Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, Nexus, Clear: understanding the differences

No one likes waiting in the security and passport control lines at airports, but there are a few ways to skip ahead of your fellow travelers. Programs like TSA PreCheck and Global Entry give you an expedited experience — for a cost. This is everything you need to know to determine which of the various options is right for you.

TSA PreCheck

What is it? Run by the Transportation Security Administration, TSA PreCheck is a program that expedites security screening at more than 200 U.S. airports and with over 90 airlines. When you have TSA PreCheck, you go through a separate line and can keep your shoes, belts and light jackets on and do not have to take liquids and laptops out of your bag. 

How do I get it? First, submit an application online, then visit an enrollment center to pay, get fingerprinted and photographed and have identifying documents checked. You can also walk into one of the enrollment centers to take care of the process in person. Once you are approved and receive a Known Traveler Number, you can add this to plane ticket reservations and access the TSA PreCheck lane at the airport. People with TSA PreCheck can also participate in tests of the TSA’s Screening at Speed (SaS) program, a security self-screening program.

Who is eligible? TSA PreCheck is open to U.S. citizens, nationals and lawful permanent residents, and you will have to prove that you meet these requirements. You also have to pass a criminal background check, and if you have terrorism, treason or murder on your record, you will be rejected. Children 12 and under can go through TSA PreCheck lanes with their enrolled parent or guardian.

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How much is it? For new enrollees, TSA PreCheck is $78 for five years. For renewals, it is $70 for five years when paid online and $78 for five years when paid in person.

Who is this best for? If you primarily travel domestically and only sporadically fly internationally. 

Global Entry

What is it? Global Entry is a program offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, with benefits including expedited clearance at eligible U.S. Customs locations and access to the TSA PreCheck security lane. 

How do I get it? First, create a Trusted Travelers Program account, and then fill out the application and pay a $100 non-refundable fee. Customs and Border Protection will review the application, and if it is conditionally approved, you will make an appointment for an interview at a Global Entry enrollment center. Plan far ahead, because it can take up to six months for approval. Global Entry applicants with conditional approval can also go through the interview process on arrival at designated U.S. airports. 

Who is eligible? U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, plus citizens of Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Colombia, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and Taiwan and Mexican nationals. You will have to pass a background check, just like when applying for TSA PreCheck.

How much is it? Global Entry costs $100 for five years.

Who is this best for? People who take several international trips a year.

Clear Plus

What is it? Clear Plus is an expedited security program operated by a private company. It is available at 56 U.S. airports, plus several stadiums. When you arrive at the airport, you go to a kiosk that uses biometrics to verify your identity, allowing you to skip the first security line where IDs are checked.

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How do I get it? After signing up online, you will go through the initial biometrics process the next time you are at a Clear airport, having your eyes and fingerprints scanned. Clear says this biometric data is encrypted and securely stored.

Who is eligible? U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents 18 and older, with valid ID.

How much is it? Clear Plus membership costs $189 a year.

Who is this best for? People who want to entirely avoid the airport ID security line.

NEXUS

What is it? NEXUS is a joint U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Canada Border Services Agency program that aims to make crossings between the two countries easier. At the airport, there are dedicated kiosks and lanes for NEXUS members to use, reducing wait times. 

How do I get it? Start by registering and submitting an application online. After that, you will schedule an interview at a NEXUS enrollment center. Applicants must pass background checks by both the U.S. and Canada in order to be approved. The processing time is between 12 and 14 months.

Who is eligible? U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, Canadian citizens and lawful permanent residents and Mexican nationals enrolled in the Viajero Confiable trusted traveler program. 

How much is it? $50 for five years.

Who is this best for? Frequent travelers between the U.S. and Canada.

Mobile Passport Control

What is it? This is an app through U.S. Customs and Border Protection that lets eligible travelers streamline their arrivals into the country. Users can submit their travel documents, photographs, and customs declarations electronically and do not have to fill out any paper forms. The app does not replace an actual passport. It can be used at 33 U.S. airports, four seaports of entry and some international airports, including Toronto Pearson International Airport and Dublin Airport.

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How do I get it? Download the app through the Apple App Store or Google Play, then create a profile with your passport or permanent resident card number. 

Who is eligible? U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents and Canadian B1/B2 citizen visitors.

How much is it? Free.

Who is this best for? Travelers who fly internationally and do not want to spend money on Global Entry.

One last thing…

Many travel credit cards, like Capital One Venture Rewards and Chase Sapphire Reserve, will reimburse you the application fee for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. These do have annual fees, but if you think you will take advantage of the other benefits, it could be worth it to apply.

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