Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck: Making the Best Choice!

If you’re a frequent traveler, the hassles of airport security and customs can become all too familiar. To mitigate these challenges, programs like Global Entry and TSA Precheck exist. However, when choosing between these two, you may ask, “Which one suits me best?”

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll compare Global Entry and TSA Precheck, discussing the benefits, downsides, and eligibility requirements for each. With a solid understanding of these programs, you’ll be able to make an informed decision that suits your travel needs.

Grasping the Basics: TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

What is TSA PreCheck?

Launched in 2011, TSA PreCheck is a pre-screening program designed to fast-track security procedures for low-risk travelers. This service gives travelers a smoother and quicker experience at airports across the United States.

By being a TSA PreCheck member, you can access a dedicated (often shorter) security line at more than 200 participating airports and 80 airlines in the United States. Members keep their shoes, belts, and light jackets on during the security check. Plus, they don’t have to take out their laptops and 3-1-1 liquids from their carry-on bags.

TSA Prechecks has an application fee of $85, covering a five-year membership. While primarily benefitting domestic travelers, some international flights departing from the U.S also accept TSA Precheck.

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is another trusted traveler program by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), introduced in 2008. This program targets frequent international travelers, allowing them quick clearance upon arrival in the United States.

Members of Global Entry can avoid the usual customs line and use an automatic kiosk to clear customs and immigration. In addition to expedited entry into the U.S., Global Entry also includes TSA PreCheck benefits. This means members also get expedited security screening for domestic flights.

Global Entry costs $100 for a five-year membership, $15 more than TSA Precheck. However, it requires a comprehensive application process, including a thorough background check, fingerprinting, and an in-person interview.

Benefits Breakdown: TSA Precheck vs. Global Entry

Advantages of TSA Precheck

TSA PreCheck can significantly speed up the security screening process. According to TSA, in March 2022, 93% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than 5 minutes in the security line. This fast-tracking service is particularly beneficial for those rushing to catch their flight or those who simply despise the slow shuffle of airport security lines.

Moreover, the convenience of not having to remove shoes, belts, or light jackets, as well as leaving laptops and 3-1-1 liquids in carry-on bags, provides a level of comfort and ease to the security screening process.

Lastly, TSA Precheck is easier to obtain than Global Entry. It has a simpler application process and doesn’t require an in-person interview, which could be a deciding factor for some individuals.

Advantages of Global Entry

Global Entry provides all the benefits of TSA PreCheck with additional perks for international travelers. The biggest advantage is expedited clearance through Customs and Border Protection when entering the U.S. Instead of waiting in long customs lines upon returning to the U.S., the benefits of Global Entry could save you a significant amount of time and stress.

Including TSA PreCheck benefits in Global Entry membership means members can expedite their security screening for domestic flights, making it a comprehensive package for both international and domestic travelers.

While Global Entry does cost slightly more than TSA Precheck and the application process is more rigorous, many frequent travelers find the benefits of streamlined customs processing well worth the extra cost and effort.

The Application Process: What to Anticipate

Both TSA Precheck and Global Entry require an application process that includes a background check.

TSA Precheck Application Process

  1. Online Application: You need to fill out an online application on the TSA website. This includes providing basic information like your name, birthdate, address, and citizenship or immigration status.
  2. Background Check: After submitting your application, TSA conducts a background check.
  3. In-person Appointment: If you pass the background check, you’ll schedule an appointment at one of over 380+ enrollment centers nationwide for fingerprinting and to provide identification. No formal interview is necessary for TSA PreCheck.
  4. Membership: If approved, you will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN). When booking flights, you use this number to be eligible for expedited security screening.

Global Entry Application Process

  1. Online Application: Complete an online application on the CBP website, including details about your employment, travel history, and personal contacts.
  2. Background Check: CBP conducts a rigorous background check, including a review of your criminal history, customs violations, and immigration status.
  3. In-person Interview: If your application gets conditionally approved, you schedule an in-person interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. This interview includes a review of your documents and a brief conversation with a CBP officer.
  4. Fingerprinting: Your fingerprints will be taken for identification.
  5. Membership: If approved, you will receive a Global Entry card for identification and a Known Traveler Number (KTN). However, you typically only need the card for land and sea ports of entry. You use the KTN when booking flights to access TSA PreCheck benefits.

Global Entry or TSA Precheck: Making Your Decision

The choice between TSA Precheck and Global Entry depends on your travel habits and preferences.

Choose Global Entry If:

  • You frequently travel internationally: If you often find yourself in long customs lines when returning to the U.S., Global Entry could save you significant time and stress.
  • The more rigorous application process doesn’t bother you: If you’re fine with undergoing an in-person interview and a thorough background check, then Global Entry could be a good fit.
  • You want the benefits of both programs: Since Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck benefits, it offers better value if you’re looking for the most benefits for the cost.

Choose TSA Precheck If:

  • Your travels are mostly within the U.S.: TSA PreCheck will provide all the expedited security benefits you need for domestic travel.
  • You want to avoid an in-person interview: The TSA PreCheck application process is simpler than Global Entry’s and doesn’t require an in-person interview.
  • You’re looking for a cheaper option: While the price difference is only $15, if cost is a primary concern, TSA PreCheck is cheaper.

Concluding Thoughts

Both TSA PreCheck and Global Entry offer benefits that can enhance your travel experience. For frequent international travelers, the extra benefits of Global Entry are likely worth the additional $15 and more rigorous application process.

However, if your travels are mostly domestic, TSA Precheck will provide the expedited security experience you need without the additional requirements of an in-person interview and a detailed background check.

Ultimately, the best program for you depends on your individual travel needs and habits. Consider your personal circumstances and what will make your travel experience more comfortable and efficient before deciding.

Safe travels!