With more and more people traveling, depending on where in the U.S. you’re flying/driving/floating into or out of, the lines at the TSA checkpoint and/or customs/immigration can be ridiculously long sometimes (I’m looking at you, Orlando International Airport, but there are others, too). Fortunately, there are ways to bypass the queues. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are several options of programs nowadays, some government-run, one not, and unless you sit down and read each one, it’s hard to decide if, or which one, you should consider. Hopefully, this will help.
Used for: Departures from U.S. airports
Cost: $85 for 5 years (or $15 in conjunction with Global Entry), and the renewal price decreased in 2021
Discounts: Some credit cards will pay the fee (you can also use reward points to pay for it, but we don’t recommend it [here’s why])
Available to: U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents &, in conjunction with getting Global Entry, citizens of select non-U.S. countries
Of the four options we’re covering, TSA PreCheck is probably the most well-known. Personally, we’ve sung its praises for the 5+ years we’ve now had it.
With TSA PreCheck, you get to go on a special line that allows you to skip the regular queue. You also can keep your shoes and belt on, don’t have to remove your bag of liquids, computer and electronics from your bags, etc.
This article explains the process of what to expect if you apply for TSA Pre-Check (or Global Entry. Pre-Check is the 2nd half of the post). It also has links to start your application.
TSA PreCheck is available to citizens of select non-U.S. countries. The process varies depending on what country you’re in and you may need to pay more in total, depending on the pre-application process your home country requires before applying for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck in the U.S.
Used for: Entry into the U.S. via air, land and sea, from international destinations
Cost: $100 for 5 years (Also includes 5 years of TSA Pre-Check)
Discounts: Some credit cards will pay the fee (you can also use reward points to pay for it, but we don’t recommend that)
Available to: U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents & citizens of select non-U.S. countries
Global Entry allows you to skip the long immigration/customs queue when you’re entering the United States. From U.S. Customs & Border Protection: “…At airports, program members proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.”
While this is the “official” procedure, most Global Entry kiosks use facial recognition instead of asking for your passport and fingerprints.
The top half of this article explains the process of what to expect if you apply for Global Entry. It also has links to start your application.
Global Entry is available to citizens of select non-U.S. countries. The process varies depending on what country you’re in and you may need to pay more in total, depending on the pre-application process your home country requires before applying for Global Entry in the U.S.
Used for: Departures from U.S. airports (also car rental companies, stadiums, concert arenas and other venues)
Cost: $179 for 1 year
Discounts: Discounts (including some free trials) are available for Delta Silver, Gold & Platinum Medallion members, most Delta credit card holders, SkyMiles members, United MileagePlus members, people with TripIt Pro subscriptions, etc. Some credit cards offer a statement credit for CLEAR subscriptions.
Available to: U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents
Unlike the other programs in the post, CLEAR is not run by the U.S. government. It also, by itself, doesn’t help you bypass the long X-ray queue. However it allows you to skip the lines for the TSA officer who compares your boarding pass to your ID, and it allows you to not have to deal with the TSA officers at that first checkpoint ;-). Instead, you deal with pleasant people who talk you through scanning either your eyes or your fingers via a biometrics system, followed by escorting you to the regular queue or, if you have TSA PreCheck, the PreCheck queue. It’s kind of a Lexus Lane for airports, stadiums, etc ;-). Here’s more information about our first experience in using CLEAR.
Used for: Entry into the U.S. from Canada
Cost: $50 (U.S.) for 5 years
Discounts: None that we know of, but children under 18 are free. Credit cards have started to offer credits for NEXUS fees.
Available to: U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, Canadian citizens, Canadian permanent residents, and Mexican nationals
NEXUS is jointly run by the Canadian and U.S. border agencies. Homeland Security lists these benefits of having NEXUS:
- Expedited vehicle/pedestrian entrance into U.S. or Canada.
- Expedited marine entry into U.S. from Canada.
- Access to TSA Pre✓® expedited security lanes at airports within the U.S. and U.S territories for U.S. Citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and Canadian citizens.
Although somewhat limited in scope (by car or sea, it’s only good for entering the U.S. from Canada), NEXUS can be a nice time saver for not a whole lot of money. The fact that it includes TSA PreCheck is the icing on the cake ;-).
Used for: Entry into the U.S. from Mexico
Cost: $122.50 (U.S.) for 5 years
Discounts: None that we know of
Available to: U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and all foreign nationals.
Homeland Security lists these benefits of having SENTRI:
- Expedited vehicle/pedestrian entrance into U.S. from Mexico.
- Access to TSA Pre✓® expedited security lanes at airports within the U.S. and U.S territories for U.S. Citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents.
It’s great to help speed things up for people who travel between the U.S. and Mexico and having TSA PreCheck is a great benefit as well.
For more information about each of the government programs, and/or to compare or enroll in any of them, this page of the Department of Homeland Security is a great place to go. You can also get more information about CLEAR if you go to their website.
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