No one loves waiting in line. After a long international flight, the prospect of inching your way through a grueling customs line probably sounds a bit unappetizing. For those who travel occasionally they’re a nuisance; for frequent fliers, they quickly become a full-blown nightmare.
If you travel frequently to and from the United States, you may benefit from a membership with a U.S. Trusted Traveler Program. These programs, hosted by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allow for quicker, stress-free travel and the opportunity to skip the line.
Benefits of Trusted Traveler Programs
The exact benefits of a Trusted Traveler membership will depend partly on which program you select. The application process, qualifications, and perks all vary slightly from one program to the next. One thing they each have in common is increased convenience for more comfortable traveling experiences.
Most Trusted Traveler programs include TSA Precheck. In some cases, this allows travelers to skip long security lines in favor of expedited screening processes. At busy airports where security is slow-moving and laborious, this can potentially save an hour or more of travel time if you are flying with one of the many Precheck participating airlines.
Upon landing in the US, those who are enrolled in a Trusted Traveler Program can speed up their entry into the country. Many airports have separate lines and procedures for Trusted Travelers that allow them to expedite their processing with Customs and enter the country much quicker.
The three major Trusted Traveler Programs are Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS. Which one is suitable for you will depend largely on your citizenship and travel habits. To help determine which might fit your needs, here’s a breakdown of the top three Trusted Traveler Programs for travel in and within the United States:
- Global Entry - If you are a U.S. citizen, a lawful U.S. permanent resident or a citizen of any of these countries listed on the program website, you may qualify to participate in the Global Entry Trusted Traveler program. GE allows participants to skip lines and enter the U.S. using automated kiosks. Generally, GE members are not required to present themselves to a Customs and Border Protection officer for inspection, which means you’re able to enter the country with very few lines or hassle. GE members also standardly receive TSA Precheck benefits, which is applicable to both international and domestic flights. Those wishing to apply for a membership with the Global Entry program are required to pass a background screening and interview. To begin an application with GE, you’ll first need to schedule an appointment for an in-person interview. The process has a one-time fee of $100.
- SENTRI - Those who travel frequently into the United States from Mexico through a land border may benefit from applying for membership in the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI). This program allows for expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers entering the US through the country’s Southern land border ports. In many cases, it also includes TSA Precheck. The SENTRI application involves a background check that spans criminal, law enforcement, customs, immigration and terrorist indices. It also requires a 10-fingerprint law enforcement check and a personal interview with a Customs and Border Protection officer. To begin the application process, you’ll want to begin by scheduling an interview appointment at a location near you.
- NEXUS - If you travel frequently between the United States and Canada and you’re sick of waiting in the ever-growing customs line to cross the border, enrolling in the NEXUS program can help get you where you want to be much faster. Like SENTRI, NEXUS allows pre-screened travelers to expedite their processing when entering both the US and Canada. Using dedicated lanes at the Northern border ports of entry, NEXUS members are able to skip the line and enter using NEXUS kiosks. The perks of NEXUS don’t end with land border crossings, however: members also receive expedited processing at marine locations and airports when entering by Canada by air or entering the US via Canadian preclearance airports. To begin an application to become an approved NEXUS member, you’ll want to start by scheduling an appointment with the US Customs and Border Protection. If your application is successfully processed, you will receive a radio frequency identification card to be used when entering the US or Canada at designated air, land, and marine ports. More information on the benefits of NEXUS can be found by visiting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection webpage.