Finding the place for the Global Entry interview with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection was the hardest part of the process. The office is located on the lower level of the international terminal E in the far corner next to a small Starbucks kiosk. The signage is very small. The problem is that there is a Starbucks everywhere, so I went to the wrong one first and lost about 15 minutes. Fortunately, there were some customs officers waking the concourse and they offered to guide me. See GOES website for application details. https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/
If you are flying in to Houston from elsewhere you need to leave the secure area and take the stairs or elevator down to the area where the international flights arrive. The office is tucked into the corner. Of course, you need to make an appointment online in order be interviewed, which is the second part of the application process and requires approval.
So, I walked in and sat down in a small area with two officers at a desk. I was acknowledged immediately, checked in, signed a form, and provided my passport, driver’s license, and preliminary approval letter. Then, the officer asked me to watch a video that walked me throughout the Global Entry process at the airport. He then called me to his desk, took my photo, fingerprinted me (4 fingers on each hand and 2 thumbs), chatted me up about my travels to Mexico, entered the final approval into the system, and I was on my way in less than 30 minutes.
The second downside came when I had to re-enter security, taking off shoes, removing laptop, etc. All in all, a very streamlined and pleasant experience, other than the finding of the right location and getting back in to the airport. If you are going to do this, I would make sure you have a long enough layover and leave yourself 60 minutes.
The airport is packed today. The officer said that the busiest time in Houston is between 1-5 pm when all the international flights arrive. I am hoping this special pass will speed my re-entry when I come home from Mexico.
I’ve traveled back and forth to Mexico multiple times a year over the last seven years. Each time I arrive back home to the U.S. on a flight, I join hundreds of people who are waiting in line to go through U.S. Immigration at the airport. Have you ever noticed how all the international flights arrive at just about the same time? And, that wait, especially in the summer time during peak international vacation travel, can shave off 30 minutes or more from the time you have to make your connecting flight. How many times have you then gone from Immigration, then through Customs, then through another round of security only to have minutes left before your flight departs (if you are lucky) and you are racing breathless through the airport to get to the gate before the cabin door closes.
There is a solution I discovered: the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler Programs. The last time I was waiting in line to get through immigration at Houston Intercontinental Airport, I noticed all those electronic kiosks lined up and just a few people using them, breezing through without any wait. Tantalized, I jotted down the name, found the website, and recently completed by own personal application online.
What is Global Entry?
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Though intended for frequent international travelers, there is no minimum number of trips necessary to qualify for the program. Participants may enter the United States by using automated kiosks located at select airports.
The Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) enables you to apply via the Internet for a U.S. Government pass to get through U.S. Immigration quickly without having to wait in long lines at the airport when you re-enter the country. (There is another option for land travel across the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders.) There is a substantial application fee: $100 USD. And, the questions are quite detailed. After you complete the online form, you submit it with a credit card payment. Then you have to wait to see if you will get a conditional approval. Conditional approval, I guess (I don’t know the criteria), depends on if your U.S. Passport is in good order and you don’t have any criminal charges or irregularities on your record.
Next Steps: Now that I have received my conditional approval, the next step is to schedule a 30-minute in-person interview at one of the international airport gateways where there are CBP offices. You can select your appointment location, date and time online, too. I’m traveling through IAH (Houston) in 10 days and scheduled an interview there. I have an hour and 40 minutes between my arrival and connecting flight, so I hope I can make it. It will make life so much easier 🙂
Posted in Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Travel & Tourism
Tagged blogsherpa, border protection, faster airport re-entry to the U.S., Global Entry, international travel, Mexico, Oaxaca, postaweek2011, tourism, U.S. customs and immigration, U.S. Passport