Global Entry vs TSA PreCheck: Which should you get?

Global Entry vs TSA PreCheck: Which should you get?
Photo by Tomek Baginski / Unsplash

If you have travelled through an airport in the United States in the last few years you may have noticed that there are some much shorter and faster lines that require special memberships. Specifically, there is TSA PreCheck when passing through security on your way into the airport and a different line for Global Entry when passing through immigration and customs on your way home from an international destination. (And CLEAR, though, that's a topic for another post).

In this article, we will take a look at:

  1. What are TSA PreCheck and Global Entry?
  2. Is TSA PreCheck included in Global Entry?
  3. How can you join these programs and take advantage of the shorter and faster lines?
  4. How much does it cost?
  5. Pros and Cons of each program
  6. Important things to consider

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry lets you skip the regular customs line when returning to the United States. It is a program created by the US Government that gives you access to a line with an automated kiosk during the customs and immigration process which can make re-entering the US much faster than usual.

Once you are accepted into the program, you are considered a low-risk traveler. Because you are able to skip the standard immigration and customs national security process, there are multiple steps involved to prove that you are actually a low-risk traveler.

After you land in the United States, get off the plane, and start heading towards the customs and immigration process to re-enter the country keep an eye out for a separate line for Global Entry program members. While non-members will proceed to the regular lines for citizens/permanent residents/visitors you will be able to use the automated kiosks specifically for Global Entry members. This process is generally much faster and will save you a lot of time each time you have an international trip.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is another Trusted Traveler Program from the Department of Homeland Security that, as the name suggests, labels you as a low-risk traveler and allows you to enter a special line when going through airport security.

Speaking from personal experience, this line generally has far fewer travelers and a shorter wait time. I have used TSA Pre at 10 different major airports in the last few years and the TSA Pre security line always moves much quicker than the regular line. This is due to the fact that you generally do not have to remove your shoes, electronics, small liquids, jacket, or belt, which in my opinion is the biggest positive from this. In many cases, you also get to skip the full body scanner, and instead walk through the metal detector.

It's a huge relief knowing that you don't need to wait in a long line, undress yourself, and remove your laptop when you are heading to the airport–especially if you're running late.

It's a huge relief knowing that you don't need to wait in a long line, undress yourself, and remove your laptop when you are heading to the airport–especially if you're running late.

According to the official TSA PreCheck website, in November 2022, 92% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than 5 min when passing through airport security.

Is TSA PreCheck included with Global Entry?

Yes, if you have joined the Global Entry program you will automatically receive the benefits of TSA PreCheck. This means that if you join Global Entry you can use the dedicated TSA PreCheck airport security lanes. If you are planning to join the Global Entry program, don't TSA PreCheck separately, or you'll just end up paying more.

It's important to note: the inverse is not true: TSA PreCheck does not include Global Entry. So if you would like both, then we recommend applying for Global Entry.

How can you join these programs and skip the long lines?

Global Entry

To join the Global Entry program, you'll need to begin the process on the official Trusted Traveler Program website of the Department of Homeland Security. You'll start by creating an account, selecting the program you would like to enroll in (Global Entry), answer all the required questions, make your payment, and hit submit.

Then you'll wait until the DHS conducts their initial background check and notifies you that you've been "conditionally approved".

Conditional approval can take anywhere from 24 hours to 6+ months, and unfortunately, the process is a complete black box–there's no way to know how long this approval process will take or why. In my own experience, I was conditionally approved in about 48 hours, but we frequently hear stories of applicants waiting 3-6 months before receiving conditional approval. Generally though, the more complicated your background, the more research the DHS will need to do in their background check.

Once you are conditionally approved, the final step is your in-person interview before you can skip the customs line on your next trip. This is the second part of the process where applicants often face delays. Most of the 100+ centers in the US are completely overbooked, so it's very common to get conditionally approved and then realize that the next available interview at your airport is months or even years away.

The open secret is that appointments open up daily at nearly every enrollment center–though most of these appointments only stay open for a few minutes at most, before they are snatched up. Check out our full guide on how to get interviews fast and avoid the months long wait.

To use your Global Entry membership when passing through immigration and customs, you just need to use the special Global Entry kiosks instead of the standard line. There, you will scan your passport, fingerprints, and submit your customs declaration electronically (those form stating you are not bringing anything illegal into the country).

TSA PreCheck

To join the TSA PreCheck program, you have to head to the official TSA website and create your account. You will need to submit your application, pay the fee, and finally schedule your in-person interview appointment.

The in-person appointment is relatively fast, according to the official TSA website it shouldn't take longer than 10 minutes which is accurate in my experience. Once you are accepted, you will receive a Known Traveler Number to identify yourself as a low-risk traveler.

Overall, the TSA PreCheck application process is relatively fast and easy, especially compared to Global Entry. There are over 500 enrollment centers for TSA PreCheck (including many convenient locations such as Staples stores, compared to just over 100 for Global Entry.

To use the TSA PreCheck line when passing through airport security, make sure to enter your Known Traveler Number that you received from your TSA PreCheck membership when you book your flight and you will see a special TSA Pre logo on your boarding pass.

How much does it cost?

Global Entry: $100 (includes TSA PreCheck)

You have to pay the $100 fee when you start you application. The membership lasts for 5 years before you'll need to apply for renewal (also $100).

As long as you apply for renewal before the end of the 5 year membership period, you can take advantage of a 24 month grace period and continue using your Global Entry benefits for up to 24 months after your original membership expires.

TSA PreCheck: $78

Just like with Global Entry, you have to pay the $78 fee when you start your application. The membership also lasts 5 years before you have to renew. Renewals cost $70.

The initial application fee was reduced from $85 to $78 in November 2022.

Many travel credit cards waive these fees for you when you apply so if you are planning on getting a new credit card, keep an eye out for this benefit!

Important things to consider

  1. Because you are applying to join a list of low-risk travelers, you must supply personal information to the US government such as fingerprints and photos, and allow them to conduct a background check.
  2. The application fees are not refundable, even if your application is rejected.
  3. Children younger than 12 can accompany an adult through the TSA PreCheck security line if the adult is a member of the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry program, but they'll need their own membership to use the Global Entry line when passing through customs.
  4. TSA PreCheck has about 5X more enrollment centers, and is generally much quicker to enroll in than Global Entry. If you mainly travel domestically, and just want to skip the security lines, consider applying for TSA PreCheck alone. If you travel internationally, you'll need Global Entry if you want to skip both the customs and security lines.
Having trouble finding Global Entry interview appointments? can help you cut months off wait time for an interview, with alerts for last minute interviews when others cancel at your preferred enrollment centers.
Derek Feehrer

Derek Feehrer

Boston, MA