If you’ve ever spoken with someone who is trying to get approved for Global Entry, you’ve probably heard grumbles about how impossible it is to snag an appointment to finalize the application. The Department of Homeland Security estimates the entire process can take four to six months. For many, it can take up to a year just to book an appointment! But don’t let this dissuade you; there are a few tricks for speedy approval.
Global Entry is a program offered by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows for swift entry through airport customs for pre-screened travelers. Currently, US citizens, lawful residents, and nationals from a handful of countries, such as Mexico and the United Kingdom, are eligible for Global Entry. It costs $100 for five years and includes TSA PreCheck, and many frequent travelers consider it a must-have.
The process is simple. First, you complete a thorough application, providing information on all the places you’ve lived, traveled to, and been employed by in the past five years. After hitting submit, you wait to be Conditionally Approved, after which you can book an appointment. The appointment, usually conducted at or near an airport, takes about 15 minutes. A CBP Officer will ask a few questions, take a photo and your fingerprints, and you’re on your way.
Assuming all goes well, you’ll be approved as early as a couple of hours later and you can use your Trusted Traveler Number for TSA PreCheck that day. You should receive your Global Entry card in the mail in about two weeks. Keep that card in a safe place, as you will need to have it when you come through Customs.
I applied for Global Entry on a Wednesday afternoon and was approved Sunday morning. First, I took the time to make sure my application was 100% accurate, especially past addresses and employment history. From start to finish, filling out the application took about 20 minutes.
Since I don’t have a record or history that raised any flags, my application was conditionally approved the following night. I immediately went to look for an appointment and saw they were booked out for the next five months. This is when many people begin to feel discouraged, but there are several ways to get an appointment sooner.
Global Entry appointments are regularly added mid-afternoon for the following day, even on weekends. This is not an official practice by the way — just something I heard by word of mouth — but it was true in my experience. I saw many spots open around 3:00 PM on a Saturday for the following Sunday.
Pay a service to send notifications when new appointments or cancellations happen. For about $30, you can use a service that sends you a text the second a spot opens up, though you need to act fast to claim it. I used something called TTPTracker and booked an appointment for the next morning about two hours later. There are also free versions of these services that either notify you via Twitter, email, or browser notifications. The idea of paying money to get an appointment is frustrating and shouldn’t be necessary, but it can be valuable for the time saved and stress averted.
If you have an international trip coming up, you may opt for an appointment when you arrive back at the airport — this is called Enrollment on Arrival (EoA). Simply follow the signage directing you to a CBP officer and request an appointment. This is dependent on their schedule, but in many cases, appointments are available.
Getting approved for Global Entry may seem daunting, but if you travel often, especially internationally, your future self will thank you. Trying to remember the zip code of the home you lived in five years ago probably isn’t the way you’d like to spend your time, but neither is waiting an hour in the TSA or Customs line on a long travel day.
Jesse Collier, the creator of The Road Jess Traveled, helps people save, plan, and book their dream vacations.