Traveling has always come with complications. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.
Six months may feel like an eternity, but you’re still within Customs and Border Protection’s current processing time estimate for Global Entry. Its Trusted Traveler program website says that, although applications can be processed in just days, they can also take as long as four to six months due to a high volume of applications.
In fact, a CBP spokesperson told me the agency is dealing with an all-time high number of applications for membership in the Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.
For those who aren’t familiar with Global Entry, the service lets you skip the standard customs and immigration line when flying into the United States from abroad. Travelers apply online and wait for conditional approval. Once approved, you must complete an in-person interview with a CBP officer at an airport and have your photo and fingerprints taken. The service costs $100, includes a TSA PreCheck membership and is valid for five years.
About 1.9 million applicants have enrolled since October, and an additional 2 million members are expected to enroll by the end of the fiscal year. The previous record for enrollments in a single fiscal year was about 2.65 million in 2022.
I asked around to see what other travel experts have been hearing on wait times. James Ferrara, co-founder and president of InteleTravel, said that the company’s clients are experiencing delays with “not only Global Entry but passports and other related services,” and that the surging demand for international travel is to blame.
“Summer is going to break records again this year,” Ferrara said. “We don’t even refer to this anymore as pent-up demand. This is the new normal.”
Jen Moyse, vice president of product for the travel app TripIt, said the company doesn’t have data on processing times for clients, but anecdotally, “absolutely, we’re seeing lots of delays,” she said. “And there does not appear to be a timeline that’s dependable.”
Processing times appear to be “sporadic to slow,” Moyse said, both for new applications and renewals. “I’ve personally heard everything from a couple of weeks to get an application processed to waiting five months and still not seeing a turn.”
Vlad Verba created the Global Entry appointment alerts Twitter account and an SMS service that lets people know about open interview appointments. He says he’s heard that the conditional approval process is taking longer due to short staffing. From what he’s read and been told by customers, some applicants have been approved within 48 hours. “Other people say it took them longer — months,” he said. “The disparity is sort of frustrating, because you don’t know the reasoning for it.”
The CBP spokesperson told me that wait times for interviews can vary by traveler. If more information from an applicant is needed, that can delay approval.
Ferrara says there’s no way of hurrying things along. You could try contacting CBP, but there’s no expedited processing options for Global Entry, like there are for passports, which are also severely delayed again. So you’ll just have to keep waiting.
Once you are approved, be prepared for a long wait to get the required in-person interview, although you may be able to do a remote interview through a pilot program for renewal applications.
“It can take 18 months to be able to get an interview,” Ferrara said. “That’s really ironic, because the whole program is sold as, ‘Less hassle, avoid waiting on line, speed your way,’ and here we are.”
Appointment availability varies based on the enrollment center location and demand. CPB releases new appointment slots through its TTP dashboard on the first Monday of every month by 9 a.m. local time.
The agency says it’s better for most travelers to skip trying to get an appointment altogether and do “Enrollment on Arrival” if you have upcoming international travel. When flying back into the United States, conditionally approved travelers can follow signs for “Enrollment on Arrival” lanes and ask to finish their interview during the admissibility inspection. You’ll need to have a valid passport, proof of residency in the United States (such as your driver’s license if the address is current, a mortgage or rent payment statement, or a utility bill) or a permanent resident card.
As for the grace period, CBP says if you’ve submitted a renewal application before your membership expires, you’ll be able to use Global Entry benefits after your expiration date. Ferrara also felt confident that you’d be fine with your pending renewal status. Print a copy of your pending renewal to show CBP officers at the airport in case they ask.
It’s not clear whether that extends to travelers who applied after their membership expired. In the event your TSA PreCheck doesn’t work, you could try using Clear to cut the line at airport security, which is another paid service.
Global Entry isn’t the only program that lets you skip long immigration lines when returning to the United States. Do yourself a favor and download the Mobile Passport Control app. It’s free to use, easy to download and the best open secret in travel. I have been a Global Entry member since 2019 and rarely use it, because the Mobile Passport line is always shorter.
For the future, you can apply to renew your Trusted Traveler program membership up to a year before it expires.
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