Travelers looking for an international getaway for the new year may find it more difficult to escape long lines getting in and out of the country.
The reason is that Global Entry, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) initiative that allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to speed through processing lines, is currently experiencing long wait times to process approvals into the program.
How Long Does It Take To Get Global Entry?
Global Entry wait times could take up to 11 months on average, according to the CBP website.
In addition to long wait times for Global Entry, other travel programs such as NEXUS and SENTRI have wait times of 18-20 months and 16-18 months respectively.
“These are average times, and some applications are processed more quickly. Unfortunately, we cannot anticipate a date of completion for any specific application,” Customs says on CBP.gov.
Why Are Global Entry Wait Times So Long?
According to Customs, Global Entry enrollment numbers have been up all year with no signs of falling. The agency was on track to receive more than 3.2 million applications for Global Entry through the end of September, according to Axios. That's up from the previous record 2.95 million applications the agency received in fiscal year 2022.
"Given the unprecedented demand and continued interest in TTP [Trusted Traveler Programs, including Global Entry], CBP is at an inflection point, where we must provide consistent, efficient, and accessible processing methods for applicants to select an appropriate enrollment option," Michael Millich, TTP director, says in a February news release.
His remarks were accompanied by the announcement that the Trusted Traveler Programs are now releasing new interview appointment slots for enrollment centers on the first Monday of every month by 9 a.m. local time.
The easy part for many travelers has been getting “conditionally approved” online. The tricky part has been securing the required in-person interview. So, it is encouraging to see CBP flexing to the demand by opening up more interview spots.
One Clark Howard podcast listener explained her unexpectedly positive experience applying to Global Entry:
“I applied for Global Entry on 9/11/2023. I was conditionally approved the next day and able to schedule my interview for 10/24/2023. I live in the Chicago area and was able to get an interview at the Customs House in downtown Chicago and was approved for the program within an hour of completing my interview. That’s 43 days from start to finish. Please don’t discourage others from being part of this great program.”
What If I Can’t Get Global Entry Before My Trip?
What if you still don’t have Global Entry, but it’s time for your international trip?
First, don't stress. Unlike passports, Global Entry is not required for international travel. It can expedite things and if you travel internationally frequently it may be well worth your time and the $100 application fee. (And some travel credit cards will even cover the cost for you!)
If your application has been conditionally approved, Customs has implemented the Global Entry Enrollment Upon Arrival program. This program allows travelers to complete their interviews at select U.S. airports when they return from an international trip. It won't help you on your outgoing trip, but it will be a streamlined way to complete your interview and be ready for your next trip.
Should I Apply for Global Entry for My International Trip?
It is worth repeating: Global Entry is not required for international travel. However, if you travel frequently internationally it could be worth your time and money. If you are dreaming of an international trip in the next 11-12 months and you believe you will have more international travel in the next five years, go ahead and apply now to save yourself some time at the airport.
Want to score the best deal for that upcoming trip? Follow Clark’s #1 Travel Rule.