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TSA PreCheck, CLEAR, Global Entry, Nexus: Huh?!?

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

TSA PreCheck. CLEAR. Nexus. Mobile Passport. Global Entry.

What are these things, anyway? And do you need them?

The answer will depend on how often you fly, what your tolerance is for waiting in line, and how much you’re willing to pay for these conveniences.

Impatient? Skip to the summary (but you probably oughta get in on some of these programs, then).

Let’s start with the most basic and probably most useful to the general population: TSA PreCheck. This will allow you to go through a (usually) shorter security line at the airport, and you can keep your shoes on, and not have to take out your laptop, or liquids.

As more people see the value in this, the PreCheck lines are growing -- but even so, they’re almost always significantly shorter than the regular lines. You can make an appointment to go in for an interview or you may be able to apply onsite at your airport. Once you’ve done that, you’ll get a Known Traveler Number (KTN). When you add that number to your air booking (the best idea is to add it to your frequent flyer profile), your boarding pass will print with an indicator that you’re part of the PreCheck program.

If you're a member of TSA PreCheck, your kids 12 and under can join you in that line.

And yes, some people get it randomly assigned to them occasionally. It happens most often to senior folks, and seems to be happening less often. My best guess is that it's based on demographics. If you value the service, don't count on getting it without having applied for approval. Pony up the $15 a year for this timesaver.

Cost: $85, and it’s valid for 5 years. This is only valid for air travel. Tip: Many credit cards and travel loyalty programs offer a way to get the cost covered in part or in full.

You've seen the lanes -- and maybe inadvertently tried to go into them.

CLEAR is a private company that uses your biometrics (iris scan, fingerprints, face recognition) to verify your identity, and speed up the document check process. Once it knows you're you, they escort you to the front of whatever security line you're eligible for.

It doesn't replace, nor entitle you to TSA PreCheck. But if you do have TSA PreCheck, going through CLEAR zips you right to the front of that line.

Not a member of PreCheck? No worry -- you get to the front of your line -- but you'll still have to remove your shoes, liquids, laptop, etc.

Many frequent travelers see a lot of value in having both CLEAR and PreCheck. Some of us just really dislike standing in lines.

This is often confused with PreCheck, but it’s a separate program. Both are administered through the Trusted Traveler program so the confusion is understandable.

Global Entry speeds you through customs when you return to the US from an international trip. Instead of waiting in line with your paper declaration card in hand, you head to a kiosk which will use facial recognition to identify you, and you'll answer a few questions on what you have to declare. It will generate a receipt, which you show to the customs agent as you breeze on by.

This requires an appointment to apply but the great news is that when you’re approved, you’re automatically eligible for TSA PreCheck. So you save time leaving, and coming home.

Cost: $100, and it’s valid for 5 years. This is valid when you return to the US by air, land, or sea (I’m looking at you, cruisers!). If you’re not good with math, this is $3 more per year than TSA PreCheck alone.

This is like Global Entry lite. It doesn’t require an appointment, but it also doesn’t give you TSA PreCheck. It does, however, get you back into the country more quickly.

Not all airports have a lane available for it, but if the airport you’re landing at does, this can be a real timesaver (and after a long international flight, any minutes you can shave off en route to your comfy bed are precious).

Be sure to download the app ahead of time, and set up your account. Then, when you land, you just need to add your arrival flight information, and zip through customs.

Good To Know: there are 3 different apps that can be downloaded:

  1. CBP Mobile Passport Control. This is the free app provided by U.S. Customs & Border Protection.

  2. Airside Mobile Passport. This is free, with in-app upgrade options. This is developed and offered by Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA)/Airside, in cooperation with CBP.

  3. Delta’s CLEAR Pass for CBP Mobile Passport Control. This is free, and also offers a way to upload your vaccine record, for quicker checking where that's required. You don't have to have a CLEAR membership to use this mobile passport app.

Cost: Free (with some in-app upgrade options)

If you’ve never heard of it, there’s a good chance you haven’t traveled to Canada lately. Nexus is a program that the US and Canada have, which allows travelers to cross the borders more quickly.

It’s kindof like a combination of the TSA PreCheck and Global Entry benefits. In fact, being approved for Nexus gives you both those benefits automatically. The hurdle here is that your interview must take place at a Canadian border point, so if you don’t live right near one, you may need to plan a short trip to a city where you can go to your appointment.

Cost: $50, and it’s valid for 5 years. Includes TSA PreCheck.

Why is it cheaper than just PreCheck? Because the Canadian government subsidizes it (thanks, Canada!).

Let's summarize:

  • TSA PreCheck

    • $85 for 5 years

    • Speeds up the physical security screening process during departure

    • Available in 200+ airports, with 80 participating airlines


    • Cost varies (non-discounted rate is $180 per year)

    • Speeds up the identification & document check process during departure

    • Available at 38+ airports, plus several sports stadiums

  • Global Entry

    • $100 for 5 years

    • Speeds up the customs process on your re-entry to the United States

    • Available at 55+ airports

    • Includes TSA PreCheck

  • Mobile Passport

    • Free, with some in-app paid upgrades

    • Speeds up the customs process on your re-entry to the United States

    • Available at 30 airports + 4 seaports


    • $50 for 5 years

    • Speeds up the customs & immigration process between Canada & the United States

    • Available at 9 Canadian airports + 17 Canadian land border crossings

    • Includes Global Entry & TSA PreCheck

The CLEAR link is my referral link, and I may receive compensation or freebies when you sign up using my link (though you get 2 free months, too!)

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