This blog post was updated on September 27, 2019.
If you’re an experienced globetrotter, then you understand the pain of having to endure long waits through customs and passport control. There you are, fresh from who-knows how many cheap international flights, finally on the ground at your destination and ready to get to your hotel (or even back home)…but first you have to stand in line with all your fellow passengers, along with a couple hundred more from other flights that have also just landed, as everyone — one-at-time — hands over their passport, submits their customs declaration form and answers any questions from the customs officers. It can be relatively short, but it can also be a grueling wait that seems to be an orchestrated test of your patience. Unless you use a Trusted Traveler program.
A Trusted Traveler program allows members, who are pre-screened and have their details stored in a database, to speed through customs via a separate gate or line. It can save a frequent traveler a lot of time and hassle. Most major countries have such a program and through international agreements, American passport holders can join a bunch of them all around the world.
Here’s the complete of list Trusted Traveler programs that Americans can join and the countries they can use them to speedily enter:
The United State’s Global Entry Program
If you’re an American who spends a lot of time traveling abroad, you should sign up for US Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry Program. It’s a straightforward way to get through American airports both when you depart and arrive back in the US on international flights. The five-year membership not only allows you to avoid the lines, processing, and paperwork at airport customs when you come back into the US, but also automatically includes membership in TSA PreCheck, which allows you to use a separate (and usually much shorter) line to get through security at participating airports when you take off. To join Global Entry, you first need to complete an application and pay a non-refundable $100 fee; after, there’s a background check and an in-person interview.
Ready to speed through foreign customs? Better find some cheap international flights to get there FAST!
Australia’s SmartGate Program
Even with Global Entry, Australia’s Trusted Traveler program is probably the easiest and most affordable one for Americans to use. SmartGate allows passengers coming off international flights to self-process through passport control, using just their passports at a kiosk instead of dealing with a customs officer. It’s available at most major Australian airports, including Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. And the best part? You probably already qualify! Anyone over 16 and traveling on a US electronic passport, which means it contains an electronic chip with all the information printed in the passport and the holder’s biometric data. If your passport was issued on or after August 2007, then it should be an electronic passport. If you’re not sure, just look for this symbol on your passport cover. If it’s there, it’s an electronic passport.
Germany’s EasyPASS Program
The only Trusted Traveler program of a European Union country that accepts Americans, Germany’s EasyPASS allows members to use an automated border control system with separate lanes, instead of submitting to a passport review of customs officers (which often means long lines). It’s available in the 7 busiest airports in Germany, including Frankfurt, Munich, and both Schönefeld and Tegel in Berlin. To join, you need to be at least 18, have a US electronic passport (see the explanation in the entry above), and apply at an EasyPASS enrolment center at one of the airports that use EasyPASS. If you pass the background and security checks, you can use the EasyPASS for as long as the passport you applied with is valid. So, when you renew your passport, you also have to renew your EasyPASS.
An electronic passport contains an electronic chip with all the information printed in the passport and the holder’s biometric data. If your passport was issued on or after August 2007, then it should be an electronic passport. If you’re not sure, just look for this symbol on your passport cover. If it’s there, it’s an electronic passport.
Mexico’s Viajero Confiable Program
Mexico’s version of America’s Global Entry, Viajero Confiable members gain quick entry through customs into Mexico via automated kiosks at Mexico City, San Jose del Cabo, and Cancun airport. It’s a bit unclear if you need to be a resident of Mexico or not — different government websites have conflicting information on it. BUT you definitely must be at least 18, have a US electronic passport (see above), and be a Global Entry program member. You can apply for Viajero Confiable, which includes a fee (reportedly 1,372 Mexican pesos, which is about $84) and an interview at a Viajero Confiable enrollment center (which are in participating airports) with biometric data collection.
New Zealand’s Dedicated Lane for Global Entry Members
If you’re already a Global Entry member, then you’re free to use the dedicated lane for streamlined entry through New Zealand customs, which can greatly reduce wait time at the country’s main international airports (Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch). And if you’re not already a Global Entry member…well now you have a reason to become one!
Canada’s End of the NEXUS Program
A joint Trusted Traveler program between the US and its northern neighbor, NEXUS is a must for anyone who makes frequent trips between the two. Members breeze through customs by way of separate processing lanes and NEXUS kiosks when entering Canada. To join, you need to be a US citizen with no criminal history (including pending charges, warrants, or under investigation). You have to fill out an application with a $50 fee and then do an in-person interview at a NEXUS enrollment center.
Panama’s Panama Global Pass
Panama Global Pass members are able to use a dedicated kiosk to clear Panamanian customs without paperwork or having to spend time in any processing line when they land at Tocumen International Airport. You need to have a US Passport and no criminal history and can apply online. There’s a $100 application fee and a mandatory in-person interview at the Panama Global Pass office at Tocumen International Airport or National Immigration Service Main Office in Panama City.
The Republic of Korea’s SES Program
Available at three airports (Incheon, Gimpo, and Gimpae) out of Korea’s top four busiest, the SES program allows its members to sidestep the often long lines for processing via electronic gates. To apply, you need to be at least 17, have a US electronic passport (again, see above), and be a Global Entry member. There’s a $100 application fee and you’ll have to do an in-person interview at an SES enrollment center (which are in participating airports) with biometric data collection.
The United Kingdom’s Registered Traveler Program
American members of the UK’s Registered Traveler Program are saved from a lot of the headaches that come after international flights that land on that side of the pond. They can use ePassport gates at major airports, take the often faster-moving UK / European Union queue, AND don’t need to complete a landing card or have to do a credibility interview with a UK Border Force officer. To qualify, you need to be a US citizen who’s made four or more trips to the UK in two years. There’s a £70 (about $91) application fee and an additional annual fee of £50 (around $65).
The APEC Business Travel Card Program
Arguably, the least-known Trusted Traveler Program that Americans can join. According to its website, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a “regional economic forum” whose members “aim to create greater prosperity for the people of the region by promoting balanced, inclusive, sustainable, innovative and secure growth and by accelerating regional economic integration.” The APEC Business Travel Card Program enables the holder to use dedicated fast-track lanes for expedited processing at participating member countries’ airports. That’s more than 20 countries, including Japan, Russia, China, Thailand, and others. To get the card, you need to be a US citizen and already be part of a US Trusted Traveler program (like NEXUS, or Global Entry). You also have to be either a verified business person (meaning you’re “engaged in the trade of goods, the provision of services or the conduct of investment activities in the APEC region”) or a U.S. government official who is actively engaged in APEC business.