Trusted Traveler Programs, Explained

Learn how they can help you save time.

By Lisa Cheng

Tired of standing in lines at the airport? Registering for one of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s or Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Trusted Traveler programs—which prescreen enrollees for airport security and customs—can get you through the airport or across the border faster by allowing you to use special security lanes or, in some cases, even automated kiosks to pass through security. Here’s our primer on five of the most popular options—choosing the one that’s best for you will depend on where you’re going, how often you travel there, and whether you fly or drive.

TSA PreCheck
Best for frequent domestic air passengers, TSA PreCheck members can use special expedited security lanes at more than 200 airports nationwide. As if that weren’t incentive enough, these travelers can keep laptops and 3-1-1 liquids in their carry-ons and don’t need to take off their shoes, light jackets, or belts. To enroll, simply fill out an application online and schedule an in-person appointment for a background check and fingerprinting. You’ll receive a nine-digit known-traveler number, which you can supply when booking a flight. Your boarding pass will then say “TSA PRCHCK” or have the program’s logo on it; at the airport, you simply join the line marked “TSA PreCheck.” Five-year enrollment, $85

Global Entry
This Trusted Traveler program, which also includes membership in TSA PreCheck, was designed for international travelers. When entering the United States by air, Global Entry holders scan their passports and fingerprints at automated kiosks, which issue a transaction receipt to be collected by border security before exiting. Global Entry can be used at land and sea ports of entry but instead of using an airport kiosk, enrollees must present their Global Entry cards at the SENTRI and Nexus lanes. Enrolling requires a background check and an in-person interview. Five-year enrollment, $100

Nexus
Nexus allows expedited processing between Canada and the United States. It’s a good fit for American travelers who regularly go to Canada or vice versa, and it can be used at airports as well as at land and marine ports of entry. Travelers submit an application online before scheduling an interview at Nexus Enrollment Centers, which are located in select cities near the northern border. TSA PreCheck is included at no additional cost. Five-year enrollment, $50

SENTRI
Travelers who regularly drive to Mexico and back may want to consider enrolling in the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), which prescreens travelers entering from Mexico into the United States by vehicle or on foot. The SENTRI card requires a background check and in-person interview. It also includes TSA PreCheck benefits. Five-year enrollment, $122

Clear
A private program sanctioned by the TSA, Clear is at more than 35 airports in the U.S. and uses biometrics—eye scans and fingerprint technology—to verify your identity and then fast-track you through dedicated security lanes. You can sign up at the airport and start using it right away. Another perk: Clear can be used to skip security lines at some baseball stadiums, such as New York City’s Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. One-year enrollment, $179

For more information, visit the websites of the U.S Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, or Clear.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: February 2019