Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck®: Which is right for you?

A couple wearing backpacks scan their documents at a security gate at the airport.Image: A couple wearing backpacks scan their documents at a security gate at the airport.

In a Nutshell

If you travel often and you’re trying to decide between Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck, it’s important to consider your travel habits, including destinations. You’ll also want to weigh how long it might take you to complete each program’s application and interview process. And if you want to earn credits toward the application fee, you might want to think about applying for a travel rewards credit card that offers this as a benefit.
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Both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck® can make your life easier at the airport.

If you travel often, you know how stressful and time consuming air travel can be — especially getting through security. Having access to Global Entry or TSA PreCheck can help make your next trip a little smoother. But which program is best for you?

If you’re not certain which one to choose — especially if you have a travel rewards credit card that offers an application fee credit for just one of the two programs — know that Global Entry membership also includes TSA PreCheck. So you essentially get a two-for-one deal when you sign up for Global Entry.

But before you choose one or the other, let’s take a closer look at Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck. It’s important to understand the differences between the programs, their approval processes and the way each might fit your travel plans.

Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck: Which is better?

Both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck allow members expedited security screening at the airport, but the type of screening and other features vary between the two programs. Here’s what you should know.

What you need to know about the TSA PreCheck program

TSA PreCheck offers its members expedited screening at more than 200 airports across the U.S. According to the Transportation Security Administration, 89% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes to get through airport security in May 2023.

And unlike most passengers, TSA PreCheck members don’t need to remove their shoes, belts, light jackets, laptops or liquids as they move through the security checkpoint.

Program membership lasts five years.

What you need to know about the Global Entry program

With Global Entry, you’ll not only get the benefits of TSA PreCheck, but you’ll also get expedited customs screening at major U.S. airports when you return from traveling abroad. Instead of dealing with the processing line and paperwork, members can use their passport or lawful permanent resident card at one of the Global Entry kiosks.

There are also expedited entry benefits at select airports in other countries, including Aruba, Bermuda, Canada, Ireland, the Bahamas and the United Arab Emirates.

This program’s membership also lasts five years.

Your citizenship could affect membership

If you have TSA PreCheck, you and any children under the age of 12 can benefit from the dedicated TSA PreCheck lane. But it’s important to note that the program is available only to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and lawful permanent residents.

But with Global Entry, each flyer must enroll to take advantage of the program’s benefits. Global Entry is available to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and citizens of the following countries:

  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Bahrain
  • Colombia
  • Germany
  • India
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • The Netherlands
  • United Kingdom

Application process

It’s generally easier to apply for TSA PreCheck than it is for Global Entry. With TSA PreCheck, you can submit an application online in just five minutes and set up an in-person interview at one of more than 500 enrollment centers around the country.

The interview, which you can typically book within days to weeks, only takes 10 minutes and involves fingerprinting for a background check. The application fee is $85, which you’ll pay in person at the enrollment center.

With Global Entry, it’s a little more complicated. You’ll fill out an application online and pay the $100 fee. Then, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will review your application. If you’re conditionally approved, you can then schedule an interview. But there aren’t as many Global Entry enrollment centers are there are for TSA PreCheck, and it can take several months to secure an interview.

If you can’t find an appointment before your next trip abroad, you can complete your interview upon arrival back in the U.S.

Who would benefit most from Global Entry?

Global Entry is designed for people who travel abroad. Even if you only take one or two international trips in a five-year period, the time you save can be worth it. And because you get access to TSA PreCheck benefits as well, you’ll also enjoy those perks every time you fly out of participating airports.

It can take longer to obtain Global Entry, so if you have a lot of domestic trips coming up and aren’t planning an international vacation anytime soon, you may not want to miss out on TSA PreCheck in the meantime.

Who would benefit most from TSA PreCheck?

The TSA PreCheck program is likely best for both domestic and international travelers who meet the citizenship requirements — as long as you’re flying out of a participating U.S. airport. If you rarely travel abroad, this option may make more sense for you, particularly because it’s easier to obtain than Global Entry.

But because it doesn’t help you get through customs faster, applying for TSA PreCheck alone may not be worth it for you.

Next steps

If you’re thinking about applying for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, check if one of your credit cards offers an application fee credit as a benefit. If not, you may consider applying for a card that does and also provides other benefits that you can enjoy when you travel.

Some examples include …

Compare these and other cards that offer the application fee benefit to determine the right fit for you.

Once you’ve completed the application process for either program, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number, or KTN. For TSA PreCheck benefits, make sure you add your KTN to your frequent flyer account with each airline you use. And every time you book a flight, double-check to make sure it’s included in your reservation.

About the author: Ben Luthi is a personal finance freelance writer and credit cards expert. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and finance from Brigham Young University. In addition to Credit Karma, you can find his wo… Read more.