What Is the Difference Between TSA Precheck and Global Entry?

Passengers walking in the airport terminal

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Flying can be stressful. The time it takes to check in and go through security lines can top an hour during the travel season at the nation's busiest terminals. Then once you're through, you've got to jostle with fellow passengers to get to your seat and find space for your bag in the overhead compartment. If you're returning to the U.S. from abroad, you can also expect long lines to get through customs and immigration.

One of the best ways to beat the stress of travel is to join one of the government's trusted traveler programs: TSA Precheck or Global Entry. One allows you to use faster security lines before your flight, while the other lets you access expedited customs and immigration processing lanes when returning to the U.S.

Read on to learn more about the difference between TSA Precheck and Global Entry, and why you might want to choose one program over the other.

What Is TSA Precheck?

TSA Precheck was launched in 2013 and allows travelers who are deemed low-risk by the Transportation Security Administration to use expedited security lines at certain airports.

Passengers with TSA Precheck can leave laptops and liquids (in approved containers) in their bags, and do not have to remove their shoes or belts when going through airport security. Travelers can now find TSA Precheck lanes at over 200 airports across the U.S., and a total of 73 airlines currently participate in the program.

According to the TSA, 94% of travelers who use TSA Precheck lanes experience wait times of five minutes or less. That's a lot of time saved, especially when the TSA considers the normal average wait time to be 30 minutes, and even longer during peak travel times.

Eligibility: You must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or legal permanent resident of the United States to be eligible for TSA Precheck. There are no age requirements, but children 12 and under can use Precheck lanes when traveling with a parent or guardian who is a member.

Applying: If you meet those requirements, you can fill out an online application, which asks for personal information like your date and location of birth, current address, height, weight and eye color, among other questions. If you are conditionally approved, you will then need to schedule an in-person interview at one of the nearly 400 enrollment centers, many of which are located at airports. Time slots fill up fast, so be sure to book yours as soon as possible.

The interview itself should only take a few minutes. During the interview, a TSA agent will verify your information and require you to pay the $85 application fee, which you can do using credit card, debit card, money order, certified or cashiers check, or company check. After that, you will be notified in writing of your result, and if accepted, you will receive a Known Traveler Number.

Registering with airlines: Even after you are approved for TSA Precheck, you will not automatically get to use the designated security lanes when flying. You must first register your Known Traveler Number with any airlines you fly by logging into your frequent-flier accounts and adding it to your traveler profile. If it works, you should see the TSA Precheck logo on your boarding pass when you check in. If you do not, you can ask an airline agent at the airport to add your Known Traveler Number to your reservation.

Expiration and renewal: TSA Precheck membership is valid for five years. You can renew your membership online up to six months before it expires. You will have to pay the $85 application fee again and may be required to complete another in-person interview.

What Is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows travelers the U.S. government designates as low risk to use automated immigrations kiosks and expedited customs lines when returning to the U.S. from abroad. It is currently available at over 70 airports in the U.S. and a few international airports such as Abu Dhabi International and Toronto Pearson.

Eligibility: You can apply for Global Entry if you are a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent U.S. resident, or a citizen from a list of other approved countries that includes Argentina, Germany, Mexico, Singapore and Switzerland, among others.

Applying: To apply for Global Entry, you must create a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) profile online. Then you can fill out an online application, which will ask for information on where you have lived and traveled in the last five years, any criminal history and your physical characteristics. Applicants must pay a non-refundable $100 application fee at this point.

If you are conditionally approved, your next step will be to set up an in-person interview at one of the CBP's enrollment centers, many of which are at airports and border crossings. You can also enroll upon arrival at some facilities if you are traveling abroad. At your interview, you will be asked to verify your application information and present your valid passport and another form of identification with a proof of address, like a valid driver's license. The interview usually takes around 15 minutes, and if you are approved, you should get a Known Traveler Number at that point.

Expiration and renewal: Global Entry is good for five years, but you can renew it starting up to a year before expiration. You will need to reconfirm or update your personal information and then pay the $100 application fee again. At the moment, New York residents are not being approved for new or renewed membership.

Which One Should You Get?

You might think that if you only travel domestically, you would be better off just applying for TSA Precheck because it only costs $85 compared with $100 for Global Entry. However, the Global Entry program includes access to TSA Precheck benefits. So you might as well apply for Global Entry to get both expedited security screening and customs and immigration processing, especially if your credit card provides a statement credit that covers the application fee for either program.

Use a Credit Card to Get TSA Precheck or Global Entry Application Fee Credit

It costs $85 to apply for TSA Precheck and $100 to apply for Global Entry, regardless of whether you're ultimately approved. However, several travel rewards credit card issuers will issue a statement credit of up to $100 that covers the cost of applying for either program once every four or five years when you use your card to pay.

TSA Precheck saves travelers time and stress by giving them access to expedited airport security lanes. Global Entry is a great way to get through customs and immigration faster when entering the U.S. If you are trying to decide which of these two programs to apply for, consider going for Global Entry since members usually get TSA Precheck access, too, and there are several great travel rewards credit cards that will cover the $100 application fee.