U.S. government travel programs are helpful? Really??
Yes, indeed! If you take more than one or two trips a year, government travel programs can make your life easier. And if you travel abroad even once a year, it’s worth your time to learn about how to zip through customs.
Here’s the list of current government travel programs, with their uses and requirements. There is bound to be at least one for you. Click on each logo to go directly to the agency websites.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP): STEP is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
All you do is set up an account, providing basic information and your passport number. Then, each time you travel internationally, you fill in where, how long, and how the nearest Consulate can reach you. You can update emergency contact information, too. That’s it!
I just did it for my Costa Rica trip. It took less than five minutes. At the end, the State Department provides travel information about your destination, including safety warnings. (There were none for Costa Rica.)
TSA Pre✓: One of the “Trusted Traveler” programs, this is what most people are familiar with. For $85, you can practically skip through special airport security lines. The membership is good for five years. It saves you time and stress through security, because you don’t need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. The application process is fairly quick; it only takes 2-3 weeks to get approved
Next are three government travel programs that operate under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) branch of Homeland Security. CBP, is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations and is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade.
These government travel programs are also under the “Trusted Traveler” umbrella. All require a background check, fingerprints, and an in-person interview:
Global Entry: This is a program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Following the application process–which includes a background check and fingerprinting–travelers returning from abroad can simply go to a Global Entry kiosk, insert their passport and have their fingerprints scanned. The kiosk prints and receipt and the travel can head straight to baggage claim.
The cost is $100, non-refundable, even if the application is denied. You will need to go to an Enrollment Center for an interview and fingerprinting. The Global Entry pass is good for five years. It’s the most extensive pass, also covering NEXUS and TSA Pre✓®.
NEXUS: The NEXUS program allows pre-screened travelers to experience fewer delays between the United States and Canada. Program members use 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. NEXUS is $50 for five years.
SENTRI: This government travel program works the same as NEXUS, but for travelers going between the United States and Mexico. SENTRI is $112.50 for five years.
If you join Global Entry, NEXUS, or SENTRI, use your membership number as a “known traveler number” in airline reservations to receive TSA Pre✓®.
Still confused? Here’s a handy chart to compare the government travel programs.
For more travel tips: