Global Entry vs TSA PreCheck: The Difference and How to Choose the Right One For You

applying for global entry tsa precheck

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If you are a frequent traveler and don’t already have either, then both subjects of this post are going to be of high interest to you! Even if you aren’t a frequent traveler, this is still very helpful info to have and, in my opinion, both pay for themselves on the first flight!

The post 9/11 world has made air travel somewhat of a hassle. Security is priceless, but nonetheless, it doesn’t make air travel the easiest of experiences. However, there are programs out there such as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry that make flying these days so much easier!

What are TSA PreCheck and Global Entry and what is the difference between the two?

applying for global entry tsa precheck

It can definitely get confusing, but essentially, TSA PreCheck allows you to go through a separate security line at participating US airports without having to remove your jacket, shoes, liquids or laptop! Global Entry, in a nutshell, allows you expedited entry when returning to the US without having to wait in that long line. I will discuss both in greater detail below.

Now that you know what they are, which one do you need and do you need both?

applying for global entry tsa precheck

If you only fly domestically and have no plans to travel internationally (whether by plane, car or cruise ship) within the next 5 years, then you should just apply for TSA PreCheck.

However, if there is a possibility that you will leave the country in one of the aforementioned ways even just once, I would recommend getting Global Entry. The reason for this is that Global Entry only costs $15 more and with it, you are eligible for TSA PreCheck!

Note: Having Global Entry only means you are TSA PreCheck eligible and does not mean you will be selected for PreCheck every time. I have Global Entry and have personally been selected 100% of the time, but I fly a lot. I have read the more you fly, the better your selection chances are, although I do not know whether or not this is correct.

Update: I found on the TSA blog that if you are enrolled in a trusted traveler program (including TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, NEXUS, and/or Sentri) you will you get TSA PreCheck consistently. This page has a lot of good updated information. I highly suggest reading through it!

The process for getting either one is very similar as they are both trusted traveler programs. TSA PreCheck is through the Department of Homeland Security and Global Entry is through Customs and Border Protection.

TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck Eligibility

You must be a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident who is not on any terrorist or no-fly watch lists and has not been convicted of a criminal offense. For a full list of eligibility requirements for TSA PreCheck, click here.

Applying for TSA PreCheck

applying for global entry tsa precheck

1. You can apply either by pre-enrolling online or going directly to an application center. Online is the recommended option as you could encounter long waits as a “walk-in” to an application center.

2. Fill out an online application. You will also pay the nonrefundable $85 fee during this process.

3. Schedule an appointment online by clicking here or you can also schedule by phone.

4. Arrive at your appointment with the required documents. If you are a US citizen, this means a valid, unexpired passport OR an unexpired drivers license AND a certified copy of your birth certificate. For a full list of acceptable required documents, click here.

5. During your appointment, you will be interviewed and your fingerprints will be taken. You will then be advised as to when you should receive your KTN or Known Traveler Number in the mail. It’s usually around 2-3 weeks. You can check the status of your application at anytime.

Using TSA PreCheck

applying for global entry tsa precheck

1. Once you receive your KTN, make sure you put it on your airline reservations in the box for KTN or Known Traveler Number. DO NOT put it in the Redress box! You can do this online (usually in your airline’s frequent flyer profile section) or you can call the airline directly to add it to your reservation.

Note: Keep in mind that not all airlines participate in the TSA PreCheck program. Click here for a list of participating airlines.

Additionally, don’t automatically assume that once you put it on your airline profile, it’s saved forever. ALWAYS check each time you make a reservation to be sure it is in your profile and saved to each individual reservation.

An even better idea is to re-enter it for each new reservation because it doesn’t always automatically transfer. It also doesn’t work for previously booked reservations to save it to your profile. You must go back and manually enter it in.

If you are booking through a third party, don’t assume your profile section will add it. Tell the third party to put it on your reservation, but the best thing to do is to call the airline and give it to them directly. As always, if you have any questions or uncertainty about this, call your airline.

applying for global entry tsa precheck

2. At the airport, once you receive your boarding pass, make sure it says TSA PreCheck. If it does not, inform an airline representative at the desk to see if they can resolve this. Some airlines will add it on the day of travel and others aren’t able to amend it within 72 hours of departure.

3. Most airports have separate lanes for TSA PreCheck. Those participating airports that don’t have separate lanes will issue you a pass to give to the agent once you get up to the X-ray machines. While you will be in the same line as everyone else, the pass card will let the agent know you have TSA PreCheck and therefore will allow you to proceed as you would in an actual TSA PreCheck lane.

4. Also, if you are arriving back into the US after an international flight, there usually is no TSA PreCheck when going back through security after rechecking your bags. There is sometimes a priority lane for first/business class passengers or status airline passengers, but all lanes have to go through the regular security screening even if you have TSA PreCheck.

applying for global entry tsa precheck

5. Even though this really isn’t a step for PreCheck, I feel as though I need to add it as such. Remember that TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program. Don’t abuse it. You still need to have your liquids in a quart-sized (or smaller) zip lock bag. They need to be where you can reach them should you have to take them out. I have been through the PreCheck line on days where they are requiring passengers to take liquids out of carry-ons. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Have your laptop ready to take out too. Having TSA PreCheck doesn’t mean you are above the rules. It’s quite the opposite. It means they trust you to follow the rules!! 😉


Global Entry

Global Entry Eligibility

Eligibility for Global Entry is similar to TSA PreCheck, but in addition, citizens from a few other countries can also apply. Be sure to read the full list of eligibility requirements (including if your country qualifies for eligibility if you are not a US citizen).

Applying for Global Entry

applying for global entry tsa precheck

1.  Create a GOES (Global Online Enrollment System) account. Yes, you must have one. Yes your 2-year-old child has to have one. Age doesn’t matter. Each individual must have his or her own GOES account. See how to apply for Global Entry if you are from one of these countries with which the US has agreements.

2. From here, you can log in to your new GOES account and fill out the online application. Here is where you will also pay the $100 non-refundable fee.

3. Your application will be reviewed and if initially approved, you will get a notification in your GOES account directing you to make an appointment for an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Just like each person has to have their own GOES account, each also has to have their own, separate appointment time.

4. You must bring your valid passport (or passports if you have more than one) with you to the interview along with another form of identification like your driver’s license or ID card. If you are a lawful permanent resident, bring your permanent resident card (machine-readable). Also, you must bring a copy of your conditional approval letter which you can print from your GOES account.

5. You will be advised when your Global Entry card and Known Traveler Number will arrive. It usually takes 2-3 weeks. TIP: If you are traveling sooner than this timeframe, ask if they will give you your number at your interview. I was traveling sooner than the given timeframe so I asked for my number and they gave it to me.

Using Global Entry

applying for global entry tsa precheck

1. There will be a Global Entry sign directing you to the kiosks. Also, there is usually an employee directing Global Entry members to the kiosks.

2. At the kiosk, scan your passport and follow the prompted directions. This entails confirming your flight arrival information, looking up at the camera for your photo, scanning your fingerprints, and answering the declaration questions. Once you are through all of this, it will print out your slip.

applying for global entry tsa precheck

3. Take the slip along with your passport to the dedicated Global Entry line. Be sure to wait until an officer instructs you to approach the window.

Note: With Global Entry, you will receive a card. This card is NOT needed unless you are entering the US via land or sea. See how to activate this card and when to use it.

Global Entry is good for 5 years. For renewal instructions, click here.

That’s it! You will be thanking yourself a million times over if you travel outside the US more than once per year. In my opinion, it’s worth it if you travel outside the US only once per year!

I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten off the plane, seen the incredibly long lines, breezed through with Global Entry and gotten all my friends’ luggage off the carousel and still waited on them! Even better was breezing through and having plenty of time to grab a bite or unwind in the lounge when traveling alone before my next flight!

Hope this helps you decide which program is right for you. Watch for my post on renewing a US passport in person coming soon!

‘Til next time…

Trimm Travels,


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