Global Entry vs. TSA Precheck: What’s the Difference?

Everyone wants to get through airport security faster. Find out the benefits of Global Entry vs. TSA Precheck.

Getting to the airport at least two hours in advance is standard practice for travelers these days. Fortunately, there are several ways you can expedite getting through airport security. Here’s the difference between Global Entry vs. TSA Precheck and how to figure out which one is right for you.

What’s TSA Precheck?

If you travel domestically often, applying for TSA Precheck could make sense. Established by the U.S. government in 2011, this program allows you to get through security without having to take off your shoes, remove your laptop, liquids, or belts. Find out the foods you can–and can’t–bring through security.

The benefits? The TSA says that 92 percent of people who participated in the program got through security in five minutes or less. Others have questioned whether people who aren’t participating in the program experienced long wait times at security, however, according to Business Insider.

TSA Precheck costs $85 for five years. It’s open to U.S. citizens and you’ll have to fill out an application, have a background check, get fingerprinted, and undergo an in-person interview. Over seven million people have already been approved and more than 200 airports use the program.

Kids twelve and under don’t have to register independently if they’re with a parent. But if you only fly occasionally, it may not be worth going through the process of getting your whole family verified, some travel experts say.

“Let’s say you have a family of five and you rarely fly,” says Julie McCool, a contributing writer for McCool Travel. “Do you really want to negotiate all that just to speed up your check-in time once or twice a year?” Be sure you know the things most likely to get you flagged by TSA.

How does Global Entry work?

That said, if you’re on the other end of the spectrum and you travel internationally a lot, Global Entry might be right for you.

A program from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Global Entry also requires a pre-approval, including a background check and in-person interview. Once travelers are approved, however, they can go through kiosks at participating airports, where their fingerprints are scanned and they fill out Customs paperwork.

“Global Entry allows you to bypass all of those long lines,” says Janet Semenova, co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors.

Another bonus in the debate over Global Entry vs. TSA Precheck? Getting Global Entry includes TSA Precheck. That means if you purchase Global Entry and are approved, you get the TSA Precheck benefits as well. Those include not having to take off your shoes going through security or having to empty out as much of your bag, Semenova says.

And since Global Entry costs $100 for five years, that’s just $15 more than the cost of TSA Precheck. Finally, some travel rewards credit cards will pay for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. Make sure you know these things you should never do at an airport.

What’s Mobile Passport?

Don’t want to spend the money on Global Entry either? Download the free Mobile Passport app. The government-approved app replaces the standard declaration form you fill out when you come back into the country and go through Customs. No pre-approval is required.

Just put your passport information into the app, snap a selfie, provide your travel details, and answer the usual questions. You’ll receive an encrypted QR code that will then be reviewed by a Customs officer. Then find out the secrets airports don’t want you to know.

How does CLEAR work?

If you’re looking to move through security even faster, you might want to bypass the Global Entry vs. TSA Precheck discussion and consider CLEAR. Run by a private company that’s contracted by the U.S. government, CLEAR uses biometric imaging to scan your irises or fingerprints, so you don’t need identification or your boarding pass at the gate.

Currently available at 30 airports, CLEAR will also cost you $179 a year. So it probably only makes sense if you travel often.

“CLEAR is essentially one step further than TSA Precheck,” Semenova says. “It does have an extra fee attached to it, but I think for people who travel frequently or are going to be traveling during the peak season, CLEAR is great.”

For most of Semenova’s clients, though, she says TSA Precheck is plenty. Now that you know the benefits of Global Entry vs. TSA Precheck, find out 13 things TSA officers won’t tell you.

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Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.