tsa precheck global entry sentri

TSA Precheck, Global Entry + SENTRI: What’s the difference?

At a potluck a few months ago (hosted by the lovely Lynn from Oh-So Yummy), a group of us were talking about some of the expedited travel programs out there – TSA Precheck, Global Entry and SENTRI. We all had vague ideas about what the differences were, but nothing concrete.

I travel internationally every couple months for work. I asked a couple of my coworkers if they could explain the differences to me, but even they weren’t 100% sure. So…consider this post your definitive guide to the different Trusted Traveler Programs out there! I’ll also explain which program I enrolled in, why I chose it and how long the process took. Plus, find out how you can add your Known Traveler Number to reservations AFTER you’ve booked. I just did it for my upcoming trip to Iceland in about 30 seconds!

What is TSA Precheck?

TSA Precheck is a program offered through, shocker, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration). It’s basically a fast-track through airport security – you get to go through a special TSA Precheck line, and don’t have to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids or belts. In July 2016, 97% of Precheck passengers waited less than 5 minutes to get through security, according to the TSA. I recently used it when flying domestically, and it took less than two minutes.

BUT…just because you have TSA Precheck doesn’t mean you’ll get to breeze through airport security every time. First off, and I hope this is obvious, the program is only available in the U.S. You can certainly use it when flying internationally out of a domestic airport, but the TSA has no jurisdiction in airports in other countries. Also – and this is important – it’s only available through certain airports, and if you’re flying one of 19 airlines. I’m not going to list all 180+ airports that do provide TSA Precheck, but you can find them here.

Here are the airlines that participate in TSA Precheck (as of Oct. 2016):

  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Allegiant Air
  • American Airlines
  • Cape Air
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Etihad Airways
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Lufthansa
  • OneJet
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin America
  • WestJet

How to apply for TSA Precheck?

The application for TSA Precheck is *relatively* simple, keeping in mind this has to do with airport security. It’s a two-step process:

  1. Apply online here. It should only take 5 minutes to fill out all the necessary information, and to make an appointment at an enrollment center.
  2. Go for an in-person interview. This is the appointment you’ll set up as part of your online application. The interview itself takes less than 10 minutes, and includes a background check and fingerprinting.

You can find an enrollment center near you here.

How to use TSA Precheck?

It’s simple. Upon approval, you’ll receive your unique KTN, or Known Traveler Number. All you have to do is enter it when you book a flight; there will be spot to do so regardless of whether you book directly through an airline or a discount site. If, like me, you happened to book a flight before you were approved, or simply forgot to add it during your original booking, don’t worry. You can add it up to 72 hours before your flight. Find out how to add it retroactively here. If that link doesn’t help, you can always call your airline’s customer service number.

How much does TSA Precheck cost?

I think it’s a steal – $85 for a 5-year membership. That works out to just $17/year. When you consider the time saved, it’s well-worth it.

That being said…TSA Precheck is NOT the program I chose to enroll in. Keep reading to find out why.

What is Global Entry?

After a looooooong international trip, Global Entry is a freaking miracle. This program, which you apply for through U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allows you to skip the Customs line and paperwork when you land back in the U.S. after an international flight. ALSO – Global Entry members are automatically enrolled in TSA Precheck upon approval. It really is the best of both worlds, allowing expedited departures and returns for both domestic and international flights.

But…like TSA Precheck, Global Entry isn’t available in all U.S. airports. You can see a list of participating airports here. It is available in most major domestic airports, for what it’s worth. And here’s something interesting – you can also use Global Entry in a few airports outside of the states, including the U.A.E., Canada and Ireland! I don’t think it will be available in…say, Russia, anytime soon, but I am optimistic the program will continue to expand in countries that have a good relationship with the U.S.  

How to apply for Global Entry?

The application is a bit more laborious than for TSA Precheck.

  1. Create a Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account here.
  2. Log in to your GOES account (through the same link), and fill out the application. Expect this application to take at least 15-20 minutes. You’ll also have to pay a non-refundable $100 fee to submit your application. And now the waiting begins…
  3. Wait. Customs and Border Patrol will evaluate your application, and either reject it or grant you ‘conditional approval’. This will usually take 1-2 weeks, and you’ll get an email with the decision.
  4. If you are conditionally approved, you’ll now need to set up an appointment for an interview at a Global Enrollment Center. You can find a list here. There probably won’t be an appointment available for at least 1-2 months, depending on how busy the centers are in your area.
  5. Go to your in-person interview. You’ll need to bring your passport and one other form of government-issued identification (e.g., your driver’s license or ID card). If you’re approved, you’ll get your KTN then and there! A card will be mailed to you within the next two weeks.

How to use Global Entry?

Instead of waiting in the long reentry line to hand over your paperwork saying what (if anything) you have to declare, you get to head over to a Global Entry kiosk. You scan your passport, answer a few questions on the screen and then you’re good to go! It takes maaaaaybe 90 seconds. I’ve used it twice now, after trips to India and the UK. Both times, I was at the curb waiting to be picked up within 10 minutes of landing.

How much does Global Entry cost?

It’s slightly more than TSA Precheck, at $100 for a 5-year membership. But again, you do get all the benefits of TSA Precheck PLUS expedited reentry into the U.S.

What is SENTRI?

By process of elimination, you’ve guessed it – I chose to get a SENTRI Pass! SENTRI stands for the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection. (Really rolls off the tongue, eh?) With SENTRI, you get all the benefits of TSA Precheck and Global Entry, plus you get to drive in the fast lane when crossing the border from Mexico back to the U.S. This obviously wouldn’t make sense for anyone who doesn’t live near the southern border or likes to visit Mexico regularly. BUT…since I live in San Diego and one of my favorite restaurants in the world is in Tijuana, this program seemed like the perfect fit for me. It typically takes only 10 seconds for drivers in the SENTRI lane to reenter the U.S. from Mexico. You can check out the border crossings with SENTRI lanes here. One thing to be aware of: In order to use the SENTRI lane, everyone in the car must have either Global Entry or a SENTRI pass. So be sure to check with any potential passengers before your trip!

How to apply for a SENTRI Pass?

Applying for a SENTRI Pass is very similar to the Global Entry process.

  1. Create a Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account here.
  2. Log in to your GOES account (through the same link), and fill out the application. Expect this application to take at least 15-20 minutes. Since SENTRI involves driving over the border, you’ll need to provide the VIN and license plate number of the vehicle you want registered. You’ll also have to pay a non-refundable fee to submit your application. And now the waiting begins…
  3. Wait. Customs and Border Patrol will evaluate your application, and either reject it or grant you ‘conditional approval’. This will usually take 1-2 weeks, and you’ll get an email with the decision.
  4. If you are conditionally approved, you’ll now need to set up an appointment for an interview at a SENTRI Interview Center. You can find a list here. It took me about 6 weeks to schedule my interview.
  5. Go to your in-person interview. You’ll need to bring your conditional approval letter, passport and one other form of government-issued identification (e.g., your driver’s license or ID card). You’ll also need your vehicle registration and proof of insurance. If you’re approved, you’ll get your KTN then and there! A card will be mailed to you within the next two weeks.

How to use SENTRI?

I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t used my SENTRI pass – YET! I hadn’t realized everyone in the car needed to either have SENTRI or Global Entry in order for me to cross with them, so I’ve been stuck walking over the border and taking cabs once in Mexico to stay with my group. But hopefully that will change soon, and I’ve happily taken advantage of the TSA Precheck and Global Entry perks that come with having SENTRI in the meantime.

According to Customs and Border Patrol, using SENTRI is a piece of cake. You literally just get into the SENTRI lane when crossing back into the U.S. from Mexico, and scan your SENTRI card at the magnetic card reader in your lane. The whole process takes about 10 seconds.  

How much does SENTRI cost?

SENTRI costs $122.25, and is good for 5 years.

For my friends along the northern border of the U.S., there’s also a similar program to expedite travel across the Canadian border called NEXUS. You can learn more about that here.

Well…I think this is by far my longest blog post yet! I hope this has been informative, and will help you when deciding which expedited travel program is best for you.
   

5 thoughts on “TSA Precheck, Global Entry + SENTRI: What’s the difference?

  1. Jessica

    Agreed, this was very helpful. I knew about TSA Precheck and Global Entry, but I thought SENTRI was only for Mexico and not something that could get you access to all three programs. Thank you!

     
    Reply
    1. Jessica

      (Wow, that came out more awkwardly than I thought. I meant, I knew SENTRI was for entry/return from Mexico, but I thought it was a separate program entirely, one where if you had it you still had to apply separately to Global Entry. Good to know it combines three programs instead.)

       
      Reply
  2. Annie Annie

    Jessica — I’m so glad this was helpful! It is really confusing trying to sort these out. The way I look at it, I might as well get SENTRI so I at least have the option of using it! And I’m glad I’m not giving anything up 🙂

     
    Reply

Leave a Reply