If there’s one place where you don’t want your trip to go south, it’s while trying to clear security and customs. It’s a process associated with long lines and awkward questions from agents, like “Did you have any encounters with wildlife during your visit?” (No, that cougar you danced with in the bar doesn’t count.) Meanwhile, you know all those people you see heading for the lanes that say Global Entry and Clear? Here’s what they know that you need to know.
#1. Get Global Entry
The smartest way to have a hassle-free customs experience coming back into the U.S. from abroad is to enroll in the Global Entry program, according to Patricia Serrano, a travel adviser and the founder of FreshTraveler, a blog that covers her journeys around the globe. Global Entry is part of the international Trusted Traveler Network—it’s called Nexus in Canada and SENTRI in Mexico—that expedites your travel back into the U.S. Basically, instead of standing in line with everyone else, you preestablish your legitimacy during the Global Entry enrollment process and take care of your customs at an airport kiosk that usually has no line. You have to go through a preapproval process, which involves filling out a lot of paperwork online and then scheduling an interview with a Customs and Border Protection agent at a Global Entry enrollment center near you. There’s also a $100 fee for a five-year enrollment, but Serrano says it’s worth the time investment up front. “There are loads of perks to being a member,” she says. “Not only can you use Global Entry kiosks at airports throughout the U.S., but a handful of international airports have Global Entry preclearance, which means you can clear customs prior to departure.”
If you clear customs in your departure country through Global Entry, you’re treated as a domestic arrival when you land in the U.S. and get to skip customs altogether. And here’s another reason you want Global Entry: membership also gives you access to TSA PreCheck at applicable airports—a program that costs $85 on its own—which will save you time in security lines for domestic flights.
#2. Download the Mobile Passport App
If you don’t want to drop $100 on the Global Entry program, having the Mobile Passport app recently launched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection will put you in a designated line away from the crowds. Download it and set up your profile. When you arrive back in the country, the app will take you through a series of questions, and you submit the answers to customs. (No more filling out paper forms.) You’ll then receive a bar code on your phone, head to the Mobile Passport–dedicated line, and show the code along with your passport to a customs agent. The Mobile Passport Control lines are only available at 26 U.S. airports right now, but the list is growing and the app is free.
#3. Try the Clear Program
Clear is designed to speed you through domestic airport security. Instead of using an ID or a passport, Clear uses a preapproval process and airport kiosks that scan biometrics from your eyes and fingertips to confirm your identity. It’s something straight out of a sci-fi movie. By using a Clear kiosk, you get to bypass long lines to have your ID and boarding pass stamped by a TSA agent and then are taken to the front of the line to go through the X-ray-machine process. Right now, Clear is only available at airports in major cities, with 40 locations across the U.S., but the list of airports is growing. It can also help you clear security lines at large stadiums. You can apply online, and there’s a $179 annual fee.