NAV­I­GA­TOR

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - The Nav­i­ga­tor

Eval­u­at­ing the apps and pro­grams that can get you through cus­toms faster.

Mike Shaw doesn’t want me to write about the U.S. Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion’s new Mo­bile Pass­port app. He used it on a re­cent trip from Bei­jing to Seat­tle, and it worked flaw­lessly. “I breezed by the line and went di­rectly to the doc­u­ment-check­ing agent,” re­mem­bers Shaw, who works in Bei­jing as an op­er­a­tions-sup­port su­per­vi­sor for an Amer­i­can com­pany. “I was through cus­toms in 90 sec­onds. Amaz­ing.”

Shaw is ac­cus­tomed to three­hour waits. When he men­tioned his pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence to a cus­toms agent re­cently, the of­fi­cer just rolled his eyes.

“Yeah,” the agent replied, “un­til ev­ery­body starts us­ing it.”

Be­tween pass­ports, pass­port cards, mo­bile pass­ports and a con­stel­la­tion of trusted-trav­eler pro­grams such as Global En­try, Sen­tri and Nexus, in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers have a lot to choose from this sum­mer. Chances are, there’s a pro­gram that will suit your itin­er­ary and help you avoid long lines when you come home.

Pass­ports and pass­port cards: If you cross the border, you’ll need ei­ther a pass­port book ($135 for adults) or a pass­port card ($55). Un­less you use the Mo­bile Pass­port app, you’ll have to stand in all the usual lines. (Yes, the three-hour ones that Shaw com­plained about.) Which one is right for you? A pass­port card, while cheaper, only works when en­ter­ing the United States at land-border cross­ings and via ports of en­try from Canada, Mex­ico, the Caribbean and Ber­muda. It can’t be used for in­ter­na­tional air travel. Get a pass­port book in­stead.

Mo­bile Pass­port app: This free smart­phone app, now in use at one cruise port and 20 U.S. air­ports, lets you cut some of the cus­toms lines by fill­ing out your pa­per­work in ad­vance on­line. Ar­riv­ing pas­sen­gers can head straight to the “Mo­bile Pass­port Con­trol” line. “This is a par­tic­u­larly good op­tion for those who do not travel fre­quently enough to jus­tify the cost of Global En­try,” says Gina Gab­bard, vice pres­i­dent for leisure sales at Tzell Travel Group.

Global En­try: This is the gold stan­dard for ex­pe­dited border cross­ing. Global En­try lets you cut the line at cus­toms at U.S. air­ports and land bor­ders when you ar­rive, and in­cludes TSA PreCheck, the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s trusted-trav­eler pro­gram. A fiveyear Global En­try mem­ber­ship costs $100 and re­quires on­line pre-en­roll­ment, as well as an in­per­son visit to an en­roll­ment cen­ter for an in­ter­view, where you’ll have to ver­ify your ID and be fin­ger­printed. “The ap­pli­ca­tion process is bru­tal,” says Michelle Weller, a travel agent with Travel Lead­ers Net­work in Hous­ton, “but it’s worth­while.” Weller says the back­ground check is thor­ough: One of her clients was de­nied be­cause of a bar fight in col­lege that re­sulted in a mis­de­meanor as­sault charge.

Nexus: If you travel be­tween the United States and Canada, this is the pro­gram for you. Nexus lets you cut the line at air­ports and land bor­ders when en­ter­ing the two coun­tries. It’s half the price of Global En­try ($50 for five years) but the re­quire­ments are sim­i­lar — preen­roll­ment, an in­ter­view and fin­ger­print­ing. Nathan Smith, an Amer­i­can who lives in Sault Ste. Marie, On­tario, likes Nexus be­cause it helps him avoid long waits at the border when he’s driv­ing. If you’re an Amer­i­can, you get Global En­try ben­e­fits with your Nexus card. “Also, it au­to­mat­i­cally qual­i­fies you for PreCheck,” he says.

Sen­tri: This trusted-trav­eler pro­gram al­lows ex­pe­dited clear­ance for preap­proved, lowrisk trav­el­ers from south­ern land-border cross­ings. The ben­e­fits and re­quire­ments are vir­tu­ally the same as for Nexus, but the cost is $122.25 for five years. If you have to cross the Mex­i­can border in a car fre­quently, you should con­sider this pro­gram. Keith Sha­dle, who runs an in­for­ma­tion site called EasySen­tri, which helps trav­el­ers ap­ply for trusted-trav­eler sta­tus, knows the ben­e­fit of Sen­tri well. He says it saves him hours when­ever he nav­i­gates one of the world’s busiest land-border cross­ings at San Ysidro, Calif. But for Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, he says there may be a bet­ter path to the fast lanes. “Sen­tri ben­e­fits are in­cluded with Global En­try mem­ber­ship,” he says. “If you are a U.S. cit­i­zen and are think­ing of us­ing or want­ing to use Sen­tri lanes, get Global En­try.”

By the way, if you want to fig­ure out how much time these cards will save you, check out the U.S. Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion Wait Time web­site. So what’s the bot­tom line? If you’re an in­fre­quent in­ter­na­tional trav­eler — one or two border cross­ings a year — get a pass­port and use the Mo­bile Pass­port app. If you want to avoid the in­tru­sive ques­tions of an in-per­son in­ter­view or are un­easy about a gov­ern­ment back­ground check, this is also the way to go. If you live near the Cana­dian or Mex­i­can border and make a lot of land cross­ings, con­sider Nexus or Sen­tri. If you travel abroad more than a few times a year, you’ll want Global En­try. Time and again, that’s what ex­pe­ri­enced trav­el­ers rec­om­mend.

“Noth­ing is as time-ef­fi­cient as Global En­try when re­turn­ing to the United States,” says Andy Abram­son, who runs a mar­ket­ing firm in Los An­ge­les and spends al­most as much time in the air as on the ground. Global En­try is even ac­cepted in other coun­tries, he says. He re­cently used it for en­try to New Zealand, which saved him hours of waiting in line.

This sum­mer, there are more ways than ever to avoid long waits at the air­port or at land­bor­der cross­ings. But don’t wait too long to de­cide. The ap­pli­ca­tion process can take weeks, and in some cases, months for some of these trusted-trav­eler pro­grams. If you take too long to de­cide, you could find your­self stuck in a line. El­liott is a con­sumer ad­vo­cate, jour­nal­ist and co-founder of the ad­vo­cacy group Trav­el­ers United. Email him at chris@el­liott.org.

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