Which Trusted Traveler Program is right for you?

Written by
Benjamin Pape
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If you have traveled in the last several months, you may have seen first-hand how high demand for travel is right now. Eager travelers pack airports and fill hotel rooms as pent-up wanderlust sends people out to see the world. With all these travelers, you may have run into one of the more frustrating aspects of traveling: Long lines for airport security. Or, you may have arrived back in the U.S. after a jam-packed international trip to find that the line for border control snakes so far you can’t even see where it starts. Luckily, programs exist that can make travel more convenient thanks to expedited clearance through certain aspects of the travel screening process.

What is the Trusted Traveler Program?

The Trusted Traveler Program is a collection of options under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that provides modified screening for pre-approved members of each program so they can use expedited security lanes at U.S. airports and/or when crossing certain international borders. The United States introduced the Trusted Traveler Programs to increase efficiency for security screening and assist travelers in their journeys. Today, the following options help travelers pass through airport security with less hassle and more efficiently return from international travel. Each program is tailored to certain types of travel, so it’s important to understand the details before choosing the best options for you and your family.

What is TSA Precheck?

TSA Precheck is the Transportation Security Agency’s security program that allows travelers to use expedited security lanes at participating airports without having to remove shoes, laptops, small toiletries and belts while passing through that checkpoint. It’s currently available at more than 200 airports in the U.S. and when traveling with more than 80 airlines, including multiple international carriers. TSA Precehck travelers need to show a TSA Precheck indicator on their boarding passes in order to use the expedited; therefore, it’s important to understand which airlines participate in the program since it’s the airline that will issue your boarding pass.

How do you apply for TSA Precheck?

First, submit an online application and schedule an appointment at any enrollment center. Applicants then take part in an in-person interview at an enrollment center during which they provide citizenship documentation and fingerprints.

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Some Staples office supply stores as well as most major airports and even some private identity services businesses function as enrollment centers, so there should be an option nearby.

How much does TSA Precheck cost?

Applicants pay a non-refundable $85 fee to cover the cost of background checks. There are multiple credit cards on the market that offer statement credit for your enrollment fee (options below).

Who should consider TSA Precheck?

TSA Precheck is a great program for those that fly even sparingly. Many credit cards will reimburse the cost of the program, and the expedited security screening is well worth it. Precheck only applies to travel within the United States. If you often travel internationally and want additional border-crossing perks, consider one of the alternative options discussed below.

Do children need to apply for TSA Precheck?

In many cases, children traveling with their parent/guardian who has TSA Precheck status do not need to have TSA Precheck themselves. This differs from the rules for Global Entry and other international travel-focused programs discussed below.

  • Children 12 and under who are traveling with a TSA Precheck participant parent/guardian do not need their own status.
  • Children 13-17 traveling on the same reservation as a parent/guardian must have the TSA Precheck indicator on their boarding passes. In this age group, they can be randomly excluded from having the TSA Precheck indicator on their boarding pass and would need to use the standard security lines in that case.
  • Children who are 17 or younger and traveling alone will need their own TSA Precheck status to use the expedited lines.

Do children need TSA Precheck?

How long is TSA Precheck good for?

TSA Precheck lasts for five years before renewal is required.

What credit cards offer TSA Precheck fee reimbursement?

One perk many travel credit cards offer is statement credit reimbursement to cover a TSA Precheck application fee charged to the card. It’s a perk worth $85 every four or five years (TSA Precheck is good for five years, but some cards offer the perk as often as every four or four-and-a-half years in order to avoid a lapse in coverage). Some of the cards, among many others, that provide this perk include:

>>MORE: Check out the Best credit cards for Global Entry/TSA Precheck reimbursement for additional options.

What is Global Entry?

With Global Entry, travelers enjoy expedited entry into the USA via air, land and sea travel from international destinations. This means reduced wait times with self-service kiosks or E-Gates and no paperwork for passengers to fill out upon re-entry.

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TSA PreCheck is included with Global Entry membership; you won’t need to apply separately for TSA Precheck if you have Global Entry status.

How do you apply for Global Entry?

The first step of the Global Entry application process is to create a Trusted Traveler Programs account. Once logged into the account, travelers can complete the application and submit the $100 non-refundable fee. After you submit the application and fee, it will be considered for conditional approval. Assuming you qualify at that point, you can then schedule an interview at a Global Entry enrollment center. For the interview, you will need to bring your valid passport and one other form of identification, such as a driver’s license or ID card. If you are a lawful permanent resident, you must present your machine-readable permanent resident card.

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Global Entry enrollment centers are generally located in major cities and airports. Be prepared to travel a distance of several hours to attend your interview. Furthermore, the system often becomes quite backed up with people waiting six months or more for their appointments. Rather than waiting for an appointment, if you have international travel scheduled, check the Global Entry office at the airport where you will return to the U.S. Those offices often have walk-up appointment availability and you may be able to complete your interview quickly when you return from your trip.

How much does Global Entry cost?

It costs $100 to apply for Global Entry.

Who should consider Global Entry?

Global Entry is a great program for those who travel internationally, even infrequently, and want expedited re-entry to the United States upon coming home. Since Global Entry also includes TSA Precheck and only costs $15 more than TSA Precheck ($100 vs. $85 for TSA Precheck), you could think of it as only costing $15 if you intended to get TSA Precheck anyway. That said, the wait times to schedule your enrollment appointment are much longer than with TSA Precheck so it could take months to receive your clearance. TSA Precheck, on the other hand, often has appointments within a couple of weeks and most people receive their clearance within three to five business days after that appointment.

Do children need to apply for Global Entry?

Yes, everyone, even infants, must apply and pay for Global Entry status in order to use expedited security lines. Furthermore, everyone, even infants, will need to appear for an in-person interview in order to complete the application process. A parent/guardian must accompany a minor to the interview. There is no discounted price for minors’ applications; all applicants must pay the $100 fee.

How long is Global Entry good for?

Global Entry lasts for five years. The good news is that even children’s status will last the full five years.

What credit cards offer Global Entry fee reimbursement?

In general, cards that offer the $85 TSA Precheck reimbursement will offer the option for a Global Entry reimbursement of $100 instead. Cardholders do not receive both reimbursements; rather, you choose one or the other. Many of the best travel cards on the market offer this reimbursement.

What is Nexus?

The NEXUS program allows travelers to pass through expedited processing when entering both the United States and Canada. NEXUS has dedicated processing lanes at designated northern border ports of entry, NEXUS kiosks when entering Canada by air and Global Entry kiosks when entering the United States via Canadian preclearance airports. NEXUS members also receive expedited processing at marine reporting locations. U.S. citizens, Canadian citizens and lawful permanent residents enrolled in NEXUS are also eligible to participate in TSA Precheck.

How do you apply for NEXUS?

To apply for NEXUS, travelers must use the Trusted Travelers Programs’ website to apply with a $50 (USD) non-refundable fee. Applicants must satisfy the eligibility criteria including being admissible in Canada and the United States and pass risk assessments by both countries. After review by both U.S. and Canadian authorities, conditionally approved applicants can schedule an in-person interview at a NEXUS enrollment center to complete the application process. Once approved, applications must have their iris captured, which can be done at select Canadian airports, to use the NEXUS kiosks upon entering Canada.

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As this program targets people traveling between the United States and Canada, the enrollment center options are limited to states along the northern border of the U.S. and locations in Canada. Someone living in Texas, for instance, would need to travel quite a distance in order to take part in the interview.

Who should consider Nexus?

The NEXUS program can be a great fit for those who frequently travel between the U.S. and Canada as it’s less expensive than Global Entry and TSA Precheck, but offers the benefits of TSA Precheck as well as access to Global Entry kiosks for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. It offers excellent value at just $50 per adult applicant.

Do children need to apply for NEXUS?

Yes, everyone in the traveling party regardless of age must have NEXUS status in order to use the expedited system; however, the application fee is waived for applicants under the age of 18.

How long is NEXUS good for?

NEXUS membership lasts for five years.

What credit cards offer NEXUS application fee reimbursement?

There are a handful of cards offering application fee reimbursement for NEXUS. Note that this reimbursement is not necessarily included among all cards offering Global Entry/TSA Precheck reimbursement, so check the fine print of your card agreement before counting on that. In general, Chase cards that offer Global Entry/TSA Precheck reimbursement also offer the option to use the credit for NEXUS. Therefore, some options include:

What is SENTRI?

The SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) program allows members to reduce their wait times at designated ports of entry to the U.S. from Mexico and Canada by using dedicated processing lanes at southern land border crossings, using the NEXUS lane when entering the United States from Canada by land, and using Global Entry kiosks when entering the United States by air. The SENTRI program combines some aspects of the Global Entry and NEXUS programs. Additionally, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents enrolled in SENTRI are also eligible to participate in TSA Precheck and enjoy Global Entry benefits as well.

How do you apply for SENTRI?

To apply for the SENTRI program travelers need to create a Trusted Traveler Program profile to complete the application. A non-refundable $122.25 fee is required with each completed application. After submission, if your application is conditionally approved you can then schedule an interview at a SENTRI enrollment center.

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Since SENTRI focuses on travelers to and from Mexico, the enrollment centers are located in southern border states, including Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. This obviously makes it inconvenient to apply for people living in other parts of the country.

Who should consider SENTRI?

The SENTRI program is worth considering if you frequently travel by car between the U.S. and Mexico (and Canada as a bonus). It doesn’t have expedited entry into Canada like NEXUS, so if that is needed then the NEXUS program may be better. And it is slightly more expensive than Global Entry so if your international travels are not over the Mexican and Canadian borders then SENTRI may not be for you. That said, it includes Global Entry status for eligible participants so it could still be the right fit if you frequently drive over the southern border.

Do children need to apply for SENTRI?

Yes, all members of the traveling party regardless of age must have SENTRI status to use the expedited processing; however, as with NEXUS, the application fee is waived for minors’ applications submitted with a paying adult application.

How long is SENTRI good for?

SENTRI membership lasts for five years.

What credit cards reimburse SENTRI application fees?

At the time of publishing, we weren’t aware of any credit cards offering fee reimbursement for SENTRI application fees.

What is FAST?

The FAST (Free and Secure Trade) program is an option for truck drivers carrying low-risk shipments into the United States from Canada and Mexico. This program allows expedited processing for commercial carriers who have completed background checks and fulfill certain eligibility requirements and is open to truck drivers from the United States, Canada and Mexico. It does not include any access to TSA Precheck or Global Entry benefits.

How do you apply for FAST?

Applicants can submit an application online via the Trusted Traveler Program website with a $50 application fee. Once conditionally approved, applicants can schedule and attend an in-person appointment at a designated FAST enrollment center.

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As this program is designed from truck drivers crossing the northern and southern borders, the enrollment centers are also located in those areas rather than throughout the country.

Who should consider FAST?

FAST is a specific program for commercial trucking carriers to get expedited passage, if that is not your mode of travel than this program is not for you.

How long is FAST good for?

FAST membership lasts for five years.

What is CLEAR and how does it compare to TSA Precheck?

CLEAR is a registered traveler program that provides expedited identity verification while going through security at designated airports; it is NOT a government-sponsored Trusted Travel Program like the others on this list. U.S. citizens and legal residents 18 and older are eligible for CLEAR.

The security process at airports is essentially two steps: First, the agent verifying that you have a valid ticket and that you are the person who is on that ticket and second, having your carryons/luggage and person scanned and reviewed for security purposes. Unlike TSA Precheck, which expedites the second step of physical review of your person and belongings, CLEAR expedites the first step of document and identity verification, which helps travelers speed through the first half of security at airports. Many people who have CLEAR also have TSA Precheck, allowing them expedited identity verification (CLEAR) as well as expedited security screening (TSA Precheck). The cost of CLEAR is significantly higher than Precheck at $189 per year vs. $85 every five years for TSA Precheck.

How do you apply for CLEAR?

Fill out the online application, pay your fee and then head to a participating airport with your government-issued ID. Unlike the other programs, you don’t need an appointment to complete your CLEAR enrollment interview.

Who should consider CLEAR?

CLEAR removes another hassle from the airport security process, which is always welcome, but it comes at a cost ($189 for one person, plus $60 each to add up to three additional adults to the membership). It also isn’t available everywhere, so check to ensure the airports you frequent do, in fact, offer CLEAR services. Furthermore, it isn’t going to offer much value if most of your travel is overseas as there isn’t an international component to this program.

CLEAR is likely best for frequent travelers who find themselves in especially congested airports with often long security lines. Otherwise, TSA Precheck will likely be a better option.

Do children need to apply for CLEAR?

No, and in fact CLEAR is only available to U.S. citizens and legal residents 18 and older. Children traveling with a parent/guardian who has CLEAR status can pass through the expedited process along with their qualifying parent/guardian. CLEAR offers an option to add up to three family members to an account for $60 each, so it makes sense for a family to have a CLEAR membership together rather than multiple adults paying for the membership separately at a cost of $189 each.

How long is CLEAR good for?

CLEAR membership must be renewed every year.

What credit cards offer fee reimbursement for CLEAR applications?

CardNamediscontinued and CardNamediscontinued both offer a full $189/year statement credit for your CLEAR membership (enrollment required). The CardNamediscontinued offers a $100 statement credit each year for your CLEAR membership (All information about the American Express® Green Card has been independently collected by CardRatings and neither provided nor verified by American Express).

Additionally, CLEAR has established a partnership with Delta and United Airlines that offers discounted enrollment fees to participants in those airlines’ frequent flyer programs, Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus, respectively, as well as to cardholders of co-branded Delta and United credit cards from American Express and Chase.

Depending on your status tier within each frequent flyer program, you could qualify for a CLEAR membership for free or for as little as $109. Cardholders of qualifying cards also qualify for the $109 enrollment fee discount (instead of the typical $189).

What is the best Trusted Traveler Program option?

The most complete program with the best value for U.S. citizens is NEXUS. It offers the benefits of TSA Precheck and Global Entry for U.S. citizens at a fraction of the cost of either of the other programs. Additionally, children require their own status, but their application fees are waived, making NEXUS a cheaper potential option for families. That said, Nexus enrollment isn’t easy to complete unless you live near the northern border, and there aren’t many credit cards that offer full or partial reimbursement for your NEXUS application fees.

Therefore, while Global Entry is more expensive than NEXUS, enrollment should be easier for most Americans and there are plenty of cards that offer reimbursement of the enrollment fee, making Global Entry the CardRatings pick as the best Trusted Traveler Program.

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Disclaimer:

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