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The tourism industry is recovering from the pandemic, and so are airport lines. Security and immigration wait times can be as long as "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and thankfully, there are ways to shorten them (at least in the United States) by utilizing Global Entry and TSA PreCheck lines.
Global Entry is designed to save time for trusted travelers returning to the United States from a trip abroad. Here's all you need to know about getting Global Entry for your family and possibly getting it for free.
What is Global Entry?
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler program allowing sped-up customs clearance. Enrolling in Global Entry will enable you to wait in a much shorter immigration line upon returning from abroad. Travelers head to the designated Global Entry kiosk and present their travel documentation. Once cleared, you're directed to the baggage claim as usual.
Global Entry also includes TSA PreCheck, which lets you go through a dedicated security line and save time at more than 200 U.S. airports. Add your Known Traveler Number to your air ticket and enjoy a shorter security line that lets you keep your shoes on and your laptop in the bag.
» Learn more: What is Global Entry and how do I get it?
Does everyone in my family need their own Global Entry membership?
Using Global Entry with kids differs from using TSA PreCheck, which allows children ages 12 and younger to join their parents in the fast lane at the airport (children aged 13-17 may join as well, but must have the TSA PreCheck logo on their boarding pass).
Global Entry doesn't offer this added flexibility. Only Global Entry members can enter a Global Entry immigration line.
This means that if you want your spouse or your children to go through a usually shorter immigration queue with you, they must enroll in Global Entry, no matter their age. Otherwise, you must separate and wait for them at the baggage claim.
How to apply for Global Entry for a family
To recap, your family members who are your travel companions must be Global Entry members if you want to exit the immigration area together.
Global Entry for kids and adults costs the same: $100 for each application (good for five years). To apply, visit the Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) site and choose Global Entry. Next, create a TTP account or sign in to your existing one, and fill out an application. Then, submit your application and wait for conditional approval.
Once you receive approval, you must schedule an in-person appointment with a Customs and Border Protection officer at an enrollment center. Perhaps, this is the most inconvenient part of the Global Entry enrollment process — an appointment might not be available for months at your nearest facility, or at all, and walk-ins aren't accepted. In addition, this can be incredibly cumbersome if you are trying to coordinate Global Entry appointments for a family, as a separate appointment is required for each applicant.
In this case, you can keep checking the website for possible openings if someone cancels or more appointment times become available.
Another option — and a solution to the scheduling problem — is for your family to use the Enrollment on Arrival program to enroll in Global Entry upon arrival from abroad at a participating airport. Remember that you must be conditionally approved to complete enrollment on arrival. In addition, you must present a valid passport (which you should have), a document that provides evidence of residency (not required for minors) and a permanent resident card (if applicable).
Remember, each family member must go through the process to use the Global Entry airport kiosks.
» Learn more: How to fly with young children
How can my family get Global Entry for free?
Some travel rewards credit cards reimburse the cost of Global Entry enrollment in the form of a statement credit. Depending on the card, you can usually use the Global Entry application fee credit every four to five years. If you or your spouse hold multiple cards from the list below, you could put one application on each card to save on fees. Just pay each enrollment fee online with an eligible card.
The following credit cards reimburse the cost of enrolling in Global Entry:
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
Reasons to enroll your whole family in Global Entry
Save time waiting in line after a trip
After a long journey home from an international trip, the last thing you want to do is wait in an hours-long line with your jetlagged children. Global Entry allows you to breeze through the queue and be on your way.
Use TSA PreCheck lines
The No. 1 reason to enroll in Global Entry is to avoid waiting in a painfully long immigration line in the United States. However, you can also save time in TSA PreCheck lines on domestic trips, so you can sleep in longer or double-check your packing list before leaving the house.
Possibly enroll for free
As mentioned above, many credit cards reimburse the cost of Global Entry. So if you hold three or four cards that offer the rebate, everyone in the family can enjoy the perks of Global Entry and TSA PreCheck and you'll get a statement credit toward the application fees.
If you want to enroll your family in Global Entry
Each family member (even minors) must be enrolled in the trusted traveler program to use a Global Entry kiosk upon arrival to the U.S. from an international flight. Everyone must apply through the website and be interviewed by an agent.
Saving the time you can never get back is valuable, and if you can enroll for free by getting a statement credit on a credit card, you're out of excuses.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card