Fingerprints? Background checks? Is clearing customs faster the way of the future? T+L looks into the newest program—Global Entry.

On an otherwise uneventful afternoon several months ago, I sat face-to-face with a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at JFK International Airport, where I was photographed, fingerprinted, and questioned about my past. At the same time, the FBI was conducting a background check on me. (That little incident back in college wasn’t technically an arrest, was it?) I submitted to this scrutiny voluntarily—and I paid $100 for the privilege.

That’s what it takes right now to become a Trusted Traveler. Global Entry, part of an initiative introduced by the Department of Homeland Security in June 2008, aims to shorten the time required for U.S. citizens and permanent residents to clear customs and immigration upon re-entry. Besides Global Entry, the Trusted Traveler programs include Nexus, for those crossing the U.S.-Canada border, and sentri, for those driving or traveling by boat between Mexico and the United States.

As with the now defunct programs run by private companies under the auspices of the Transportation Security Administration (Clear, Preferred Traveler, and RtGO), some are suspicious of Trusted Traveler. Many argue that these programs reduce security, giving potential terrorists a loophole that lets them pay $100 for less scrutiny.

But the Trusted Traveler programs, if anything, require travelers to provide more personal information than would be available to a customs agent. Here’s how it works: Global Entry allows you to bypass customs lines by completing a self-check using an automated kiosk. Swipe your passport, pose for a quick head shot, scan the fingers of your right hand, answer a couple of basic questions on the touch screen, and you’re done.

Global Entry began at seven major U.S. international airports and, in late August of this year, expanded to include the top 20 busiest airports for overseas travel. (For a list of participating airports go to A reciprocal arrangement with the Netherlands is in the works, and the CBP is in discussions with the United Kingdom and Germany to do the same.

My one-on-one at the CBP office turned out to be painless. The FBI background check was completed in 10 minutes (no red flags raised), and I was out the door in less than 30 minutes. The real test comes next month when I return from Dubai. Check out future columns for updates on these and other programs designed to help you travel smarter.

Trusted Traveler Programs

  • Global Entry Expedites immigration and customs at 20 U.S. international airports.
  • Nexus Speeds customs checks for travel by air, land, and sea between the U.S. and Canada. Available at 16 border crossings, eight Canadian airports, and 33 marine reporting stations.
  • SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection): A U.S.-Mexico border-crossing program serving the nine largest points of entry.

For more details, go to