The United States has one of the strictest airport security systems in the world. Whether you fly across, into, or out of the U.S, one thing is for certain. You will have to go through a number of rigorous screenings. This has been the bane of every traveler’s airport experience. Fortunately, there are now life-changing ways to speed up and save your time at airport security. So here are 4 faster ways for U.S passport holders to clear airport security and customs.
Also see Jenny In Wanderland article Before You Go Abroad
Airside Mobile Passport – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
Airside Mobile Passport is an authorized app that lets users electronically input their passport data and customs declaration when entering the United States. Its goal is to minimize passport control lines and inspection times at airports and cruise ports.
Travelers using the app do not have to use paper forms or an Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosk to submit information. Within the U.S, Mobile Passport users can bypass the regular Customs and Border Protection (CBP) lane and enter a faster-moving line for inspection.
Aside from U.S passport holders, Canadian passport holders with B1 or B2 visas entering U.S borders are eligible to download and use the app as well.
*The B1/B2 visa is issued to non-immigrants traveling to the U.S for the purpose of business or tourism.
See here for a list of major U.S airports and cruise ports where travelers can use the Mobile Passport app.
*Note: Mobile Passport speeds up CBP inspection, but does not replace your actual passport so be sure to keep it on hand.
How to Sign Up
One of the 4 faster ways for U.S passport holders to clear airport security, the Mobile Passport app is available on Google Play and the Apple App store. Depending on whether your phone is an iphone or an android, you can download the app from one of the two.
There are 2 versions of the app: Mobile Passport (free) and Mobile Passport plus (this service requires an annual $14.99 or monthly $4.99 subscription fee). When you download the app, Mobile Passport defaults to the free version, but you can upgrade it to plus with in-app purchases.
Both versions provide the same service, but there are differences worth considering. When submitting information through either version, you can expect the app to encrypt your data for security. They both allow group submissions (so traveling families can input information with the same device) and travelers bypass kiosks with specialized lanes.
Mobile Passport plus is able to scan multiple passports with a document scanner and remember information from past trips for future auto-filling. Unlike the regular Mobile Passport, plus is also ad-free.
How it Works – Mobile Passport – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
Setting Up the App
After downloading the Airside Mobile Passport app, you need to complete a profile for yourself. To set this up, the app will ask you to key in the information from your physical passport. In order to establish your profile, the app needs you to verify details about your person and travel plans. You can also create profiles for other members of your family on the same device.
*Note: When entering information, replace all hyphens and dashes with spaces instead. You can edit or delete passport profiles any time you want.
How to Use the App upon Arrival
When you arrive at a major U.S air or seaport, you will select your port of entry within the app, re-type your passport information, and upload a self-photo. Then Mobile Passport will prompt you to answer CBP inspection questions. After completing the questionnaire, you can use the app to submit your passport information and it answers directly to the CBP. (So make sure you are connected to Wi-Fi beforehand.)
The app encrypts your information so that only the CBP can see the submission. Mobile Passport will send you a QR code receipt within seconds, with the code valid for the next 4 hours.
Lastly, look for the designated Mobile Passport Control lines. Although Mobile Passport travelers still need to go through U.S customs upon arrival, they have specialized lanes for faster inspection. There should be signs telling app travelers where to go. When you reach the front of the line, show the CBP officer your physical passport and let them scan the QR code receipt. Then you can be on your way.
Global Entry – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
Global Entry is an official CBP program that provides faster clearance for pre-approved travelers entering the U.S. After passing a background check and an in person interview, travelers can become Global Entry members, listing them as low-risk and pre-approved for entry into the United States.
Once a member of Global Entry, you do not need to complete paperwork or line up at processing queues. Program members can skip inspection from human officers altogether. Global Entry members will instead check-in at a specialized Global Entry kiosk, massively reducing wait times for customs clearance. You will also be eligible to apply for TSA-Pre (see below).
U.S passport holders and lawful permanent residents are eligible for Global Entry membership. Passport holders from Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Panama, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan are also eligible.
See here for a list of airports with Global Entry kiosks.
How to Sign Up for Global Entry
Enrollment with the Global Entry program is essentially a two-part process.
- First, you have to open a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) account if you do not have one already.
- After logging into your account, select the Global Entry application among the list of programs.
- Read through and complete the application as accurately as possible.
- When you submit the application, it will charge you a $100 fee. This fee applies for each completed application and cannot be refunded.
- Once the application submits, the CBP needs to review it. If they give your application conditional approval, your TPP account will prompt you to arrange an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. You can only schedule an interview for one applicant at a time.
- After scheduling your interview with a Global Entry Enrollment Center, prepare your documents.
- Many interview sites are actually located in or near major airports. Some major cities have off-airport offices too.
- I was randomly selected for a pilot program which allowed me to do my interview via a live video online (comparable to Zoom) and I was approved. However, at this time the at home video program is still mostly non-existent.
- At the interview, you need to present your physical passport and another form of ID (Ex. your driver’s license). Lawful permanent residents can bring a permanent resident card (Ex. green card) instead.
- Interviewers will likely ask you why you want to be part of the Global Entry program, what your occupation is, if you have been in trouble with the CBP in the past, and so on.
- Be prepared to have your picture taken at the end of the interview. This photo will be on your Global Entry card once you have approval for membership.
*Pro tip: If using your U.S driver’s license as your main form of ID, the license must have a star emblem. The star verifies your ID, and allows you to travel by plane with the driver’s license as your main identification. If your license does not have the star, you need another form of valid ID, such as a passport.
Enrollment on Arrival (EoA)
Enrollment on Arrival (EoA) is an alternate way to receive your Global Entry interview without going to an enrollment center. This gives conditionally approved applicants the chance to have their interview directly after arriving in the U.S.
You will see signs at many international terminals guiding you to CPB officers who can conduct the interview with you. Again, you will need your passport (or permanent resident card) and proof of residency (such as a driver’s license or utility bill).
See a list of participating EoA airports here.
Renewal – Global Entry – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
Global Entry membership lasts for 5 years, so regular renewal is necessary. Members are able to start renewing one year before membership expiration.
*Pro Tip: You can still use Global Entry benefits for 6 months after your membership expires if the renewal does not finish processing in time for your next trip.
To renew your membership, log into your TPP account. From there, click on “manage membership,” then “renew application,” and update all necessary information in your personal profile. Afterwards, click on the CPB Trusted Programs List and select the Global Entry program. When the site prompts you to certify your renewal, click yes.
You will land in a shopping cart page for final review. After looking over everything, agree to fees and proceed to Make Payment. Like the official application, Global Entry renewal costs $100, non-refundable.
How it Works – Global Entry – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
You should receive your Global Entry membership card within a week following your interview approval. You can activate it through your TPP account. Log in, look for your program memberships, and simply select “Activate Membership Card(s).”
After arriving at a participating airport (or seaport), find the Global Entry kiosks at customs. At the kiosk, scan your physical U.S passport (or permanent resident card) and your fingerprint for verification. The kiosk will let you complete a customs declaration. It snaps a photo of you. If you are wearing a mask, remove it for your photo.
Then the kiosk prints out a transaction receipt with directions to go baggage claim. On your way out of the secure area to baggage claim, you will hand your receipt to the customs officer. He or she will glance at the photo and you on your way through. Now you can retrieve your luggage. If you do not have checked bags, you can now exit the terminal.
*Note: SENTRI is another official CBP program that lets members enter the U.S in specialized lanes at southern land borders (Ex. Mexico). NEXUS is an additional Trusted Traveler Program that speeds up entry into the U.S and Canada with designated lanes. These programs have separate applications.
Another of the 4 faster ways for U.S passport holders to clear airport security, Global Entry has various arrangements with its international partners as well. See here for a list of individual arrangements. Each country has different rules for US citizens traveling abroad to be able to use their Global Entry comparable program. Some require interviews and fees and some you just apply.
If you are a Global Entry member who does not hold a U.S passport or permanent resident card, make sure to consistently update your visa information. You have to go to a Global Entry enrollment center in-person to update your visa information every time you receive a new one or a new work visa petition.
*Pro Tip: Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months before entering most countries, so be sure to keep your passport up to date.
TSA Pre✓ – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
TSA PreCheck is definitely one of the 4 faster ways for U.S. passport holders to clear airport security. It is a U.S. Travel and Security Administration program that provides quicker security screenings for low-risk travelers before they enter their gates.
U.S passport holders, nationals, and lawful permanent residents are eligible for the program. Global Entry members and NEXUS or SENTRI members who are also U.S passport holders or lawful permanent residents can apply too. Canadian NEXUS members are eligible as well.
With TSA PreCheck, you can move through security checkpoints much faster, sometimes within minutes. TSA PreCheck members usually do not have to remove their shoes, laptops, belts, thin jackets, or small liquids. This significantly reduces the wait time for travelers at TSA checkpoints and the hassle of removing items at screening. Skipping the regular congested TSA line is also a huge bonus.
How to Sign Up
Joining the TSA PreCheck program is a straightforward 3-step process.
1. You can complete an online application for TSA PreCheck here. The application asks you to verify biographical information, contact details, physical appearance, criminal history, and so on. At the end of your application, it tells you to schedule an in-person interview at an Enrollment Center.
*Note: Enrollment charges you a fee of $85. Non-refundable, it pays for your enrollment for the next 5 years. See here for a list of credit cards and loyalty programs that may be able to cover the TSA PreCheck application and renewal fees with credit or reward points.
2. Once you schedule an appointment, you will need to bring two forms of identification to the interview. For example, you can bring your passport and driver’s license. The interview usually lasts 10 minutes, with questions verifying your background and personal details. You will also provide a fingerprint for review.
3. Once the program approves you, you should usually receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) within the business week. Alternatively, you can check your approval status here. TSA PreCheck will send you an email, call, or text telling you how to find your KTN.
Since there is no TSA PreCheck membership card, you must book flights with your KTN to use program benefits. There is usually a space provided by the airline to enter this number when you book your flight.
Existing Global Entry and NEXUS or SENTRI members (who meet passport or permanent resident criteria) can use their existing KTNs to qualify for TSA PreCheck. They do not need to apply for the program.
How it Works – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
When booking your flight, look for the Known Traveler Number field and input your KTN. As long as your airline is a participant in the TSA PreCheck program, it should have a KTN field. You can enter your KTN through online booking, the phone, and any travel services reserving the flight for you.
At the airport, look for signs leading you to the TSA checkpoints. There are regular lanes and specialized TSA PreCheck lanes, marked by the TSA Pre✓ sign (with a green checkmark). Most airports in the U.S. now have TSA PreCheck lines, so be sure to carefully follow the signs. Fortunately, most signs are clear and easy to find.
Your boarding pass should also denote if you are eligible for TSA PreCheck or not. If so, TSA officers or airport staff can point you to the correct lane if you accidentally enter the regular TSA security line or find yourself lost. Then breeze through a quick screening and proceed to your gate.
Renewal – TSA PreCheck – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
When you are eligible for TSA PreCheck renewal, the program will send you a notification beforehand via email or phone. You can start renewing six months prior to membership expiration. In order to keep the same KTN, you must renew within a year of expiration. If you renew after the deadline, the program treats you as a new member and reassigns a KTN.
You can renew your application here, with approval expected in 3-5 days. Renewal costs a non-refundable $70 unless you need to visit an enrollment center in-person. Most applicants only need to submit an online renewal, but there are sometimes exceptions if the TSA needs additional details.
Frequent Flier Programs
Frequent flier programs are airline loyalty programs that offer passengers incentives to keep flying with them. Travelers in these programs gain reward points with every trip, and they can later trade these points for discounts or other benefits (such as seating upgrades). Many frequent flier programs now partner with TSA PreCheck so their customers can redeem mileage points and rewards for TSA PreCheck benefits.
If you belong to any of these programs, you should be able to swap points or miles for free TSA PreCheck membership or renewal.
Clear – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
Clear is another of the 4 faster ways for U.S passport holders to get through airport security. It is an app that functions as an identity verification and health program. Clear allows users to undergo faster security screenings at airports and other public venues. The app relies on state-of-the-art biometric technology to verify user identity. This way, members can carry less physical documents while on the move. It also lets members create digital vaccine cards, upload Covid-19 test results, and complete health surveys within the app.
Clear Plus allows travelers to bypass lengthy security checks at the airport by using biometrics to verify identity. It also includes a Home to Gate feature that helps travelers calculate the best time to leave their home or hotel so they can arrive at their gates just in time for the flight. Eligible Clear members must be U.S passport holders or permanent legal residents over the age of 18 with some form of government-approved ID.
Travelers with the Clear app can use its benefits at over 50 locations in the U.S. See here for a complete list of Clear-ready locations.
Similar to Airside Mobile Passport, Clear offers another app known as Clear Pass for CBP Mobile Passport that also functions as a mobile passport for travelers entering the U.S. You must be a U.S or Canadian passport holder to use Clear Pass.
How to Sign Up
If you only want the Clear Pass for CBP Mobile Passport Control, this app is free for download and use in the app store and google play. U.S and Canadian passport holders are eligible to use the app. Once you download it, the app asks you to create a profile by taking a self-photo and inputting details from your physical passport. It can also scan your passport.
Register to become a Clear Plus member now, and save yourself from long security lines at the airport . Then you just need to finish up at a Clear kiosk in-person. You can do this very easily and quickly when you arrive at the airport. Just find a Clear kiosk and one of the Clear staff will help you. You will undergo a brief identity verification and provide biometrics (your fingerprints and scan of your irises). You must bring an official form of photo ID.
Clear will then attach your biometrics to your registered account. As soon as you finish this one time enrollment, you can start using Clear without having to wait, as you are approved right there. There is a nominal fee for membership. Some credit cards or airline programs will reimburse you the cost or offer a free membership included in some tiers of their loyalty program, such as Delta Diamond.
How it Works – Clear Pass – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
In order to use Clear Pass benefits, make sure to set up your profile, passport scan, and self-photo with the app before your trip. You can add profiles for up to 12 family members within the app.
In the app, create a trip that will take you through U.S customs. Clear Pass also lets you create the trip with a reminder to activate it at a later time. Regardless, you need to activate the trip before you enter U.S Customs and Border Protection. The app prompts you to answer standard CBP questions before submission. After submitting your identity and answers, you will receive a QR code that remains active for the next 4 hours.
As with the Mobile Passport app, Clear Pass has designated lanes as well. Find the Clear lane so you can bypass the regular CBP line. There, you must show the CBP officer your physical passport and Clear Pass QR code.
See here for a list of airports and cruise ports where you can use Clear Pass.
*Note: Similar to Global Entry, Clear Pass only works for entry into the United States after an international flight. However, travelers cannot use both at the same time.
How it Works – Clear (Plus) – 4 Faster Ways for U.S Passport Holders to Clear Airport Security
Clear encrypts your biometrics so that every scan of your eyes, face, and fingerprint corresponds to a specific code. This code verifies your identity, replacing the need for physical ID. After registering your Clear Plus membership and biometrics, you can now move past security faster than ever at the following airports.
At a partnering airport, search for the designated Clear lanes at TSA checkpoints. Follow the signs to the Clear lane, where a Clear Ambassador waits. The Clear lane leads to a Clear pod, a specialized kiosk that usually scans your boarding pass and fingerprint or iris.
After the Clear pod verifies your identity, the Clear Ambassador walks you to the front of the line of the physical security check and lets the officer know that you are cleared. Now TSA will screen your belongings and you, having skipped the long waits in the regular security lines.
Clear members who also have TSA PreCheck can get into the Clear TSA PreCheck lane which is usually separate than the Clear non-TSA PreCheck lane. Once they pass the security officer, their shoes can normally remain on, belongings stay in their bags, and they usually pass rapidly through the metal detector.
Clear non-TSA PreCheck members still get the benefit of arriving to the security officer ahead of the other lines, but will need to undergo regular TSA screening (removing shoes, electronics, and passing through the body scan machine).
*Note: Clear benefits are only available at designated airports within the U.S before domestic and international flights.
Bonus: Health Pass and Digital Vaccine Cards
Although not exactly one of the 4 faster ways for U.S passport holders to clear airport security, Clear’s Health Pass and Digital Vaccine card are additional ways to keep you safe while traveling within the U.S. when Covid requirements are being enforced. When necessary, you can use both the Health Pass and Digital Vaccine Card when traveling to Hawaii as well as to gain access to many U.S. stadiums and sporting events.
How it Works
The Health Pass is a free feature in the Clear app that syncs your identity with health tests. Within the app, select Health Pass and enter your location (or organization code). Then scan an official ID and take a self-photo to verify your identity. The app will have you fill out a health questionnaire. As long as your result is a green pass, then you are good to go for the next 12 hours. You do not have to be a Clear Plus member to use Health Pass, but you need to enroll in Clear. If necessary, you can also upload Covid-19 test results to your Health Pass.
Within the Clear app, you can link your vaccination status by selecting the Health Pass or Digital vaccine option. Then follow the app’s directions until you arrive at the “add your Covid-19 vaccination” option. Here, search for your healthcare provider. If they are partnered with Clear, the app can retrieve your vaccine information directly from them. If not, you can upload a picture of your CDC vaccination card instead. Either way, you will have a digital vaccine card that eliminates the need to carry around your CDC card at all times. Then you can let your actual vaccination card sit safely at home.
*Note: To create the digital vaccine card, you must be 18 or older and enrolled in Clear.
*Note: The digital vaccine card might not be admissible at all venues, so be sure to confirm beforehand whether or not it can replace the CDC card at your destination.
Clear membership also offers special programs with its partner airlines: Delta and United.
Delta’s SkyMiles members can receive discounted rates for annual Clear memberships:
- Diamond Medallion members receive free membership
- Platinum Medallion, Gold Medallion, Silver Medallion, and Delta SkyMiles American Express Card members receive a discounted rate
- General SkyMiles members receive also receive a lower rate
To use any of the above rates, Delta SkyMiles customers can either enroll in Clear and attach their SkyMiles number or log into their existing Clear membership and attach that number.
In addition, Delta Sky Club members can enter the Delta Sky Club with their Clear membership.
In the same vein, United airlines also offers its MileagePlus members a Clear discount:
- Premier 1K members receive free membership
- Premier Platinum, Premier Gold, Premier Silver, and United U.S Credit Card members receive a discounted rate
- MileagePlus members also receive a lower rate
Again, to use any of the above rates, United MileagePlus members can either enroll in Clear and attach their MileagePlus number or log into their existing Clear membership and attach that number.
Passport Apps – In Summary
Clear Pass for CBP Mobile Passport Controls, Mobile Passport, and Global Entry are programs focused on quicker entry into the U.S from abroad. Mobile Passport and Clear Pass are free to use, and their primary functions are digitally storing passport information and letting users answer customs questions on their phones. This allows them to line up at faster mobile passport queues instead of the regular CBP inspection lane.
All of Clear Pass’s features are free, but Mobile Passport comes with a plus upgrade that costs $14.99 per year. Mobile Passport plus enables a document scanner and auto-fill, features that Clear Pass already offers for free.
Global Entry, Clear Plus, and TSA PreCheck – In Summary
Global Entry is a program offered by the US Government, that currently costs $100 for a 5-year membership. Applicants must complete an online application and in-person interview. Once approved, they can skip inspection from human CPB officers at customs (so long as the airport in question is a Global Entry participant). Instead, they proceed to a Global Entry kiosk that scans their passport, verifies fingerprints, and lets them declare customs.
Clear Plus is a program (and app) that also has a yearly fee, but it allows for faster security screening before domestic and international flights within the U.S at select locations. Before enrolling, applicants need to open an account and complete a fast in-person biometrics scan at the airport before its first use. At TSA checkpoints, they follow Clear lanes to Clear kiosks to scan their biometrics (and sometimes boarding pass) in place of using physical ID. They then proceed to a TSA screening line for Clear members where available.
TSA PreCheck is applicable to security screenings before flights in the U.S. It also requires an online application and in-person interview for enrollment. Membership costs $85 for 5 years ($70 for renewal). This is the most widely-implemented airport program in the U.S. TSA PreCheck members usually do not have to remove shoes, electronics, jackets, or small liquids at TSA screenings. They can bypass the often mile-long queues at regular TSA lanes and enter their gates much faster. Members of Global Entry are also automatically eligible for TSA PreCheck.