In case you have not heard of it, Global Entry is a program that allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents to bypass long immigration lines at participating airports when returning from an international trip. Instead, you use a kiosk at the airport to answer questions, declare goods, and get a “receipt” to go through customs. I’d like to share my experience of using Global Entry for the first time.
Since my colleagues and I frequently travels overseas for business, last month I organized a Global Entry sign-up visit with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agency for the people in my department.
To start, you must apply online at the Global Entry website and then wait to see if you are accepted after a background check. There is a $100 application fee at the time of registration, but it is a one-time charge that won’t need to be repaid annually. While I was happy to receive my acceptance e-mail almost immediately, some of my colleagues had to wait two weeks until they heard back.
Next was our on-site visit with the agents. They simply came to our office to take photos, validate credentials, and take fingerprints. Overall, it was quick and took about 10–15 minutes.
We were instantly activated after the agents finished processing our registrations. A sticker was put onto our passports showing that we participate in the program. Several weeks later, I received my “Trusted Traveler” card in the mail. This allows me to go through the fast lanes when crossing the border via car with Canada or Mexico, but otherwise I don’t need to carry it. Everyone who signs up with Global Entry automatically gets this added benefit.
I just returned from a business trip to Europe with my colleagues, and we were all excited to try out our new Global Entry access. I quickly saw the kiosks after we landed, so we made our way to the immigration area. I felt that it was well marked and easy to find. I then proceeded to insert my passport, as directed, and punched in my airline and flight number. That is where my success with Global Entry ended. For some reason, the computer did not display the originating city that I had just flown in from (which was Munich, Germany), although my colleagues had no issue.
After flagging down some agents and explaining my situation, they pulled me over to the regular immigration line. The agent behind the desk asked if I had filled out the declaration form on the airplane, to which I answered “no” because I was part of Global Entry. I had to step aside and fill out the paper form and then cut back in line when I was done. After a few more minutes, I was on my way to get my bags.
The final step with international flights is to go through customs. If you are successful at the Global Entry kiosk, it will print you a receipt. If it has an X on it, this means you need to go through the additional customs scan. If there is no X, you can exit.
However, the part of this process, which made me a bit uncomfortable, was that the Global Entry access supposedly gives you the right to cut to the front of either line at customs. While we know that we have this right, the others on line don’t—making for an awkward arrangement. In the end I didn’t cut, and waited my turn in the line. Ideally, there should be a dedicated line for participants to exit, but right now, there isn’t.
In conclusion, my colleagues managed to zip out seamlessly, but my issues made the process longer. Even with my challenges, I believe that I managed to exit quicker than I would have the old fashioned way.
My advice is to sign up for it, but fill out a paper declaration form on the airplane just in case something goes wrong. Let’s face it, when you are dealing with computers, you can usually count on something going wrong.
Happy travels to you all!
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