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Yes, the airports seem to be more crowded than ever. But that doesn't mean you must endure long lines on your next journey. TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are two stellar programs the U.S. government has introduced to help streamline your way through an airport. By offering to expedite security and immigration procedures, these programs promise a smoother travel experience for domestic and international travelers. TSA Precheck and Global Entry target two different parts of the airport experience. 

With TSA PreCheck, domestic travelers can breeze through designated security checkpoints without removing shoes, belts and laptops. Meanwhile, Global Entry takes it a step further by offering expedited customs and immigration processing for international travelers returning to the United States. One can argue that the two programs go hand-in-hand, and that’s precisely true. In fact, those who get approved for Global Entry are automatically enrolled in TSA PreCheck.

Still, many consumers are confused about these two programs and wondering whether they’re worth signing up for. After all, each program has a different application fee, and not everyone needs the perks associated with each program. Fortunately, savvy travelers can leverage travel rewards credit cards to offset or entirely cover these expenses, making these programs even more attractive. So, how do TSA PreCheck and Global Entry stack up against each other? And which program is a better fit for your travel needs? 

In this article, we'll explore how trusted traveler programs work and how you can make the most of rewards credit cards to make your travel experiences smoother and more cost-effective.

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Coast through security with TSA PreCheck
Coast through security with TSA PreCheck © AzmanL / Getty

What is TSA PreCheck?

PreCheck is a trusted traveler program run by the Transportation Security Administration that expedites the airport security screening process for eligible travelers. Approved passengers can access a designated security lane to keep their shoes, belts and light jackets on and leave laptops and liquids in their carry-on bags. TSA Precheck is available at more than 200 airports across the United States, making it accessible to a vast number of travelers and expediting the security process for many.

Best for: Travelers who want expedited security screenings at a vast network of U.S. airports.

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How to apply for TSA PreCheck

To qualify for TSA PreCheck, travelers must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or lawful permanent residents. The application process involves filling out an online application, scheduling an in-person appointment at an enrollment center for a background check, fingerprinting and paying a non-refundable $78 fee. 

Once approved, your membership will be valid for five years. You’ll receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) to enter when making airline reservations. Your boarding pass will have a PreCheck designation, allowing you to use the designated security lane. 

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The PreCheck lane at over 200 US airports
Access to the PreCheck lane will help speed you through the security process at most U.S. airports © Joe Raedle / Getty

Credit cards that cover TSA PreCheck application fees

Several popular credit cards reimburse the TSA PreCheck application fee as a cardholder perk. These include the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Generally, these credits give you a choice between an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

Here’s a list of all the credit cards that cover TSA PreCheck application fees:

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Global Entry sign
Once you have Global Entry, head to one of the kiosks for expedited processing © Clint Henderson / The Points Guy

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that expedites the entry process for pre-approved international travelers arriving in the United States. It provides travelers a faster and more efficient way to clear immigration and customs checkpoints at major U.S. airports. Global Entry members can use automated kiosks at select airports when returning to the United States, helping to reduce wait times and streamline the travel experience.

Global Entry members get automatically enrolled in TSA PreCheck for expedited airport security. Since there’s just a $22 difference between PreCheck and Global Entry, it’s worth the splurge to go with the latter. 

In addition, Global Entry members get access to the SmartGates system when entering Australia and New Zealand. In addition, U.S. citizens approved for Global Entry are eligible to apply for the Dutch Privium program, the Korean SES program, Panama's Global Pass, Taiwan's e-Gate, Germany's EasyPASS or the Mexican Viajero Confiable program for expedited entry.

Best for: Travelers who want access to expedited immigration and customs checkpoints, plus TSA PreCheck benefits.

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How to apply for Global Entry

Global Entry is open to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and lawful permanent residents, as well as citizens of certain countries:

  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Bahrain
  • Colombia
  • Germany
  • India
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • The Netherlands
  • United Kingdom

Applying for Global Entry involves completing an online application and paying a $100 fee. Once your application is conditionally approved, you'll be invited to schedule an in-person interview at an enrollment center where your fingerprints will be taken and your identity documents verified. 

Upon approval, you’ll receive a Trusted Traveler Number (TTN) and your membership will be valid for five years. Upon landing at a U.S. airport, Global Entry can head to the dedicated Global Entry kiosk, scan their passport or permanent resident card, provide fingerprint verification if requested, answer any customs declaration questions on the screen, grab your receipt and proceed toward passport control for a quick review.

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Global Entry credit cards
If you find yourself frequently traveling internationally, you should consider upgrading your experience with a credit card that covers Global Entry © filadendron / Getty

Credit cards that cover Global Entry application fees

Many top rewards credit cards offer up to $100 towards Global Entry application fee credits every four years. These cards typically give you a choice between a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit. Since PreCheck is included with Global Entry, it makes more sense to apply for the latter. That way, you get two trusted traveler programs for the price of one. 

Here’s a list of credit cards that cover Global Entry application fees every four years:

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Comparison between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are both trusted traveler programs offered by the US government to expedite the security and customs process for travelers. While they share some similarities, they serve different purposes. TSA PreCheck provides expedited security screenings at domestic U.S. airports. Meanwhile, Global Entry offers expedited customs and immigration clearance when entering the United States. 

Global Entry costs $100 for five years and members are automatically enrolled in TSA PreCheck, while PreCheck costs $78. PreCheck is designed for domestic travelers, while Global Entry is especially useful for international travelers.

You’ll automatically be enrolled in TSA PreCheck if approved for Global Entry. Using your credit towards Global Entry can make sense, since it costs just $22 more and includes enrollment in both programs. Additionally, approval for Global Entry opens the door for applying for trusted traveler programs in Germany, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Panama and Taiwan.

However, if you don’t travel internationally, then you may want to stick with TSA PreCheck.

TSA PreCheck

  • Fee: $78 for five years
  • Expedited security screening: Yes
  • Expedited customs and border control check: No
  • Requires background check: Yes
  • Requires fingerprinting: Yes
  • Requires an interview: Yes
  • Requires a valid passport: No
  • Best for: Travelers who want expedited security screenings at a vast network of U.S. airports.

Global Entry

  • Fee: $100 for five years
  • Expedited security screening: Yes (Includes TSA PreCheck)
  • Expedited customs and border control check: Yes
  • Requires background check: Yes
  • Requires fingerprinting: Yes
  • Requires an interview: Yes
  • Requires a valid passport: Yes
  • Best for:Travelers who want to access expedited immigration and customs checkpoints, plus TSA PreCheck benefits.

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Other Trusted Traveler Programs

TSA PreCheck and Global Entry aren’t the only trusted traveler programs. Others include NEXUS and Clear, which may be a better fit depending on your travel habits. Here’s how these programs are different:

NEXUS

NEXUS is a trusted traveler program that offers similar benefits to Global Entry but at a lower cost of $50. With NEXUS, you get all the perks of TSA PreCheck and Global Entry when flying within the United States and access to NEXUS kiosks in Canadian airports.

This means expedited security screenings on both sides of the border. Additionally, NEXUS members enjoy dedicated lanes at land border crossings, making traveling between the U.S. and Canada by car or foot even easier.

To be eligible for NEXUS, you must be citizens or lawful permanent residents of the U.S. or Canada. The program is also open to Mexican nationals who are members of the Viajero Confiable trusted traveler program. 

Since NEXUS is cheaper than PreCheck and Global Entry and includes enrollment in all three programs, it’s the best bang for your buck. Keep in mind that the application is more rigorous, requiring approval from two different governments.

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Airport security at a busy international airport with Clear
Orlando, FL/USA-8/22/19: Airport security at a busy international airport with Clear, TSA precheck ... © Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock

CLEAR

CLEAR is a prescreening program that confirms a traveler's identity using biometrics at over 50 U.S. airports and stadiums. At $189 per year, membership is more expensive than other trusted traveler programs. While CLEAR does not qualify for TSA PreCheck screening, it can be used with TSA PreCheck for a faster airport experience. 

The American Express® Green Card* and The Platinum Card® from American Express* are one of several credit cards offering up to $189 per year in statement credit for CLEAR membership fees. Additionally, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines offer free and discounted CLEAR memberships.

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Which should you apply for: TSA PreCheck or Global Entry?

When deciding between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, it’s important to consider your travel needs and preferences. Global Entry is ideal for international travelers since it can speed up the entry process upon their return while providing expedited PreCheck security access on the outbound. Global Entry is an excellent value since you get multiple trusted traveler programs for just $22 more than the cost of PreCheck.

So, does it make sense for everyone to apply for Global Entry? Not necessarily. If you’re primarily a domestic traveler and don’t plan on flying abroad in the next five years, then having TSA PreCheck will suffice. TSA PreCheck is undoubtedly valuable for domestic travelers, making the security process much less of a hassle. 

Global Entry also requires you to have a valid passport. So, if you can’t get one at the moment, then you might want to stick to TSA PreCheck. Accepted identification forms for PreCheck include a Permanent Resident Card, an Enhanced Diver’s License or valid photo ID.

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FAQ

Is Global Entry worth it if you already have TSA PreCheck?

Global Entry is worth it if you already have TSA PreCheck, as it includes TSA PreCheck benefits along with expedited customs and immigration clearance when entering the United States, making it a more comprehensive and time-saving option for frequent international travelers.

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How long does it take to get approved for Global Entry?

The approval process for Global Entry typically takes a few weeks to a few months, but it can vary depending on factors like the volume of applications and the thoroughness of your background check.

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Does my TSA PreCheck expire at the same time as Global Entry?

TSA PreCheck and Global Entry have different expiration dates. TSA PreCheck is typically valid for five years, while Global Entry is also valid for five years but on a different renewal cycle, so they may not expire at the same time unless you renew them simultaneously.

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Can anyone apply for these programs?

While these programs are primarily for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, citizens of select foreign countries can apply for Global Entry. You may be disqualified from both programs if you have a criminal record. 

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Can I upgrade TSA PreCheck to Global Entry?

It’s not possible to upgrade your TSA PreCheck membership to Global Entry. Both programs require an application and interview process. If you already have TSA PreCheck, you have to apply for Global Entry and pay a separate fee. But if you have Global Entry, you will automatically be enrolled in TSA PreCheck.

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* Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions, and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company. 

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

This article was first published Oct 20, 2023 and updated Jan 22, 2024.

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