What is a Global Entry Card and When Do I Need One?

Feb 10, 2017

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We’ve upgraded our “Sunday Reader Question” series! Our new “Reader Questions” will be answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

Today’s Reader Question comes to us via Facebook from Lin, who sent a message asking…

“Is a Global Entry card the equivalent of a passport card?”

TPG Reader Lin

If you have Global Entry, you most likely also received a Global Entry card with your name, birthdate, photo, identifying info and a “PASSID” which is the same as the Known Traveler Number you add to your airline ticket to access TSA PreCheck.

But when you’re approved for Global Entry, your status as a trusted traveler is tied to your passport or permanent resident card, which, along with your fingerprints, confirms your identity. So if you’re arriving at a US port of entry by air, you don’t need anything but your passport or resident card and your fingers, which have hopefully traveled with you along with your hands, legs and the rest of your body.

So if that’s the case, why does the Global Entry card exist?

A Global Entry card is primarily used for crossing the borders of the United States by land and sea. Now, yes, that description might sound very similar to a passport card, which is a simpler and cheaper form of a passport but which also only provides entry at land and certain sea crossings.

But there’s a major difference. At either of the main land border crossings — Canada to the north and Mexico to the south — there are additional Trusted Traveler programs to speed access into the United States. These programs are known as Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) at the Mexico border, and NEXUS at the Canadian border. Both programs provide expedited lanes across the border.

Global Entry cards contain radio frequency identification chips which enable their use at the SENTRI and NEXUS lanes. Passport cards, on the other hand, cannot be used in these expedited lanes.

So what we’re saying here is… if you don’t mind potentially waiting in line for hours at the border from Canada or Mexico, a passport card is fine. But if you’d rather not wait, a Global Entry card will be extremely helpful.

Note that while you can use your Global Entry card at NEXUS lanes into the United States without any further paperwork, if you want to use NEXUS to enter Canada from the US, you must add NEXUS to your Global Entry account, pay a fee, and participate in an interview with Canadian immigration. To add NEXUS, log in to your GOES account and choose “Add Trusted Traveler Program” from the menu at the top left. You can also use the same menu to add a SENTRI vehicle to your membership, which will allow you to take a car back and forth into either Mexico or Canada, but you will still need to have your vehicle examined in person after entering the info online.

Finally, another interesting fact about a Global Entry card is that — like a passport card — it can serve as a valid form of ID at TSA checkpoints instead of a drivers license. So if you’re from a state which might not meet the upcoming 2018 deadline to comply with the REAL ID act, your drivers license may no longer be usable to fly after next January, but a Global Entry card will.

Even if you’re not in one of those states, there are lots of great reasons to apply for Global Entry and there are plenty of credit cards that let you do it for free. Check out our list of the Top Cards For Global Entry and TSA PreCheck to find a choice that works for you.

Our thanks to Lin for the great question. We’re now answering questions three times a week here at The Points Guy, so please tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or send an email to info@thepointsguy.com if you have any questions you’d like us to address!

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