How to Choose Between TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

Both programs let you zip through airport security, but choosing the right one depends on your travel habits.
10/3/19 | By Jennifer Calonia
Man with blue backpack waiting at airport

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When you’re cutting it close to your flight departure time or traveling against the holiday rush, every minute inching through airport security can feel stressful.

But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a few Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) that help make traveling through security more efficient. TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are among the most common programs.

If you’re debating between TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, here’s what you need to know before enrolling.

How does TSA PreCheck work?

With TSA PreCheck, you’re eligible to use specially designated airport security lanes for expedited screening. It costs $85 to apply, and if approved, your eligibility is good for five years. TSA PreCheck is best if domestic air travel is the transportation method you primarily use.

As a member of the program, you’re not required to remove shoes, laptops from your baggage, liquids, belts, or light jackets when you go through airport security, which helps make the TSA PreCheck screening move faster than standard lanes. TSA PreCheck lanes are so effective that 93% of program passengers wait less than five minutes, according to the latest TSA figures.

Where it works

This expedited access is available when flying out of U.S. airports. Keep in mind that while you might have provided your TSA PreCheck Known Traveler Number (KTN) when booking your ticket, not all airports or airlines participate in this program.

To avoid boarding delays, always check the TSA map of participating airlines and airports before your departure date.

Who qualifies

Travelers who are U.S. citizens or foreign citizens who meet specific citizen or residency requirements are eligible to participate in TSA PreCheck.

If you’ve submitted incomplete or false application information, have past transportation security violations, or have been flagged for “disqualifying criminal offenses,” you will not be eligible for TSA PreCheck.

How to apply for TSA PreCheck

To apply for TSA PreCheck, you’ll need a valid photo ID and proof of citizenship, such as a U.S. Passport or a driver’s license and birth certificate. Non-U.S. citizens should bring additional documentation related to their lawful residence in the United States. The TSA website can help you determine exactly what documents you must provide.

Initiating the process through the TSA takes a few simple steps:

1. Submit an online application. The four-step application takes about five minutes to complete. The legal name used on your application must match the verifying documents you provide during your in-person interview.

2. Find a nearby enrollment center. Use the TSA’s Enrollment Center Locator to find a convenient processing center near you.

3. Schedule and attend your interview. Bring your verifying documents to your in-person interview. You’ll be asked basic questions about your traveling habits, employment, and reason for your interest in the program. You’ll then have your photo taken and fingerprints scanned. Overall, the interview takes about 10 minutes.

Afterward, you’ll receive a written letter about the status of your application within two to three weeks. You can also check your application status online.

To use TSA PreCheck on your next trip, provide your KTN to your participating airline when booking your flight. Your boarding pass and barcode will have a TSA PreCheck indicator, giving you access to the expedited security lane.

If you’re traveling with children 12 years old or younger, they can accompany you in PreCheck lanes. Otherwise, they must be registered with the program separately.

How does Global Entry entry work?

Global Entry is a broader program offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that’s applicable for air, land, and sea travels. It costs $100 to apply, and if approved, eligibility lasts for five years.

In addition to TSA PreCheck benefits when traveling domestically, Global Entry allows registered travelers to use its kiosks for customs and immigration screening purposes when entering the U.S. from abroad. You can avoid customs declaration paperwork and get the privilege of expedited entry when driving or walking through the Canadian and Mexican border.

Similarly, other countries participate in the Global Entry program. At these international destinations, your Global Entry membership provides you expedited processing when entering the country.

Where it works

Global Entry customs and declaration benefits are available at airports offering the Global Entry screening kiosks. View the full list of airports with Global Entry kiosks before planning your trip.

Who qualifies

If you’re a U.S citizen or legal permanent resident, you are eligible for Global Entry. Citizens of the following countries may also be eligible, with additional requirements:

  • Argentina
  • Colombia
  • Germany
  • India
  • Mexican nationals
  • Panama
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom

Also, Canadian citizens can receive Global Entry benefits by applying for the NEXUS program.

You’re ineligible for Global Entry if you provide incomplete or false application information; have a past or pending conviction or outstanding warrants; have a record of customs, immigration or agricultural violations (in any country); have an active investigation against you by a law enforcement agency; are not allowed in the U.S.; or have otherwise not met the CBP’s requirements as a low-risk traveler.

How to apply for Global Entry

To initiate an application for Global Entry, follow these steps:

1. Create an online account. To create your TTP account, start by choosing Global Entry on the official application page.

2. Submit an online application. After creating an account, complete and submit an online application for Global Entry. During this step, you’ll also pay the $100 fee per applicant. You’ll need to wait until you get a TTP account notification that your application status is conditionally approved before going to the next step.

4. Schedule and attend your interview. Search the CBP’s Enrollment Center directory for a processing center near you. You’ll need to supply an active U.S. passport or I-551 Lawful Permanent Resident Card and an additional form of ID, such as a driver’s license.

The interview takes 10 to 15 minutes, and you’ll answer questions about past and future travel, employment, and other basic questions. Your biometric information, such as your photo and fingerprints, are also collected.

When booking your travel, make sure to include your Global Entry membership ID number, also known as your PASSID. Keep in mind that each member of your traveling party is required to have their own membership to use the kiosks for expedited customs screening, regardless of age.

TSA PreCheck or Global Entry: How to choose

When deciding between TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, consider how much you travel, where you travel, and who you regularly travel with.

If you anticipate traveling internationally at least once in the upcoming five years of your TTP membership, Global Entry might be worthwhile for the extra $15. The Department of Homeland Security offers a Trusted Traveler Tool to compare the different programs and help you decide which one might be best for you.

5 credit cards that offer free TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

Some premium travel cards offer complimentary credit toward these core Trusted Traveler Programs. Here are just a few cards with free TSA PreCheck or Global Entry benefits. For more information, check out our full list of cards that offer this perk.

Card Details Annual Fee
Platinum Card from American Express Up to $100 toward TSA PreCheck every 4.5 years or Global Entry every four years $550
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Up to $100 toward TSA PreCheck or Global Entry every four years $95 (waived first year) 
Chase Sapphire Reserve Up to $100 toward TSA PreCheck or Global Entry every four years $450
Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard Up to $100 toward TSA PreCheck or Global Entry every five years $450
United Explorer Card Up to $100 toward TSA PreCheck or Global Entry every four years $95 (waived first year) 

Taking advantage of free travel perks like this can help relieve the anxiety around planning your next trip. And considering both programs offer a five-year membership, this peace of mind can be priceless.

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