Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to speed through Customs & Immigrations?

Skychi at Sun Moon Palace in Cancun, Mexico
At the airport in Cancun I met two American Airlines flight attendants who were also headed back to Chicago. While we were boarding the flight I overhead them talking about Global Entry, so I asked them about it. They told me they were international flight attendants so they cleared customs and immigrations at Chicago O'hare Terminal 5 on a regular basis. They recommended getting Global Entry to save time on the  line to clear customs. Global Entry is $100 for 5 years.

Vendors' children eating in Mexico
After we departed the aircraft and went down the escalator towards customs we encountered a line that was at least a mile long in the hallway before we even reached the customs hall. I had never seen the line that long. Now I understand the need for Global Entry. That line was at least a two hour wait. I can only image all the passengers who missed their connecting flights because they were stuck in that line not to mention they had to collect their luggage and recheck to their luggage to its final destination.

Museum of Art Ottawa, Canada
I just visited the Global Entry website at http://www.globalentry.gov to learn more about it. It seems that the government program is for U.S. citizens who are low-risk. There is a background check, fingerprinting and a interview. You do not need to travel a certain number of trips internationally. Families can apply for Global Entry and schedule their interviews at the same time.

Crew Eats at Sahib's in Montreal, Canada

Once you are aprroved and receive Global Entry you can enter the U.S. at major airports by using automated kiosks thereby passing the long lines for customs and immigrations. Global Entry users also have free access to other border entry programs such as NEXUS of Canada and SENTRI of Mexico.

Skychi in Chinatown at Victoria Island, Vancouver, Canada
There is also a FLUX (Fast Low Risk Universal Crossing)  border entry program for the Netherlands which allows Dutch and U.S. citizens to travel through fast lanes internationally. The Privium FLUX is a limited program with  fees of 220 Euros. The Privium Plus membership is an additional 66 Euros. These fees do not include the $100 Global Entry fee. The Privium Plus allows its members to have club lounge access, priority parking, and business class check-in even if you have coach ticket.

Arc de Triomphe Paris, France
My observations of travelers that use the fast lane at the automated kiosks that the process is faster than a flight crew line clearance. 

Flight Crew heading to airport from LAX Sheraton
Next time you are waiting in line at Customs and Immigrations watching passengers zip through at the automated kiosks consider the pros and cons for yourself. Is the Global Entry program for you?