Everything You Need to Know to Ace Your Global Entry Interview

Good news: The process is easier than you might think.

RichLegg/E+/Getty Images
RichLegg/E+/Getty Images
RichLegg/E+/Getty Images

Since its debut in 2008, Global Entry has become the travel world’s most obvious travel hack. Hate lines? Pay a small price, do a short interview, embrace some minor Big Brother vibes, and you’ll soon be skipping the never-ending US customs queue and landing at baggage claim before you can say, “Anything to declare?”

Fifteen years on, Global Entry has been embraced for its efficiency and ease of use. Thankfully, getting access isn’t especially difficult if you’re willing to jump through a few hoops. To help you prepare, here’s a guide that demystifies the program along with steps for what to expect on your road to the fast track.

PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images
PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images
PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images

What’s the difference between TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and CLEAR?

First off, it’s important to understand the difference between TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.

TSA PreCheck means expedited security checks at 290+ US airports-you’ll (usually) wait in a shorter line while keeping your shoes on your feet, your laptop in your bag, and your pants held up by your belt. If you’re traveling with kids under 17, they get in on the perks, too. It costs $78 (down from $85), and once you’re approved, you’re good to go for five years. If you travel often but seldom go abroad, it’s a no-brainer.

You get all the above perks when you sign up for Global Entry, but you’ll also fly through customs and immigration after a quick stop at a photo kiosk when you get back to the US. It’s $100 for five years, covered by some credit cards, and also works if you’re traveling by land and sea. And if that process isn’t fast enough for you, US Customs and Border Protections has also launched an app that allows passengers arriving at participating airports to snap a selfie and bypass the kiosk as well.

You’ll also hear a lot about CLEAR, a private company that identifies you by scanning your eyes and fingerprints. It works in conjunction with TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. As of 2023, 53 US airports have CLEAR kiosks where you get bio-scanned, then escorted to the front of either the general or TSA PreCheck airport security line, depending on whether or not you also have PreCheck status. It’s considerably more expensive at $189 annually, though some credit cards cover this fee and you can also use CLEAR for fast access to other public venues like stadiums and arenas.

Simply put, think of Global Entry as having everything TSA PreCheck offers plus the ability to buzz through customs, while CLEAR is its own Minority Report-style thing. For our purposes, we’ll just be walking through the Global Entry enrollment process, but you can learn more about CLEAR here.

Filling out the Global Entry forms

So you decided you hate lines. Congratulations on that life-changing revelation. Now all you have to do to create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account. Once you get through that, it’s time to commit: Plunk down your $100, then get ready to wait. At the time this article went live, the processing time for approval was four to six months.

Once your number is called, you’ll need to schedule an interview. Just book an appointment at a participating airport or an offsite enrollment center. If you happen to be re-entering the US while your application is still pending, you can book an appointment to be interviewed after you go through customs at an Enrollment on Entry location.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Starting the interview process

Once you finally get into the interview room, you’ve already been pre-screened to ensure you’re not on any international watch lists, terror-threat lists, or general “the-US government-doesn’t-like-you” lists. Relax-if you’re here, you’re basically approved already. Sometimes they even have your pre-printed approval paper face down on the desk when you walk in.

This is not a job interview, and it’s certainly not an episode of one of those airport customs reality shows. Aside from basic biographical information (name, birthdate, address, etc.), questions should be limited to the following:

  • Why do you want to join Global Entry?
  • Who is your employer?
  • What is your profession?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Have you ever had an issue at customs or border patrol?

They already know the answers to ALL of these questions, so this is more of an integrity check. Don’t lie or try to be funny-this border control, where humor is as frowned upon as hiding a banana in your luggage on the way back from Costa Rica. Just answer the questions honestly and seriously and you’ll be fine.

Bring all the necessary paperwork

Although they’ll already know most things about you when you walk through the door, there may be a few situations that need clarification. For example, were you ever arrested but had the charges dropped? Have you traveled to a restricted country (like North Korea) but had a legal reason to be there? They likely don’t have proof that the charges were dropped, or that you were on a humanitarian mission, so you’re on the hook to provide accurate documentation.

If you fail to bring the paperwork with you-including a valid passport and one other form of identification, like a driver’s license or state ID card-it could delay your approval.

Open up about any criminal history

Global Entry doesn’t delve too deep into your criminal record, and having one won’t immediately disqualify you. But you may get an interview request only to be turned down on the spot when they learn you’ve been convicted or pled guilty to a misdemeanor in the past 10 years.

Don’t waste your time: If you’re unsure whether that game-day public urination incident was an infraction or a misdemeanor, look into it before you apply. You can check and see if you’re eligible here.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Get ready to have your photo taken

If approved, you’ll receive a nifty ID card (complete with a picture taken during your interview) in the mail within a few days. So, if you’d like it to look better than your passport and driver’s license photos, dress nice. Or at least don’t wear a hat.

Be prepared to wait

Like we said, they only ask you a handful of questions; if you’ve got nothing interesting to explain, the whole event should take less time than an oil change. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be there for a while: You’re not the only one with a 4 pm appointment on a Friday, so be prepared to wait 45 minutes to an hour if you schedule your interview during a busy time.

If you can take a half-day off work and go mid-morning Tuesday to Thursday, you won’t have a lot of company. Also, airport locations typically see fewer applicants than city offices. Regardless, the wait to get through the process is almost certain to be shorter than the hours and hours you’ll save by not shuffling endlessly through unmoving customs lines for the next five years.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist and is looking forward to being that smug bastard who breezes through customs. But since phones are illegal in that area, you won’t see any pictures of it on Instagram: @meltrez1.

Andy Kryza is a former editor at Thrillist. 


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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