Most well-traveled individuals are familiar with TSA pre-check and global entry and its benefits, but I am willing to be that not all of those individuals are familiar with pre-clearance. TSA pre-check is a program sponsored and managed by the Transportation and Safety Administration that vetted individuals to enjoy expedited security screening at various airports in the states. To enroll, individuals must pay a non-refundable fee of $85 and subject themselves to a background check and investigation prior to approval. Once approved, individuals will be issued a “known traveler number” (KTN) which the traveler will add to the profile of the airline carriers participating in the pre-check program. Travelers enjoy pre-check status for five (5) years before they have to re-apply and pay the enrollment fee again. The benefit of using this service is that you normally are not subject to lengthy security lines (except during peak travel times and when TSA pre-check is not operating during the early morning hours at some airports) and you do not have to remove your shoes, jackets, electronics, or liquids from your bags.
Global entry is similar to TSA pre-check with a few exceptions. The major difference is that global entry is used when individuals are re-entering the states from most foreign countries. Enrollment in the program is initiated online at which time you pay a non-refundable fee of $100 which initiates the background investigation process. Individuals will receive conditional approval at which time they must make an appointment to visit a Global Entry Enrollment Center to be interviewed, fingerprinted, have your identification documents verified, and complete the process. Upon approval, you can use the KTN provided to you to update your travel profile for participating carriers and enjoy the benefits for five years. It is important to note that enrollment in global entry automatically provides you with enrollment in TSA pre-check.
So, now what is this pre-clearance program? How is it different from the other two programs. Well, first of all, it isn’t a program that one enrolls in; pre-clearance is actually a service provided by the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). This service is not widely available like pre-check and global entry. In fact it is only offered at roughly 15 boarder entry points internationally in the following countries. Abu Dhabi, Aruba, Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, and Ireland. Basically, if you are departing one of the CBP pre-clearance locations, you will actually clear US customs and immigration while still on foreign soil. How is this possible? It is possible because the US government has entered into special agreements with the foreign countries where the pre-clearance facilities are operated. The benefits are that you do not have to wait in long customs and immigration lines once you re-enter the US. You can proceed directly to your connecting flight or simply go to baggage claim and get your bags and head home. Another benefit is that any items that you purchase from duty free can be carried on board the plane after purchase, even if you are connecting to another flight when you reach the US. The downside of pre-clearance is that you will endure approximately 4 or more check points at some locations when processing on foreign soil. So pack your patience and make sure you arrive at the airport at least 3 hours in advance to allow ample time for processing.
If you would like more details on the various programs, please visit the following sites: