What is the Difference Between Global Entry, TSA Pre-Check, and CLEAR? Some Help for the Confused or the Curious…

Normally, I think I’m pretty quick to grasp a new concept or figure out how something works. I can read the fine print, listen to instructions, and watch carefully. However, there are definitely times when I’m presented with some new information and I feel completely lost. For whatever reason, I just don’t get it. This was the case with Global Entry, TSA Pre-Check, and CLEAR. I’m not sure why these three things were so confusing to me. I think maybe it’s because I learned about all of them at about the same time, so they just became a jumble in my mind. Also, until just recently, I had none of them, so I wasn’t quite sure how they worked and couldn’t tell you the differences between them. And maybe it’s just me. But I like to think that I’m not alone in my confusion. In case you are also wondering about this, I’ve put together a quick “cheat sheet” that highlights the details of each program. Read on to learn more!


Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 4.51.27 PM What benefit is there to having a CLEAR card? With your card, you are able to access exclusive CLEAR lanes at airport security checkpoints, and go straight to screening. In other words, you are fast-tracked to the front of the line and do not need to get your documents and boarding passes checked by a TSA agent. In addition, you are offered “full concierge service,” which includes attendants getting bins for you. However, once you are at the front of the line, you still need to go through the screening process just like everybody else: you need to take off your shoes, remove your computer and 3-1-1 compliant bag, and wait for the people in front of you.

How do you sign up? It’s fairly simple. You sign up online, then visit an Enrollment Center with your driver’s license and passport (or other approved ID) to complete enrollment (they verify your biometrics with fingerprint and iris imaging). If everything checks out, you get your CLEAR card in the mail within 7-10 days.

Do you need an appointment? No.

How much does it cost? The “rack rate” is $179/year, but you can usually find a deal to bring the cost down. You can add a family member for $50. Also, if you have a Visa Signature card, you can get 6 months free CLEAR membership, then you will get $60 off the $179 annual fee when your membership automatically renews.

Are your kids included in your membership? Yes, as long as they are traveling with you.

How long does membership last before you need to renew? 1 year.

Where does CLEAR work? Currently, in Denver, Orlando, Houston, San Antonio, San Francisco, San Jose, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Westchester.

Global Entry

Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 8.46.05 PM What benefit is there to having Global Entry? It expedites the process of standing in line for immigration when you enter the United States. In other words, you are fast-tracked through customs. When you land from an international flight, you proceed to a Global Entry kiosk, swipe your passport, place your fingertips on the scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration. The kiosk gives you a transaction receipt, and you sail through to baggage claim and the exit. How do you sign up? There are a few steps to the process.

  1. Sign up online.
  2. Wait several days for a “conditional approval” notification (via email).
  3. After you get this notification, you can sign up for an interview time.
  4. Attend your scheduled interview and have fingerprints taken (I just had my interview today and will write about the process in a future post). 
  5. If everything checks out, you will receive your Global Entry card within 7-10 days.

Do you need an appointment? Yes. Note that available interview times are few and far between; however, there are frequent cancellations, so check back frequently if you have a flexible schedule and/or really need to make this happen. How much does it cost? $100. However, if you have the Amex Platinum, Amex Mercedes-Benz Platinum, or Amex Business Platinum cards, you can get this fee refunded to you in the form of a statement credit; simply use your card to pay the fee and you will see the refund within a few days. Other ways to get the fee covered are through the Citi Prestige card, or if you have high status with an airline. Are your kids included in your membership? No. Every person, regardless of age, needs his or her own membership. How long does membership last before you need to renew? 5 years. Where does Global Entry work? Here is a list of airports where there are Global Entry kiosks. I counted 44, but there might be more as you read this.

TSA Pre-Check

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What benefit is there to having TSA PreCheck? With PreCheck, you can literally breeze through security checkpoints on domestic flights. AND you don’t have to take off your shoes, belt, or jacket, AND you can leave your laptop and small liquid containers in your carry-on bag. I cannot refrain from yelling WOO HOO here. The way it works is that once you get your boarding pass, you can see whether or not you’ve been selected for expedited screening. While odds are good that you will usually get expedited, there is never a guarantee, because TSA needs to have some random checks in the process. If you are selected, your boarding pass will look something like this:

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How do you sign up? Another WOO HOO, because if you already have a Global Entry card, you can automatically register for TSA PreCheck! All you have to do is log into your frequent flyer accounts and enter your “Trusted Traveler ID number” (from your Global Entry card) into your profile. If you don’t plan on getting Global Entry, never fear. There are two other ways to get TSA PreCheck:

  1. Buy it. According to the PreCheck website, you can pay $85 either online, or at an enrollment center. TSA expects the vetting process to take approximately 2-3 weeks. A U.S. passport is not required to enroll.
  2. Earn it. Participating airlines contact some of their elite frequent flyers to ask if they would like to opt-in through the airline’s system.

Do you need an appointment? No. Walk-ins are allowed at most application centers, but wait times may be longer. Can you make an appointment? Yes. You can do that here. How much does it cost?

  • It’s free if you are also a Global Entry member.
  • It costs $85 if you apply through PreCheck.
  • It’s free if you are specially invited by an airline.

Are your kids included in your membership? Yes, as long as they are traveling with you. How long does membership last before you need to renew? 5 years. Where does TSA PreCheck work? It is currently available at 40 airports nationwide. Here is a list of participating airports.


Clearly, Global Entry is the way to go. For $100, you can enjoy all the benefits of both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. While CLEAR is probably quite helpful in many situations, its scope is limited and its benefits don’t really compare. Hopefully this was helpful. Anyone inspired to apply?