Stephanie March deconstructs the Global Entry program. Never again will she wait on line at U.S. immigration again.
A computer-generated email from my credit card company caught my eye and captured my imagination. Mind you, this is not my usual reaction to emails from American Express. Did you know there is a way to sail through immigration and customs – without being a foreign dignitary or soccer star? It's called Global Entry, it's handled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and, at risk of sounding too sales-y, you, too, can participate.
Curious about this E-Z Pass of international travel, I clicked and began by filling out an extensive online application at GOES, the Global Online Entry System. Let me be clear, I am generally a privacy phobe and utterly opposed to doing such things. I don't even have a CVS frequent shopper card; it's no one's business what kind of lotion I buy. Still, I couldn't shake the fantasy of sweeping past fellow passengers on eternal immigration lines and tucking into a jalapeño cheeseburger — my stateside meal of choice — a half an hour after deplaning.
The application takes forever to fill out, but requires no special private information. If the fuzz is out for you, they already know everything on this form: Your height and employer's phone number are not secrets. The whole thing has the unmistakable whiff of government authenticity — it is boringly presented, counterintuitive, and long. I submit my application, and a mere eight days later I am asked via email to set up an appointment for my interview. The last step is a meeting with a federal officer from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. I dress nicely for it. It isn't often I am interrogated by Homeland Security, and I thought it might be important to wear my best unlikely-to-hijack-an-airplane outfit.
I show up at JFK at the appointed hour and find the office without much trouble. It is not the modern, clinical, high-tech CSI environment I am expecting. It is a small-ish office that smells of slightly burned coffee and is staffed by three super-fit guys from New Yawk and one slight Asian woman. I peek my head in and tell them I am there for my interview. “Congratulations!” one of them says, and waves me in.
There were six people in the room total. The procedure took ten minutes. The only major event was a quick electronic fingerprinting. I was golden. I don't have a criminal record, which sped things along, but Officer Robinson assured me that a misdemeanor or some dumb bar fight in college are not insurmountably egregious acts. CBP takes it on a case-by-case basis, so, like everything else in travel, you should hope for a nice person on the other side of that desk.
Officer Robinson put a sticker on my passport and showed me how to wield my Global Entry status. Upon entering the United States, I go directly to the Global Entry kiosk, swipe my passport, and be on my way. The system reads my passport information and documents my entry electronically. When the machine is not in working order, an attendant will be on-hand to help. So they say, anyway. Remember, this is a government program. Global Entry is available in most major U.S. airports, but not worldwide. That's okay for now. I still enjoy getting those cool stamps.
The biggest obstacle is the $100 fee, which Amex is covering as a Platinum card benefit. So the next time you are waiting in line, calculating whether or not you will clear customs in time to beat rush hour traffic, look for me. I will be the blur racing ahead you. I will be the first online for the bathroom, and I will get your cab. You got a problem with that? Well, do something about it.