If you get my weekly newsletter (sign up here) then you know that I have a love/hate relationship with TSA PreCheck. I love it because the line is usually much shorter and I don’t have to take off my shoes, belt and jacket. I also don’t have to take my laptop or my 3-1-1 compliant liquids bag out.
But at the same time I sort of hate it because it seems they’ve been allowing totally random people who haven’t applied or received a background check to enjoy the benefits of the program. Here’s my rant on the subject.
However, it looks like the Transportation Security Administration is starting to wake up because according to the New York Times, they plan to end the free rides for those who haven’t applied. So how do you get TSA PreCheck for free?
Global Entry—for international travel
TSA PreCheck costs $85 for five years, which seems like a fair deal. But if you travel internationally at all (and especially if you do it frequently), it makes sense to instead get Global Entry, which gives you expedited processing through CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) at airports and land borders upon arrival in the U.S. as well as TSA PreCheck for only $15 more ($100 total) and is also good for five years! Tip: If you have an American Express Platinum credit card, pay with it and they’ll reimburse you the $100 Global Entry fee.
NEXUS—for travel to Canada
An even better deal, if you travel to and from Canada often, is to get NEXUS. It’s basically the same thing as Global Entry except only for Canada—and it also includes Global Entry and TSA PreCheck and only costs $50 for five years. The downside is that you need to have your face-to-face appointment in Canada or one of their enrollment centers near the Canadian border, like in Seattle or Niagara Falls. Here’s a list of locations.
Sentri—for travel to Mexico
For those frequent travelers to and from Mexico, get Sentri ($122.25) as it’s just like NEXUS but for Mexico and it too includes Global Entry and TSA PreCheck.
To give you a better understanding, here’s a quick and handy comparison chart from the Department of Homeland Security created. It shows all the programs, the eligibility requirements, application process and fees, along with links to all of them.
No matter which one makes sense for you, it will be the best money you’ve ever spent as a traveler as it will mean you’ll be able to breeze past the customs and immigration lines—which will now take about two minutes.