How Do You Apply for TSA Pre-Check?

Sick of long lines at airport security? Find out what the process is for how to get TSA Pre-Check.

Taking a trip by plane, whether to a repeat destination that you love or somewhere you’ve never been before, is fun and exciting. What’s not fun and exciting? Schlepping through a long security line. As you wait by the conveyor belt, sorting through your technology and liquids, you may enviously eye the TSA Pre-Check sign. Does it really allow you to stroll right through security? How do you apply for TSA Pre-Check, and is it worth it?

What is TSA Pre-Check?

“TSA PreCheck is a US government service that allows pre-screened airline passengers to use expedited security queues at US airports,” explains Daniel Burnham, US Flight Searcher and TSA-pre check expert for Scott’s Cheap Flights. The service was first introduced in late 2011. According to the TSA site, more than 7 million people have it. If you have it, you’ll be exempt from the regular security process and some of the slight headaches that come with it: removing your shoes, separating your liquids, and the like. “You’ll have access to an expedited security line that is normally shorter than the regular queue [and]….avoid the hassle of repacking your bags after passing through security,” Burnham told RD.com. Even if you don’t have TSA Pre-Check, though, there are some other things that can help you speed through airport security.

How do you apply?

This is how to get TSA Pre-Check: To become a member of TSA Pre-Check, start by applying online on the Pre-Check site. Before you can get it, though, you’ll need to go in-person to a Pre-Check enrollment center. The online application page lets you schedule an appointment at an enrollment center, where you’ll need to provide your fingerprint. The TSA has a quick locator to find a center near you. To apply, you’ll also need to pay $85, which covers five full years of Pre-Check and submit a photo ID and proof of US citizenship or permanent residency.

Another way to get TSA Pre-Check is to apply for Global Entry, which is another pre-screening program that’s better suited to frequent international travelers and includes TSA Pre-Check. Learn more about how TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry are similar and different.

How long does it take to get it?

After you apply, you’ll probably need to wait two to three weeks to become enrolled. “This is the amount of time it takes to perform a background check, validate your fingerprints, and compare your record to a series of government watchlists,” Burnham says. If you choose the Global Entry route, though, it’ll take longer than that because you’ll need to have an in-person interview.

Once you have it, you’ll receive a nine-digit Known Traveler Number, which you’ll need to provide to your airline in advance. If you do that, a Pre-Check icon should appear on your boarding pass and allow you to enter the Pre-Check security line.

Are there caveats?

Before you really look into how to get TSA Pre-Check, you may be wondering if there’s some kind of catch. Well, of course, there’s the price, but it really is only $17 a year, which isn’t that bad! But keep in mind that TSA Pre-Check is not universally available. “You need to be flying on an airline that participates in the program,” Burnham says. According to the TSA site, that’s currently 73 airlines worldwide.

Burnham adds that it’s not an option 24/7—”most [airports] will have specific hours when PreCheck is available”—and that some large airports may only offer it at some terminals. So you should check before you fly to make sure it’ll definitely be an option. And while TSA Pre-Check is great, there are some other pre-screens that will save you time at the airport that you can consider too.

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.