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TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and Clear: What’s the Distinction?

TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and Clear: What's the Distinction?

Uncertain about the disparities among these trusted traveler programs? You're not alone. No one relishes wasting time in lengthy airport queues, especially when an exciting vacation awaits at the other end. Thankfully, there are programs like TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and Clear that can help travelers save precious time and reduce airport hassles. Prior to takeoff, both TSA PreCheck and Clear facilitate a faster passage through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security lines. After landing, Global Entry expedites the checks at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) international checkpoints. All three programs offer dedicated lanes, where available.

If you're still uncertain about the distinctions between TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and Clear, read on for a comprehensive overview of each program.

How do TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and Clear differ? TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and Clear are all expedited screening programs that help you navigate U.S. airport security checkpoints more swiftly. The primary distinction lies in the fact that TSA PreCheck and Clear streamline the initial TSA security screening, while Global Entry accelerates the customs process upon your return to the USA from an international destination. Global Entry requires a $100 fee and includes TSA PreCheck, while TSA PreCheck alone costs $78 (with a $70 renewal fee). Both fees are often reimbursed or covered by travel credit cards, and both programs are valid for five years.

Clear, which relies on biometric technology for pre-verified ID checks, enables travelers to proceed directly to baggage screening at TSA checkpoints (though TSA PreCheck is still required to bypass the general security line entirely). Clear is also available at various U.S. stadiums and event venues, such as Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Citi Field in New York City, extending its membership benefits beyond the airport. Clear costs $189 per year, and with the right credit card or frequent flier affiliation, you can obtain a free or heavily discounted annual membership.

If you're unsure which program to choose, we recommend applying for Global Entry, as you can enroll in TSA PreCheck simultaneously for an additional $22, effectively bundling both programs. The only downside is that securing appointment times for Global Entry application interviews at larger, busier airports can be challenging. In contrast, interview appointments for Global Entry at smaller airports or for TSA PreCheck only are typically more readily available.

For frequent travelers whose home airport offers Clear, it's worth signing up for this program in addition to Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, especially if you've noticed TSA PreCheck lines becoming longer due to increasing program participation.

TSA PreCheck Overview First introduced in 2013, TSA PreCheck serves as a method to pre-screen travelers before they reach the airport, granting them access to expedited screening through security lanes at over 200 airports. In TSA PreCheck lines, there's no need to remove your shoes, belt, or lightweight jacket. Liquids and electronics, like tablets, large cameras, and laptops, can remain in your bag, saving time and inconvenience. Children aged 17 and under can also use the expedited line when accompanied by a guardian with TSA PreCheck.

How to Obtain TSA PreCheck To apply for a new TSA PreCheck membership, travelers must undergo a background screening and pay a $78 fee for five years of membership. The online renewal fee is now only $70. Several low-fee credit cards, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card and Aeroplan credit card, offer refunds for the application fee, provided you use the card for payment. This is typically an annual benefit, and after using it for yourself in the first year, you can cover a friend or family member's application fee using your card to have it waived.

Numerous global enrollment centers, most commonly found at airports, make the fee worthwhile for frequent travelers, given the shorter lines and streamlined screening process.

How TSA PreCheck Operates Once enrolled, you will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) that verifies your TSA PreCheck approval status. You can add the KTN to your frequent flyer accounts to ensure it is applied every time you purchase an airline ticket. Alternatively, you can input your KTN during the checkout process.

Most domestic airlines and an increasing number of international carriers participate in this program, although it only applies to flights within or departing from the United States. (However, in 2022, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced the opening of its first TSA PreCheck location outside of the United States at Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau, Bahamas.) If your KTN has been successfully added, the TSA PreCheck logo will appear on your boarding pass, indicating your eligibility for expedited screening via the PreCheck line at airport security.

If you've been approved for PreCheck but don't see it on your boarding pass, you can ask an airline agent to re-enter your KTN or double-check that it has been entered through your airline's app. Sometimes, the number may not "stick" when the airline reservation is made.

Renewing TSA PreCheck After five years, you can renew TSA PreCheck online by completing a form and paying the $70 renewal fee online, ideally with a credit card that offers reimbursement. Members will receive a notification when their KTN is approaching expiration, but you can also check your status online by submitting a Service Status form.

Global Entry Overview Global Entry is designed to expedite re-entry into the United States for international travelers by speeding up the customs clearance process. It is available at more than 50 U.S. airports, costs $100 to apply, and is valid for five years.

If approved, Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck at no additional cost, eliminating the need for a separate application. Everyone with Global Entry also receives TSA PreCheck, but not all TSA PreCheck participants qualify for Global Entry. Similar to TSA PreCheck, many credit cards offer fee waivers to cover the Global Entry application fee.

How to Obtain Global Entry Global Entry involves a comprehensive application process that includes a background check and an in-person interview after preliminary approval. To schedule an in-person interview, you can book an appointment online, although many airports are currently experiencing lengthy delays, and the next available appointment may be months away. Individuals conditionally approved, however, can save time by using the "enrollment on arrival" program, which provides a walk-in appointment after landing in an international terminal at a participating airport.

Even after completing all the required steps, not everyone will be approved for the program. Individuals with a criminal history, for instance, may not be eligible for Global Entry. All Global Entry members must adhere to the rules and regulations of international travel, including being aware of what items they are permitted to bring back to the country. Minor infractions, such as failing to declare a piece of fruit when re-entering the United States, could result in the loss of Global Entry.

How Global Entry Functions Travelers scan their passports at kiosks and bypass regular U.S. Customs and Border Protection lines upon entering the United States. This process is facilitated by biometric facial scans (and sometimes answering questions at a Global Entry kiosk, depending on the airport). As a result, travelers can avoid longer queues during the customs process and typically do not need to interact with an immigration officer.

Renewing Global Entry Travelers can renew Global Entry online starting one year before its expiration. Some individuals may need to undergo a second interview.

Due to a backlog of new and renewal applications, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is currently offering a two-year grace period for travelers whose Global Entry has expired. As long as you submit your renewal application before it expires, the extension will allow you to use Global Entry for an additional two years beyond its expiration date.

Clear Overview In addition to TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, there are other noteworthy expedited screening options, including Clear. This program is available at more than 50 domestic airports, stadiums, and other venues. Instead of presenting identification at the security checkpoint, dedicated kiosks at participating airports employ facial recognition and fingerprint scans. Consequently, you do not need to display any identification while navigating the airport, although it's advisable to carry it as a backup.

How to Obtain Clear The straightforward Clear application process involves registering your fingerprints and iris (for the facial scan), along with your government-issued identification. You can complete the registration online or at an enrollment center, often situated at airports and other locations. Once your biometrics are in the system, you can start using the program on the same day. Clear costs $189 per year.

How Clear Operates Once the machine confirms your identity by matching it with your boarding pass, a Clear agent will escort you to the front of the security line. If you also possess TSA PreCheck, you can take advantage of expedited TSA screening (keeping your shoes, belt, and lightweight jacket on). However, if you don't have TSA PreCheck, you will undergo the standard security procedure after bypassing the line.

Mobile Passport Overview If you are not eligible for Global Entry or simply prefer to avoid the cumbersome application process, Mobile Passport is a valuable, free app for expediting the customs clearance process at 30 U.S. airports and four seaports. In fact, at times, the lines for Mobile Passport at the immigration checkpoint are even shorter than those for Global Entry.

How to Obtain Mobile Passport There is no application process for signing up for Mobile Passport. You merely need to download the app (available for iOS and Android) and set up a profile, which you can do prior to your travel date.

How Mobile Passport Operates Upon arriving from an international flight, the app prompts you to answer standard customs questions and generates a unique QR code for you to scan when speaking with an immigration officer. All you need is a cellular or Wi-Fi connection to obtain the QR code upon landing, and the process typically takes about one minute.