In today’s fast-paced world, efficient and hassle-free travel is a top priority for frequent flyers and business travelers. To streamline the airport experience, several trusted traveler programs have been established in the United States. This article explains the differences between four prominent trusted traveler programs: Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, Mobile Passport, and Clear.
Table of Contents
Primary Trusted Traveler Programs
These trusted traveler programs are most common for Americans who primarily travel by air.
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program designed to expedite the international arrivals process for pre-approved, low-risk travelers. Upon arrival at designated airports, Global Entry members can bypass the traditional customs and immigration lines and use automated kiosks to complete their entry procedures. This program is primarily aimed at those who frequently travel internationally.
Key features of Global Entry:
- Expedited customs and immigration clearance for international travelers.
- Inclusion of TSA PreCheck benefits (explained below) for domestic travel.
- Validity for five years and a straightforward renewal process.
- Background check and in-person interview are required for enrollment.
- The cost of Global Entry is $100 for a five-year membership.
TSA PreCheck is a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program designed to expedite the security screening process for domestic flights within the United States. PreCheck members enjoy shorter lines and other advantages at security like not being required to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, and light jackets. Read this article to learn more about PreCheck.
Key features of TSA PreCheck
- Expedited security screening for domestic flights at participating U.S. airports.
- Available to U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and eligible international travelers.
- Background check and in-person appointment required for enrollment.
- The cost of TSA PreCheck is $85 for a five-year membership.
- TSA PreCheck benefits are not applicable for international travel unless the traveler is also a Global Entry member. Even still, TSA Precheck doesn’t assist with re-entry. That is where Global Entry comes to play.
Mobile Passport is a smartphone application authorized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that offers an alternative to the traditional paper customs declaration form. This app allows eligible travelers to submit their passport information and customs declaration electronically, thereby reducing the time spent in customs lines upon arrival at certain U.S. airports and cruise ports.
Key features of Mobile Passport
- Expedited customs clearance for U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors.
- Free to download and use, with an option to upgrade to a premium version for additional benefits.
- No in-person interview or background check required for enrollment.
- Valid for unlimited use with no expiration date.
Clear is a private biometric identity verification program that aims to speed up the airport security process by using fingerprint and eye scans to confirm travelers’ identities. Unlike Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, Clear is not a government program but operates independently in partnership with airports and sports stadiums.
Key features of Clear
- Expedited identity verification for security screening at participating airports and stadiums.
- Biometric-based system using fingerprints and eye scans for quick identification.
- Available to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents aged 18 and above.
- No background check required for enrollment.
- The cost of Clear is approximately $179 per year.
Trusted Traveler Programs Comparison Chart
|Global Entry||U.S. citizens,||$100 (5 years)||Background check and||5 years|
|U.S. lawful||in-person interview|
|TSA PreCheck||U.S. citizens,||$85 (5 years)||Background check and||5 years|
|U.S. lawful||in-person appointment|
|Mobile Passport||U.S. citizens,||Free||Download and setup on||Unlimited use|
|Clear||U.S. citizens,||$179 per year*||Online registration and||Annual membership|
|U.S. lawful||in-person verification at|
Deciding Which Program is Best for You
Choosing the right trusted traveler program depends on your travel habits, destinations, and priorities. Here are some factors to consider when deciding which program suits you best:
Travel Frequency and Destinations
If you frequently travel internationally, Global Entry is an excellent choice. It expedites the customs and immigration process, saving you time and hassle. For those who primarily travel within the United States, TSA PreCheck is more suitable. It provides expedited security screening, making domestic travel smoother. If you travel internationally occasionally and primarily want to expedite the customs process, Mobile Passport is a convenient and free option.
Cost and Budget
Consider your budget when choosing between trusted traveler programs. Global Entry and TSA PreCheck require an application fee, while Mobile Passport is free to download and use. Clear, being a private program, is more expensive but offers biometric-based identity verification. It’s also worth checking your credit card since many now offer an enrollment reimbursement benefit.
If you prefer a straightforward enrollment process, Mobile Passport and Clear are the easiest options. They do not require background checks or in-person interviews, making the application process more convenient. Global Entry and TSA PreCheck involve a background check and an in-person interview at an enrollment center, which might take more time and effort.
Age and Eligibility
Clear is available to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents aged 18 and above. Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are open to U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and eligible international travelers. Mobile Passport is exclusively for U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors.
Traveling with Family or Groups
If you often travel with family or groups, consider the program that offers benefits for accompanying children. TSA PreCheck allows children aged twelve and under to use the expedited lanes when accompanied by a TSA PreCheck eligible parent or guardian. Clear also allows children under eighteen to use the service free of charge when traveling with a Clear member.
Some trusted traveler programs, like Global Entry, include TSA PreCheck benefits for domestic travel. If you frequently fly both domestically and internationally, Global Entry has the added benefit of expedited re-entry. Clear offers a speedy experience not just at airport security but also at certain sports stadiums and venues. This program might be appealing to sports enthusiasts and concert goers who are willing to invest in the annual membership.
How to Apply for Trusted Traveler Programs (Step by Step)
Application Process: To apply for Global Entry, follow these steps:
- Create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) Account: Visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website and create a TTP account. This account will be used to manage your Global Entry application.
- Complete the Online Application: Log in to your TTP account and complete the Global Entry application form. You will need to provide personal information, travel history, and details about any criminal convictions or violations.
- Pay the Application Fee: Once you’ve submitted your application, you will be required to pay a non-refundable fee of $100. This fee covers a five-year membership.
- Background Check and Interview: After your application is conditionally approved, you’ll receive a notification in your TTP account. You must schedule an in-person interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. During the interview, a CBP officer will conduct a background check, take fingerprints, and review your documents.
- Final Approval: Once your interview is successful and your application is approved, you will receive your Global Entry membership card. This card, along with your passport, will allow you to use the Global Entry kiosks at participating airports.
Application Process: To apply for TSA PreCheck, follow these steps:
- Pre-Enroll Online: Start by pre-enrolling online at the TSA PreCheck Application website. Complete the application form with your personal information.
- Schedule an Appointment: After completing the online application, schedule an appointment at a nearby TSA PreCheck Enrollment Center. These centers are often located at airports or other convenient locations.
- In-Person Appointment: Attend your scheduled appointment. You will need to provide certain documents, such as a valid passport or driver’s license, proof of citizenship, and payment for the application fee.
- Fingerprinting and Background Check: During your appointment, you’ll have your fingerprints taken and undergo a background check.
- Receive Known Traveler Number (KTN): Once approved, you will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) via email or regular mail. This number is used to access TSA PreCheck benefits when booking flights.
Application Process: To use Mobile Passport, follow these steps:
- Download the App: Start by downloading the “Mobile Passport” app on your smartphone. It’s available to download here for both iOS and Android devices.
- Create a Profile: Open the app and create a profile with your personal information. You can add information for multiple travelers, making it convenient for family travel.
- Complete Declarations: Before arriving at the U.S., open the app and complete the customs declaration form. This includes answering a series of questions about your trip.
- Submit and Receive Receipt: Submit your declaration through the app. You’ll receive an electronic receipt with a QR code.
- Present Receipt at Customs: Upon arriving in the U.S., proceed to the Mobile Passport Control area. Show your receipt and passport to the customs officer.
Application Process: To apply for Clear, follow these steps:
- Online Pre-Enrollment: Start by visiting the Clear website and completing the online pre-enrollment form. Provide your personal information.
- In-Person Verification: After pre-enrollment, you’ll need to visit a Clear enrollment location, which is often located at airports. Bring your required documents, such as a valid passport and driver’s license.
- Biometric Registration: During your in-person visit, Clear staff will capture your biometric data, including fingerprints and an iris scan.
- Final Approval: Once your information is verified and processed, you’ll receive a Clear membership card, allowing you to use Clear lanes at participating airports and stadiums.
Please note that the application processes and requirements for these programs may change over time, so it’s advisable to check the respective program websites for the most up-to-date information before applying.
Other Trusted Traveler Programs: Nexus, Sentri, and Fast
In addition to the well-known programs like Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, Mobile Passport, and Clear, there are a few other trusted traveler programs that cater to specific travel needs and border crossings. These programs are Nexus, Sentri, and Fast. Each program has its own unique features and benefits, making them valuable options for travelers who may cross frequently by land or sea. You can find all the information on the official CBP trusted traveler programs website, but here is a brief overview of each:
Nexus (North America)
Program Purpose: Nexus is a joint program between the United States and Canada designed to expedite border crossings for pre-approved travelers.
- Expedited processing at land, air, and marine ports of entry between the U.S. and Canada.
- Access to Global Entry and TSA PreCheck benefits for air travel.
- Dedicated Nexus lanes and kiosks for faster processing.
- Simplified customs and immigration procedures.
Application Process: To apply for Nexus, applicants must complete an online application, undergo a thorough background check, attend an in-person interview with both U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers, and pay a non-refundable fee.
Sentri (Southern Border)
Program Purpose: Sentri is designed to expedite the processing of pre-approved travelers at the U.S.-Mexico border.
- Expedited processing at designated land border crossings.
- Access to Global Entry and TSA PreCheck benefits for air travel.
- Dedicated Sentri lanes for faster processing.
- Streamlined customs and immigration procedures.
Application Process: To apply for Sentri, applicants must complete an online application, undergo a comprehensive background check, attend an in-person interview with CBP officers, and pay a non-refundable fee.
Fast (Free and Secure Trade for Commercial Vehicles)
Program Purpose: Fast is aimed at expediting the clearance of commercial vehicles that transport goods between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico while enhancing security.
- Faster processing and reduced wait times at designated commercial vehicle lanes.
- Expedited customs clearance for qualified carriers.
- Enhanced security measures for approved commercial entities.
Application Process: To apply for Fast, commercial carriers and drivers must complete an online application, undergo a background check, provide necessary documentation, and ensure compliance with security and trade regulations.
These programs are particularly valuable for individuals and companies involved in cross-border travel and trade. They not only facilitate faster border crossings but also contribute to improved border security and the efficient movement of people and goods between countries. Travelers should carefully consider their specific needs and travel patterns when choosing among these trusted traveler programs to ensure a smoother and more convenient travel experience.
Which Trusted Traveler Program is Best Based On Mode of Travel
- For expedited security screening within the United States (domestic flights), TSA PreCheck is the go-to program. It allows travelers to pass through security checkpoints more quickly and with fewer hassles.
- For expedited processing when returning to the United States from international destinations, Global Entry is the preferred choice. It expedites customs and immigration procedures at participating airports.
Land Travel (e.g., Crossing Borders by Car)
- For land border crossings between the United States and Canada, the Nexus program is highly recommended. It provides expedited processing for pre-approved travelers at both Canadian and U.S. border checkpoints.
- For land border crossings between the United States and Mexico, the Sentri program is ideal. It offers expedited processing and shorter wait times at designated border crossings.
Sea Travel (e.g., Cruises)
- For travelers departing from or returning to the United States via cruise ships, the Global Entry program is beneficial. It expedites customs and immigration processes at select cruise ports.
Commercial Vehicles (e.g., Trucking and Trade)
- The Fast program is designed for commercial carriers and drivers involved in cross-border trade. It facilitates the clearance of commercial vehicles transporting goods between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
It’s important to note that while these trusted traveler programs offer various benefits based on the mode of travel, some programs, like Global Entry, also include TSA PreCheck benefits for air travel. Therefore, frequent travelers who use a combination of air, land, and sea transportation may find Global Entry to be the most comprehensive option, as it covers both international air travel and land/sea border crossings. Travelers should assess their specific needs and travel patterns to determine which program(s) best suit their requirements.
Understanding and enrolling in the right trusted traveler program can significantly improve the airport experience and, in turn, the overall travel experience. Deciding on the best choice for you requires careful consideration of travel patterns, priorities, and budget. For seamless domestic travel, TSA Precheck is an excellent choice; but, if you add occasional international travel, Global Entry is a more comprehensive program for only a few dollars more.
On the other hand, if you’re taking a one-off trip overseas and don’t want to spend the extra money, Mobile Passport is a free option that simplifies the customs process. Clear, on the other hand, focuses on biometric identity verification to expedite security screening that may occasionally get your through security quicker than TSA Precheck. Whatever program you choose, the goal remains the same – to enhance your travel experience by saving time and stress at the airport.
Jenna Walker is a travel writer from Oklahoma who lives with her husband, two children, and three rescue pets. While out and about in the world, she loves spending time outdoors, exploring local culture, and trying new foods. Jenna knows that, often, we overlook our own backyard. You can also find her stories and guides on the website, The Oklahoma Experience.