How to Choose the Best Airport Security ‘Pre-Check’ Program for You

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Photo: Arne Beruldsen (Shutterstock)

Airport security lines are notoriously long, the process is slow, and it’s often difficult to figure out what you need to do in order to get through quickly. There are a few different programs that can help make the process easier, though: TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, NEXUS, and CLEAR. These programs have a lot of similarities but also a few key differences. Here’s what you need to know about each one and how to decide which one is right for you.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a program that allows low-risk travelers to go through a faster, easier security process. You start by applying online and paying the $85 application fee (many credit cards will reimburse this fee). You’ll have to go to for a short interview at a TSA PreCheck enrollment center; once you’re approved, you’ll get a Known Traveler Number (KTN) which you can use when booking flights. When you get to the airport, you’ll be able to use the PreCheck line, which is usually shorter and faster than the regular security line. TSA PreCheck is valid for up to five years.

TSA PreCheck is right for you if you fly semi-regularly but you don’t often travel internationally.

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a program that allows low-risk travelers to expedite the customs process when entering the United States. If you’re a frequent international traveler, this can be a great time-saver. The application process is similar to TSA PreCheck—you’ll need to fill out an online application and pay the $100 application fee (many credit cards will reimburse this fee). You’ll receive a conditional approval and then need to go to a Global Entry office to finish your application with an interview (many office locations are at the airport). Once you’re approved, you’ll get a Known Traveler Number (KTN), which you can use when booking flights. When you arrive in the United States, you’ll be able to use the Global Entry line at customs, which is usually shorter and faster than the regular line. Global Entry members also have full access to TSA PreCheck lines. Global Entry is valid for up to five years.

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Global Entry is right for you if you travel internationally often and usually travel by air.

What is NEXUS?

NEXUS is a program that allows low-risk travelers to expedite the security and customs process when entering Canada and the United States. If you’re a frequent traveler to both countries, this can be a great time-saver. The application process is similar to TSA PreCheck and Global Entry—you’ll need to fill out an online application and pay the $50 application fee (a few credit cards will reimburse this fee) and then go in for an interview. Once you’re approved, you’ll get a NEXUS card, which you can use when entering both countries. When you arrive in either country, you’ll be able to use the NEXUS line at security and customs, which is usually shorter and faster than the regular line. NEXUS members also have full access to TSA PreCheck lines in the United States and can use the Global Entry kiosks when flying back into the U.S. NEXUS is valid for up to five years.

NEXUS is right for you if you travel internationally often and sometimes travel overland to Canada or Mexico, or if you live close to a NEXUS application center (mostly in border states) and prefer to save the $50 compared to Global Entry.

What is CLEAR?

CLEAR is a program that allows low-risk travelers to expedite the security process when entering airports. If you’re a frequent flyer, this can be a great time-saver. You’ll need to fill out an online application and pay the $189 annual fee (a few credit cards will reimburse this fee). Once you’re approved, you’ll need to finish your CLEAR setup at the airport. When you arrive at the airport, you’ll be able to use the CLEAR line at security, which is usually shorter and faster than the regular line. CLEAR often has both a TSA PreCheck and non-TSA PreCheck section, so you may be able to benefit even more by having both.

CLEAR is right for you if you fly frequently but don’t often travel internationally or over land to Canada or Mexico, or as an addition to your TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or NEXUS membership.

   

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