Whether a frequent or occasional traveler, you can benefit from expedited services that reduce your wait time at security or customs and immigration. There are three distinctly different programs that can accomplish that feat — Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, and CLEAR.
Here’s everything you need to know about these programs so you can decide which is right for you.
Table of contents
What is TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck offers expedited security physical screenings for flights departing from the United States. According to the TSA, the average wait time at TSA PreCheck lanes this fall was less than five minutes for most (91%) passengers.
TSA PreCheck is a good option for those who travel domestically.
As a member of TSA PreCheck, you’ll experience shorter wait times for physical screenings at designated TSA PreCheck lanes. You can keep your shoes, belt, and light jacket on, and your personal items (3-1-1 liquids, laptop, electronics) can remain in your bag.
Security is less intrusive with the use of a metal detector. Although, a full body screening may be required at certain locations.
There are 200 plus airports and over 85 airlines participating in TSA PreCheck. If your flight is on a non-participating airline, you will not be able to use the TSA PreCheck lanes.
Known Traveler Number
Upon approval, you’ll be assigned a Known Traveler Number (KTN). You will not receive a card.
Pro tip: You must provide your KTN when making flight reservations and use the exact name on your TSA PreCheck application. The name on your application should match the legal name on your identification and proof of citizenship. Your KTN informs the airline that you are a member of TSA PreCheck and will add this indicator to your boarding pass.
Add the Known Traveler Number to all your airline loyalty account profiles. It will automatically apply when you make flight reservations with that airline. Or you can add your KTN manually when booking your flight.
Boarding pass indicator
If the airline participates in TSA PreCheck, your boarding pass will display a TSA PreCheck indicator (TSAPRECHK, TSA PRE, or TSA PreCheck.) Without this information on your boarding pass, you will not be able to use a PreCheck lane.
For airports that do not offer a TSA PreCheck lane, you may still be able to use some of the benefits at a standard screening. Show your boarding pass with the TSA PreCheck indicator to the TSA officer (with a big smile), and you may be able to leave your shoes, belt, and jacket on and keep your personal items in your bag.
TSA states that PreCheck members may occasionally be randomly excluded from PreCheck express lanes and will then be required to go through standard screening.
Traveling with your children
A considerable advantage of TSA PreCheck is that your children ages 12 and under can go through the express lane with a member parent. They do not need to be a member.
The shorter wait times and not having to remove electronics or 3-1-1 liquids from your kids’ bags (as well as your own) will reduce the stress on you and your children.
When making flight reservations for your children, ensure they are on the same reservation.
Children ages 13-17 must apply for their own TSA PreCheck membership. Be sure to include their Known Traveler Number when making flight reservations. The TSA PreCheck indicator must be on their boarding pass for them to use the express lane.
Active military personnel are automatically enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program. Use your DoD ID number (found on your common access card) for the Known Traveler Number when making flight reservations.
CDL Drivers with Hazardous Materials Endorsement
CDL drivers with an active HAZMAT endorsement on their driver’s licenses are eligible for TSA PreCheck without applying for or paying the membership fee. The TSA performs the same threat assessment for the HAZMAT endorsement.
You must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident. When making flight reservations, use the two-letter state abbreviation followed by your commercial driver’s license number for the Known Traveler Number.
How to apply for TSA PreCheck
The initial application can be done online and is followed by an in-person interview at an enrollment center.
- You can apply online at TSA.gov. Use your exact legal name on your identification or proof of U.S. citizenship. First-time applicants will not be able to pay online but will pay the membership fee at the enrollment center. The membership fee is $78 (previously $85) for five years, and renewal is $70.
- You can typically schedule an in-person interview (which lasts approximately ten minutes) within two weeks at the closest enrollment center. You will be fingerprinted and have a background check. There are about 500 enrollment centers nationwide.
- If approved, travelers will receive a Known Traveler Number three to five days after the interview. For some applicants, it could take up to 60 days. You can receive updates on the status of your application via email, text, or phone call, or you can check on the TSA website. You can begin using the Known Traveler Number immediately after receiving it.
Requirements for applicants
- You must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or lawful permanent resident.
- You’ll need a valid driver’s license or a federal or state-issued photo ID and proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate, passport, or permanent resident card.
- Applicants convicted of a criminal offense or violating federal security regulations will be ineligible for membership.
- If you have dual citizenship, documentation such as a passport will be required.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Contact Information
- If your name or address changes, you’ll need to contact the TSA at 855-347-8371 from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm Eastern time Monday – Friday. You can also contact TSA online.
- If your TSA PreCheck indicator is not on your boarding pass (with a participating airline), contact the TSA at 866-289-9673 or @AskTSA on Twitter.
- You can also email at TSA Contact Email.
How to reduce or eliminate your enrollment fee for TSA PreCheck
Some credit card companies or frequent flyer miles may cover all or part of the TSA PreCheck enrollment fee as a member benefit by offering statement credits.
Contact your credit card company or check out the list of credit cards that offer this benefit on TSA.
What is Global Entry?
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program. It provides expedited screening at U.S. customs and immigration for international air travelers re-entering the U.S. It includes TSA PreCheck benefits at no additional cost.
Global Entry is a good option for those who travel internationally. You’ll need a passport to apply, and an interview with a U.S. Customs and Border Control (CBC) official is required for approval.
How does Global Entry work?
If you are a Global Entry member returning to the U.S. from an international trip, you can use the automated kiosk at customs and immigration at select international airports.
Scan your machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card and place your fingerprints on the scanner to verify your identity. You will complete your customs declaration, receive a transaction receipt, and go directly to baggage claim.
A select number of international airports allow Global Entry members to clear immigration and customs before departure. That will save you time when you arrive in the U.S. exhausted and ready to head home.
Global Entry members can clear customs before departure at the following airports:
- Dublin and Shannon, Ireland
- Freeport and Nassau, Bahamas
- Abu Dhabi
- United Arab Emirates
- Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg, Canada
How to apply for Global Entry
- You can apply for Global Entry online. Begin by creating a Trusted Traveler Program account.
- You’ll need to pay a $100 nonrefundable application/five-year membership fee. This fee includes membership to TSA PreCheck. You will not receive a refund if your application is denied.
- After your application is reviewed and approved conditionally, you’ll receive a notification to schedule an in-person interview at the closest enrollment center.
Homeland Security Alert: Delayed processing time
Typically, the processing time for Global Entry is four to six months. However, there is an alert banner on the Homeland Security website that Global Entry is experiencing application processing delays that could take six to 18 months to complete. There are enrollment centers in most states, Puerto Rico, and Guam, but not all locations offer in-person interviews at this time.
Before applying, check with the nearest Global Entry enrollment center to determine the next available interview date. Enrollment centers are located at international airports and land border crossings.
Many state enrollment centers had a message that said, “no appointments available for this location.” Or the first available interview date is months away.
On the other hand, other enrollment centers offer appointments within a week. The processing time depends on the enrollment center’s location and availability.
Eligibility requirements for Global Entry
If you are a U.S. citizen, a U.S. lawful permanent resident, or a citizen of the following countries, you are eligible for Global Entry membership. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has “an arrangement with these partner countries to facilitate travel.”
- The Netherlands
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
Required documents for applying/interviewing for Global Entry
- Your passport.
- A driver’s license or federal or state-issued photo ID.
- Proof of citizenship.
- If you are a lawful permanent resident, you’ll need to present a machine-readable permanent resident card.
- The Customs and Border Protection officer conducting the interview will take your photo and scan your fingerprints.
- Proof that you reside at the address given and your address history for the last five years.
- Your international travels for the last five years.
- Employment history for the last five years.
- If you have dual citizenship, you’ll need documentation as proof, such as a passport to that country.
You can check the status of your application by logging onto your Trusted Traveler Program account. If your application status says “pending review,” it is being processed. When the status changes to “schedule interview,” you can make an appointment at the nearest enrollment center.
If you need to change your interview appointment, it’s essential to reschedule another one at the same time. Canceling your appointment could cause your application to cancel automatically.
If your application is approved, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number that you can use immediately. You’ll also receive a Global Entry member card within seven to ten days. You’ll need to activate the card within 30 days of receipt.
Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival program
The Enrollment on Arrival program allows Global Entry applicants with conditional application approval to interview CBP when they arrive in the United States. It bypasses the requirement for applicants to schedule an interview at an enrollment center.
You will need to see a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer who will complete the interview process when you arrive at the airport. You’ll need the following:
- Your passport.
- Evidence of your residency such as your driver’s license, mortgage or rental statement, utility bill, etc.
- A permanent resident card, if applicable.
You can find a list of airports participating in the Enrollment on Arrival program at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
How to reduce or eliminate your enrollment fee for Global Entry
Some credit cards and frequent flyer miles may offer a statement credit for the Global Entry/TSA PreCheck $100 membership fee.
Check with your credit card company or review the list of credit cards that offer this benefit on TSA.
What is CLEAR?
CLEAR is a privately run company that expedites the security check of travel documents and IDs. You can bypass this segment of security and reduce your wait time by confirming your identity through biometric data (fingerprints and retina scans) at a CLEAR kiosk.
CLEAR does not expedite the physical screening process at security checkpoints. You will still have to wait in line to be screened. CLEAR suggests you apply for TSA PreCheck to speed up the screening process.
The benefits of CLEAR are currently available at 40-plus airports in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. It’s also used at sporting events in major stadiums and entertainment venues to confirm identity.
Before signing up for CLEAR, review the airports that offer CLEAR to ensure you will be flying from these locations.
CLEAR may not be a good option if you are concerned about providing confidential information to a private company.
How to apply for CLEAR
Enrolling in CLEAR is a simple process, and there is no waiting period. The annual membership cost of CLEAR is $189. You can add up to three family members or friends for $60 each. Family members under 18 can go through the CLEAR lane for free if traveling with a member of CLEAR.
You can enroll online and then complete your enrollment (in about five minutes) at a CLEAR pod location at the airport. Bring a government-issued photo ID to confirm your identity. No appointment is needed.
The ambassador (the title given to CLEAR representatives) will take your retina scans and fingerprints and add the biometrics data to your profile. You can use the benefits of CLEAR Plus immediately. CLEAR Plus designates airport membership.
CLEAR membership includes a Health Pass on its app. You can upload proof of vaccinations and negative COVID tests or fill out a health survey.
If you decide to cancel your CLEAR membership, you’ll receive a prorated refund based on the remaining time.
How to use CLEAR at the airport
There are CLEAR lanes located by security with pods where you can scan your boarding pass. You’ll then be prompted to verify your identity with either retina scans or fingerprints. The retina scans will work with contacts, and you can keep your glasses on.
A CLEAR ambassador will escort you to the line at security checkpoints for a physical screening. If you are a member of TSA PreCheck, you will be able to move through the security screening quickly.
How to reduce or eliminate your enrollment fee for CLEAR
American Express cardholders can receive a statement credit for a portion or all of the $189 annual membership fee.
CLEAR has partnered with United, Delta, and Avis to offer discounts on enrollment fees or car rentals.
Save money on enrollment fees with United Airlines’ loyalty programs:
- Premier 1K and Global Services – Free enrollment in CLEAR
- Premier Silver, Gold, Platinum, and United U.S. credit card members – $109/year
- MileAge Plus members – $119/year
Save money on enrollment fees with Delta’s SkyMiles:
- Diamond Medallion and 360 – Free enrollment in CLEAR
- Silver, Gold, Platinum Medallion, and eligible Delta SkyMiles American Express card members – $109/year
- SkyMiles members – $119/year
Car rental discounts
Avis Car Rental is a partner company with CLEAR. You can enroll in Avis Preferred Plus and receive an upgrade and discounts as a CLEAR member.
Airport locations with CLEAR lanes
Real IDs for domestic air travel identification
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the new deadline for REAL ID enforcement at airport security checkpoints is May 7, 2025. Travelers over 18 will be required to present a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or another acceptable form of identification to fly within the United States.
Driver’s licenses that are not REAL IDs will no longer be accepted as identification at airport security after May 7, 2025. If you recently renewed your license but did not opt for the REAL ID, you can upgrade it at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
A REAL ID is recognizable by the star in the card’s upper right corner.
State-issued enhanced driver’s licenses will also be an acceptable form of identification at domestic airports. Five states issue an enhanced license — Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, Washington, and New York. The enhanced licenses do not have a star on top.
TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR complement one another — and when combined — can substantially reduce airport wait times.
If you’re a domestic traveler and don’t venture outside the U.S., TSA PreCheck is the best option. (FYI: Don’t ever get in that PreCheck line if TSA hasn’t invited you!)
For international travelers, the combination of Global Entry and TSA PreCheck provides a double benefit at customs and immigration and security checkpoints.
CLEAR is more pricey and lends itself to frequent travelers who fly from the 40-plus airports that participate with CLEAR.
We are here for you. If you need assistance, contact us at Consumer Rescue. We’ll be glad to help. (Stephanie Patterson for Consumer Rescue)