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You’ve just spent hours crossing the Atlantic (or Pacific). You’re disoriented, dehydrated, and delayed…and now you’re in a time crunch to go through immigration and customs and catch your connecting flight home. After a long international flight to the United States, there’s nothing worse than waiting in that hour-long immigration line, followed by another doozy of a line at customs (with all your bags, no less). Thankfully, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has created a solution: the Global Entry Trusted Traveler program. And it’s up to us, the public, to take advantage of this incredible time-saver (and frequent traveler’s lifesaver). Applying is simple, straightforward, and even free (if you have the right credit card). Below, everything you need to know about Global Entry.

So what is Global Entry, and how does it work?

Global Entry is a trusted traveler program that allows you to bypass the traditional immigration and customs lines at 59 major airports (46 of which are in the United States, 13 of which are in airports abroad where clearance into the United States takes place pre-flight). In essence, passengers enter the United States through self-check-in. Follow the signs to the Global Entry kiosks where you’ll scan your passport, match your fingerprints, and smile for the camera. You’ll fill out your customs information electronically here; so don’t bother with the blue customs form on-board. The kiosk will print a receipt, which you’ll flash to an immigration officer and then present to a customs official after collecting your bags (in a special fast track line).

What’s the application process for Global Entry?

Applying is simple. Start your online application by registering as a new user with the Global Online Enrollment System. You’ll then get a GOES user ID (every applicant needs a separate ID). Log in, enter all the necessary personal information, and submit a completed application. Pay the nonrefundable $100 fee (which may be eligible for reimbursement through your credit card benefits—see below).

Once your application is conditionally approved, you’ll receive a message in your GOES account to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center, typically located at or near major US airports (in addition, 10 centers are found in Canada and one in Qatar). Once your appointment is set, bring a valid passport and a second form of identification (e.g., a valid driver’s license) for your short, in-person interview with a CBP officer (it typically lasts 15 minutes). He or she will ask a few questions, take your photo, and scan your fingerprints. If your background check turns up clean and the interviewer identifies you as a legal, low-security-risk traveler, you’ll receive a nine-digit CBP PASS ID on the spot (valid for five years) and be able to utilize the Global Entry benefits immediately.

Who is eligible for Global Entry?

Citizens of the following countries can apply for Global Entry: United States (as well as Lawful Permanent Residents), Colombia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and Mexican nationals. Additional requirements such as visas may be required, depending on your country of citizenship. Canadian citizens and residents can utilize Global Entry benefits if already enrolled in NEXUS (a US–Canada border crossing program). Children 18 and under are also eligible for Global Entry (but need to apply separately from their parents). You may be deemed ineligible if you provide false information on your application; have a criminal record; have committed previous customs or immigration violations; are the subject of an investigation by a law enforcement agency; or the CBP cannot identify you as a low-risk traveler.

What are the benefits of Global Entry?

Being part of the Global Entry network basically means no processing lines, almost no wait times, and no paperwork when entering the United States through 59 major airports. You also get automatic enrollment in TSA Pre-Check (no need for a separate application or application fee), which allows you to use expedited security departure lines, where you won’t need to remove shoes, belts, laptops, or liquids. Your Global Entry PASS ID serves as your TSA Pre-Check “Known Traveler Number.” To use TSA Pre-Check, you must enter this number when checking-in to your flight (a Pre-Check indicator must appear on your boarding pass to use the special line). We recommend adding this number to all your frequent flyer profiles so it automatically populates upon check-in.

How do I get Global Entry for free?

Use the right credit card with the right benefits to pay the nonrefundable application fee, and Global Entry (and TSA Pre-Check) won’t cost you a cent.

The following luxury credit cards DO offer a $100 Global Entry statement credit every four to five years (as you must renew your PASS ID every five years):

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
  • Citi Prestige® Card
  • MasterCard® Black Card™
  • MasterCard® Gold Card™
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

The following luxury credit cards DO NOT offer a $100 Global Entry statement credit:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred®
  • Gold Card from American Express
  • MasterCard® Titanium Card™
  • Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
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Award-winning travel writer and economist Paul Rubio is a credit card enthusiast, whose sophisticated use of points and rewards has helped him travel to 132 countries for free. Paul is a Harvard graduate with a master’s degree in public administration and a master’s degree in economics. He also holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University with a double major in economics and environmental policy and a minor in conservation biology. He attended both undergraduate and graduate schools on full scholarships. Paul worked in the field of wildlife conservation before embracing his writing talents full-time in 2008. Since then, he has won more than two dozen national awards for his exemplary work in travel journalism. The prolific writer contributes to a number of top-tier international, national, and regional publications including Condé Nast Traveler, Florida Design, Fodors.com, Palm Beach Illustrated, and Robb Report.