Earlier this year I took the plunge on getting Global Entry, the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) pre-screening that allows you to skip the customs line at most major U.S. airports when returning to the U.S. from abroad, and also includes TSA PreCheck. But I wish I hadn’t.
Why? Because the free service that I formerly used to skip the customs line, the CBP-approved Mobile Passport app, worked just as well—if not better, because you avoid the immense hassle of enrolling in Global Entry.
The Free Mobile Passport App vs. $100 Global Entry
After paying the $100 fee for Global Entry, struggling to schedule an approval interview thanks to packed enrollment centers across the country, waiting several months for that appointment, and trekking all the way to the airport for it, I finally have the service. Now, though, every time I use my Global Entry to get home, I begrudgingly note all the clever travelers around me toting their phone with the free Mobile Passport app lit up.
If your home airport is one of the 24 major air hubs serviced by the Mobile Passport app, do yourself a favor and skip the long, irritating process of getting Global Entry. The only thing that was efficient about the process was how quickly CBP was able to process my nonrefundable $100.
And if you’re unable to schedule a Global Entry interview appointment in the six months following your preapproval (though the appointment itself can be farther out than six months), your application could be canceled, meaning you’ll have to start the process all over again.
To its credit, CBP has been attempting to alleviate wait times by adding enrollment centers outside of airports and allowing for “Global Entry enrollment on arrival” in an effort to finalize pre-approval for those who have a homeward journey before their appointment. But I tried to do this myself during the six months I was waiting for an appointment, and was greeted with annoyance and a hard “no” when I asked CBP agents at Boston Logan International Airport about it. I guess the $100 doesn’t include much customer service.
How to Use the Mobile Passport App
The Mobile Passport app is easy and completely free to use upon returning home from abroad. All users have to do is pull up the app when they arrive at the participating airport, input the usual answers to a few customs questions, snap a selfie, and submit the form. It’ll arrive electronically at the CBP checkpoint before you do, so you can skip the long customs lines (follow the signs for Mobile Passport, usually paired with the Global Entry line) and flash your Mobile Passport confirmation to the agent.
I travel internationally pretty often, so the Mobile Passport app helped me stay sane in the several months I waited for Global Entry. Think of filling out the app as something to do while the plane taxis and your fellow seatmates stand in the aisles with their suitcase for 10 minutes waiting for the plane door to open. Or you can fill it out before your flight and simply hit send when your plane lands. The only feasible reason not to use the Mobile Passport app is if the airport doesn’t accept it, or if you don’t have a smartphone.
Now that I know what I paid for was just a long approval process, I doubt I’ll be renewing my Global Entry when it expires in five years. I’ll likely just want the TSA PreCheck.
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SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram at @shanmcmahon.