the two-hour mark. So, if you value your time (and sanity), it's probably worth the money and sign-up hassles to become a member.
It's important to note that both programs are valid for five years before you'll need to renew, but there are no limits to how many times you can take advantage of either. For road warriors who travel multiple times per week, that should be music to your ears.
How do you get TSA PreCheck and Global Entry?
First things first: If you're a U.S. citizen, we'd strongly recommend going straight for Global Entry. Yes, you'll pay $15 over TSA PreCheck, but admission into the Global Entry program grants you a Trusted Traveler number, which parlays into inclusion in TSA PreCheck. Think of it this way: you're paying a $15 premium to get into both programs, but you'll only have to go through the background checks and in-person interview once.
In either case, you'll have to complete a lengthy online application, which effectively gives the U.S. government authority to do a thorough background check on you. If you clear that, you'll then have to arrange an in-person interview with an agent at an airport or authorized interview location. If you clear that, your registration will be finalized and you'll receive your membership information in a matter of weeks. Due to the process involved, it's wise to enroll sooner rather than later.