The US Global Entry has been in the news lately, with the Trump administration deciding that New York residents are no longer eligible. Well, as New Yorkers say: fuhgeddaboutit. There’s a little-known other option in town for US and Canadian passport-holders with either a B1 or B2 visa, an app called Mobile Passport, and it’s not only free – it’s fantastic.
The basic trick is that you download an app to your phone, enter all those details from your landing card onto it before you get to the immigration line, take a selfie, submit it online after the plane lands, and then slip straight through into the Mobile Passport line, showing the QR barcode on your phone to the officer.
If, based on your experience of dealing with US Customs and Border Protection, that sounds a little too easy and a little too free, I hear you, but I swear it’s worked every time for me.
There’s an app for both iPhones and Androids, and it’s entirely free. If you’re a regular enough traveller that you’re considering the paid “plus” membership of either US$4.99 a month or $14.99 a year, to be honest, you may well be better off getting Global Entry. (Unless you’re a New Yorker. Womp womp.) All the “plus” scheme really gets you is the ability to machine-scan your passport data and to keep your data in your phone rather than tapping it in every time you travel.
(The exception to that might be if you have a really big family: you can keep up to 12 profiles for family members and submit them all at once with the app, so that might well be worth forking out the cash for if you have a few trips planned.)
The only trick for most passengers is that the profile you create wipes your data after four hours unless you’re a paid user. The official advice from the feds is that you should submit it after arrival, which probably means using your data plan, since airport Wi-Fi is pretty ropey in arrivals.
Since it works at 27 airports (and four seaports!) from Boston to San Diego, Seattle to San Juan and beyond, it’s a great one to keep on your phone regardless. Depending on the airport, sometimes the lines for Mobile Passport are a little hidden, so keep your eyes peeled and wait for the person yelling at people to get into the right line to take a breath and ask them.
Then just breeze by the long, long lines and try not to look smug.
Aviation journalist John Walton writes regularly on travel for Lonely Planet.