If you have traveled through a US airport in the last few years you may have noticed that there are much shorter and faster-moving 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.
When it comes to expedited security and customs clearance for frequent travelers, the debate between TSA PreCheck vs Global Entry often arises. Deciding between Global Entry and TSA PreCheck can be tricky so we'll compare the two to help you decide which is right for your travel needs.
We'll begin with an overview of TSA PreCheck, including eligibility requirements and the application process. Next, we'll explore Global Entry's features and participating countries. After comparing costs and fees associated with both programs, we will discuss airline partnerships and credit card perks that can help offset these expenses.
Finally, our analysis will provide valuable insights on choosing the right program based on factors such as the frequency of international trips or specific airport preferences.
TSA PreCheck: The Fast Pass for Domestic Travelers
For frequent flyers in the United States, TSA PreCheck is a massive time saver. This trusted traveler program with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) speeds up the airport security process, allowing members to breeze through dedicated security lanes
From personal experience, this line usually has far fewer travelers and a shorter wait time.
I have used TSA PreCheck at 10 different major airports in the last few years and I get through the airport security line much quicker when I have TSA PreCheck compared to the normal line. This is because you don’t 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, and remove your laptop when 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.
Eligibility Requirements for TSA PreCheck
- Must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- No criminal record that would disqualify you (check out the full list on the TSA website)
- Provide required documentation at your appointment, including proof of citizenship/residency and photo ID
How to Apply for TSA PreCheck
To get TSA PreCheck membership, start by completing an online application on the official TSA website. Note there is a $78 TSA PreCheck application fee. Once you complete your application, you'll schedule a 10-minute appointment at one of over 400 TSA PreCheck enrollment centers nationwide for a background check and fingerprinting.
Your membership lasts for five years before requiring renewal.
Global Entry: The Fast Pass for International Travelers
Global Entry is the VIP treatment for frequent international travelers. A Global Entry membership allows you to 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 automated Global Entry kiosks during the customs and immigration process which makes re-entering the US much faster than usual.
The main Global Entry benefit is 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 when you re-enter the US after an international trip.
You also get access to TSA PreCheck benefits for domestic flights. With over 200 participating airports worldwide, Global Entry is a game-changer for anyone who hates waiting in line.
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.
Get started with your Global Entry application on the CBP website.
Who's Eligible for Global Entry?
- U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, or citizens of select countries
- No criminal convictions or violations of immigration/customs laws
- A valid machine-readable passport or Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)
- Able to pass a background check and an in-person interview
Which Countries Participate in Global Entry?
Citizens from the following countries are eligible for Global Entry:
- Canada (via NEXUS)
- Mexico (via SENTRI)
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
- South Korea
Comparing the Costs of Both Programs
When deciding between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, cost is an important factor to consider. TSA PreCheck has a lower annual fee of $78 per person, while Global Entry has a $100 annual fee. However, Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck benefits and expedited customs clearance for international travel.
- TSA PreCheck: $78 application fee, valid for 5 years. That's only $16 per year. (The initial application fee was reduced from $85 to $78 in November 2022.)
- Global Entry: $100 application fee, also valid for 5 years. That's just $20 per year for both TSA PreCheck and expedited customs clearance.
It's worth noting that many travel credit cards offer discounts or reimbursements for these fees.
Rewards Credit Cards
Many credit cards offer rewards that reimburse the cost of joining programs like Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, making it more affordable for you to have a smooth travel experience. Some of these cards include:
- The Platinum Card from American Express: Provides a statement credit every four years for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck .
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Offers a statement credit towards Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every four years.
- Citi Prestige Card: Reimburses up to $100 in application fees for either program, available once every five years.
Clear Program Comparison
Clear is an alternative program that helps expedite the airport security process independently of Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. It's important to understand how this option differs from both trusted traveler programs in terms of features, costs, and availability so travelers can make an informed decision about which service best suits their needs.
How Clear Works and Its Benefits
Clear uses biometric data like fingerprints or iris scans to verify your identity at participating airports. Members can access dedicated lanes for a faster security screening experience without having to remove shoes, belts, or jackets. However, unlike TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, Clear does not provide any additional benefits for international travel.
Choosing the Right Program for Your Travel Needs: TSA PreCheck vs Global Entry
When choosing between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, it's crucial to consider your travel habits and preferences. Here are some factors to help you make an informed decision:
- International travel frequency: If you mainly fly within the US and rarely go abroad, TSA PreCheck may be a better fit. It focuses on domestic airport security processes and costs less. If you travel internationally frequently (let's say more than three times a year), we recommend you go with Global Entry.
- Budget constraints: TSA PreCheck is more affordable, with a $78 membership fee, compared to Global Entry's $100 fee. But, many credit cards offer reimbursements for these fees as part of their perks.
- Airport availability: Check if your preferred airports participate in either program before applying. You can find the list of participating airports for both TSA PreCheck and Global Entry online.
If you travel internationally frequently or value expedited customs clearance when returning home from trips abroad, investing in Global Entry could be worthwhile. This option offers added convenience when re-entering the US, potentially saving you time and stress during your travels.
Which one will you choose?
Get through airport security faster with Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, both offering expedited clearance in the US.
- TSA PreCheck is cheaper and more widely available, making it a great option for frequent domestic travelers.
- Global Entry offers additional benefits for international travelers, including expedited customs clearance and is worth the investment for those who frequently travel abroad.
- Both programs come with airline and credit card perks that can make travel even smoother.
- For more information on TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, check out these credible sources: TSA.gov and CBP.gov.