Going Somewhere? 7 Tips for Joining the Global Entry Program
Though I’ve always liked the idea of the Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler Global Entry program, signing up seemed like such a hassle that I just never got around to it. Instead, to get through airport lines a bit faster, I relied mostly on elite status courtesy lanes and taking flights at odd, less popular hours.
However, all that changed a few months ago when, after spending 17-hours crushed in coach, I exited directly into a two-and-a-half hour U.S. Customs line at J.F.K., along with 962 of my fellow international travelers (yes, I counted; I had the time). Then there was the 55 minutes I just spent in the TSA line en route to San Francisco and the message was clear – it was time to sign on for Global Entry, the program that, on future trips, would speed me through TSA lines both foreign and domestic. And so, my Global Entry journey began…
Here’s what I learned along the way – and what you should be aware of when the time comes and, at last, you too decide to take the plunge:
Tip #1: Do sign up online; don’t be in a hurry.
To my surprise, the Global Entry (GE) sign-up process is quick – it takes about 20 minutes online – but getting the official GE card? Not so much. If you want your GE card tomorrow, it ain’t happening unless perhaps you’ve got friends in very high places (I’m looking at you, John Kerry), so build in a little extra time. The web site suggests a 4-to-6-week wait, but you might get lucky and receive your card much sooner.
Tip #2: You’ll likely get ‘conditionally approved’ quickly.
Avoid unnecessary middlemen and their ‘service’ charges by signing up directly at the U.S. government’s Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) site. Create an account, pay the $100 fee (via debit or credit card) and answer a few basic questions, many of which are travel-related. Assuming you’re a law-abiding citizen – as in, no brushes with the law, no warrants, arrests, convictions, Shawshank-style prison-breaks, etc. — chances are good you’ll be ‘conditionally approved,’ often within a matter of days. Despite this being an exceptionally busy time of the year, I was conditionally approved in a mere 5 days after submitting the application, so two thumbs up for that.
Tip #3: Scheduling your interview may be a challenge.
You’ve finished the application, you’ve got your conditional approval letter in hand and now it’s time to schedule your interview, but alas, this is where the process can slow to a crawl. Though you may be ready to march down to the local office, bellowing ‘let’s do this!,’ you’ll need to slow your roll. Why? Because at the moment, there are only 86 interview locations nationwide and 12 in Canada to handle the current onslaught. Interviews are scheduled every 15 minutes, but each center has varying numbers of staff conducting them, and the hours vary too, with some open from 9 am – 12 noon, 10 am – 3 pm, 7 am – 8 pm, etc. Add to that the fact that not every state in the Union has a Center, and most that do are located at the airport, chances are you’ll need to travel a ways to get to the nearest one that also has convenient and available time slots for you. Lesson learned: scheduling is tough, but not impossible.
Tip #4: To interview sooner, get creative.
When it came time to schedule my interview, the next available appointment in my hometown of New York City was more than three months away. Fortunately though, all was not lost. Turns out, conditionally approved applicants can schedule an interview appointment at any center in the U.S. or Canada. Phew! So, I checked for openings at the nearby Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC centers. All had availability within the next two weeks, thus giving me the option to slash the NYC backlog by roughly 80 days – perfect for a gal in a hurry! The takeaway: cast a wider net by booking an interview elsewhere if local locations are booked up.
Tip #5: Keep circling back, like planes over O’Hare.
A friend mentioned that interview appointments get cancelled all the time, particularly the at-the-airport interviews, so applicants in a hurry should keep checking for last-minute openings. For four days I checked the schedule, usually after midnight. Last week when an opening suddenly appeared that was just three days away, I pounced. Bottom line: Don’t give up, keep checking for cancellations and be ready to book and go on short notice.
Tip #6: Have your interview ducks in a row.
Though I could have done without the hour and a half spent stuck in summer beach-bound traffic getting to the appointment, once I arrived at J.F.K Airport, the interview was a totally professional and pleasant experience. The officer who interviewed me was on time, friendly and courteous. He asked me several questions about my travel history (extensive) and criminal history (none, thanks), confirmed my application information, explained the program, reviewed my paperwork, took my fingerprints and a photo for the Global Entry ID card. Total time elapsed: approximately 14 minutes. Word to the wise: Be sure to have all of your paperwork in order for the interview. Here’s the GOES list of what you’ll need to bring to the interview. Also, be on time. If you’re late and miss your slot, you’ll probably have to rebook online and come back another day (though some centers may accept walk-ins when they’re not busy).
Tip #7: Check your snail mail box.
Once you’ve cleared the hurdles, the last step in the process is to keep an eye out for the arrival of the Global Entry card. When to expect it? The GOES site says it will arrive in 7- 10 business days – but mine arrived just 3 business days, just in time for my next trip overseas – so kudos to Global Entry!
See you in the fast lane!
For more ideas on how to make travel easier, check out these useful travel must-haves.