Some love to travel, some live to travel, and others have to travel for business or personal reasons. No matter what takes you to an airport or across the borders by road or water, constantly increasing security-checks and border-clearance time is the new reality of our era. We all have heard stories of missed flights due to increased wait time at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening locations while TSA-Pre travelers can zoom through special security lines.
Thankfully the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has multiple Trusted Traveler Programs, which provide an improved passenger experience, while enhancing security and increasing system-wide efficiencies. Granted, it takes some time and effort to enroll and get one of these preferential cards, but it’s absolutely worth it! Here’s a brief introduction of four trusted traveler programs for those who’ve been wondering which one they should commit to.
TSA-Pre is the first program that comes to everyone’s mind because we see these six letters with a check-mark across all major airports. It’s the only program offered by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) while the other three are offered by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). With TSA-Pre you don’t need to remove shoes, laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, belts, or light jackets, resulting in faster security clearance as compared to regular TSA lanes (These benefits also apply to Global Entry and NEXUS).
To enroll, submit an online application and schedule an appointment at any of 380+ enrollment centers. A 10-minute, in-person appointment is required that includes a background check and fingerprinting. This is a simple program but its scope is limited to domestic travel only, so it doesn’t need to involve Customs and Border Protection (CBP). U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents can apply. You can get more details at TSA-Pre’s website.
Global Entry is TSA-Pre’s big brother as it extends the similar benefits to global travel. Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports.
At airports, program members proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.
Travelers must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before enrollment. Please note that Global Entry members can use the TSA-Pre lanes at the airports for expedited processing. You can get more details at Global Entry’s website.
The NEXUS program allows pre-screened travelers expedited processing when entering the United States and Canada. Program members use dedicated processing lanes at designated northern border ports of entry, NEXUS kiosks when entering Canada by air, and Global Entry kiosks when entering the United States via Canadian Pre-clearance airports.
NEXUS members also receive expedited processing at marine reporting locations. As an additional benefit, this program offers Global Entry for free; however, the enrollment process requires applicants to be interviewed by both American and Canadian authorities. If your life doesn’t take you to Canada frequently and you don’t want to go through two interviews, Global Entry (#2) is a good alternative.
At a lower cost, NEXUS offers the most benefits among all four programs, so it is my personal favorite and I have been a happy member for almost a decade. Please note that NEXUS members can use the TSA-Pre lanes at the airports for expedited processing. You can get more details at NEXUS’ website.
SENTRI: Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection
The SENTRI program is geared towards travelers who travel by land into the U.S. from Mexico. The Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Participants may enter the United States by using dedicated primary lanes into the United States at Southern land border ports. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before enrollment. I know little about this program because it doesn’t meet any of my travel needs. You can get more details at SENTRI’s website.
Which Program Fits My Needs?
Below is the Trusted Traveler Programs Comparison Chart offered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for you to compare these programs side by side. Compare them thoroughly and choose the one that fits your travel needs.