Global Entry With Kids: What You Need To Know

Global Entry is a trusted traveler program that allows members to bypass the lines at immigration. It also lets you skip ahead through customs after you exit baggage claim. For many, it can be a real game changer.

The Global Entry program has been around long enough now that I expect most people generally know how it works. However there are often questions about how it works with kids. My entire family of four has had Global Entry for several years and we love it. When your 3 year old has to get pages added to his passport, you know you’ve been bouncing in and out of the country a lot, so avoiding the line at immigration is handy.

In this post, I explain the process of how to get it, how it works, and what to expect. Let me apologize up-front for the gratuitous use of photos from the DHS website — I’ve just never felt inclined to find out what happens if you take pictures in the immigration area.

Global Entry: Not just for adults.
Global Entry: Not just for adults.

Kids Need Global Entry Too

Everyone in your family needs to have Global Entry for you to go through the Global Entry lane. That includes the kids. It’s not sufficient just for Mom and Dad to have Global Entry without the children. If you try it, you’ll end up doing the walk of shame to the back of the regular line. 

This is a key difference between TSA Pre and Global Entry. With TSA Pre, only the adults need to have Pre-check; the kids can come along even if their boarding pass doesn’t go beep beep beep. With Global Entry, everyone in the party needs to have it. Now I’m not saying that an exception has never been made for the cute offspring of two GE parents, but for once, I’ve actually played by the rules and never asked for any special favors.

The Application

The application for kids is identical to that for adults. You get to list every country that junior has been to which is kind of cool. And every address they’ve lived at. The $100 fee is also the same for both adults and kids. It’s also good for five years, same as adults.

We were fortunate to get our family’s Global Entry fee paid for by a combination of airline status and credit card benefits. Sadly, as of last January, United recently stopped issuing Global Entry fee payment codes to Platinums and higher.

What's not to love? Oh right, the fee.
What’s not to love? Oh right, the fee.

The Interview

We applied for Global Entry during the what seemed like the mad rush. Everyone wanted it and the calendar for the in-person interview was full for months. We ended up scheduling our interview at the Detroit office on the day before Christmas while we were visiting family for the holidays. We weren’t sure how to schedule it for the four of us, so we basically just reserved four consecutive time slots.

We showed up at the Global Entry office at Metro Airport at our prescribed time. Nobody else was waiting, so we pretty much went right in. We explained that we were all applying for Global Entry, my wife and I, our two year old son, and 6-month old daughter.

There were three Customs and Border Patrol agents in the office that day and they couldn’t have been nicer. Two of them basically babysat our kiddos while they asked my wife and I the obligatory questions — it was long enough ago that I don’t really remember what they asked, but I seem to think they just reviewed the data from the application.

The kids really didn’t have to do much of anything other than get their picture taken. It’s worth nothing that the kids aren’t finger printed. I’m not sure at what age they do get fingerprinted, but our toddler and infant definitely were not.

The CBP makes the interview room look calm and serene....
CBP makes the interview room look calm and serene in this picture. Just wait till my family shows up!

The Global Entry Kiosk Experience

We really didn’t know what to expect the first time we hit the Global Entry lane at immigration. Here’s how the process works.

Each member of your family needs to be processed at the kiosk, and one at a time. It’s actually pretty easy for the most part. For adults, the process consists of:

  1. Scan your passport
  2. Get your picture taken
  3. Scan your fingertips
  4. Verify the flight information (I’ve never seen it be wrong)
  5. Answer the questions using the toggle buttons (I like that they have a “no to all”)
  6. Pick up receipt

The difference for kids is that you don’t scan their fingerprints. After you scan their passport, a message will pop up on the screen saying “No biometrics on file” and then proceeds to ask you questions on their behalf.

The crux of the process involves holding them up to have their picture taken. When we’re arriving from Europe, it usually goes pretty well. If you’ve just landed on a redeye from Asia, however, you can be darn sure that the kids are going to be asleep, or worse, wanting to be asleep. Either way, you’re going to have to lift them up and try to get their face in front of the camera.

It usually looks like I photobombed their picture, and sometimes the kid ducks such that the picture only includes me!

It's not quite this calm with two preschoolers running around.
Why don’t any of these stock pictures show how you are supposed to get the kid to look at the camera?

It doesn’t really matter how good or bad the picture turns out to be, as you end up with an X on the receipt, indicating that you need to talk to an officer. This really isn’t a big deal as there is usually an officer working the lane near the Global Entry area. Sometimes it’s a dedicated Global Entry lane, other times you can make dual use of the crew/diplomat lane.  The officer looks at their Global Entry receipts, verifies that the photo in the passport could have once matched the kid who is now asleep in the stroller (or on your shoulders), and then welcomes you into the country.

The Old Global Entry Kiddo Experience

The process I just described isn’t how it originally worked. I’m including the following description for completeness, and for those who may have gone through Global Entry with kids a year or two and are thinking “that is definitely not how it worked for us.”

When we first got Global Entry, the kiosk wasn’t programmed to know that the kids didn’t have biometrics. So the first few times we would try to scan their fingertips, knowing it was futile since they had never been fingerprinted. But I’ve learned that when interacting with our government, it’s important to show that you went through the motions.

Global Entry is run by the Department of Homeland Security
Global Entry is run by the Department of Homeland Security

We’d then stop at the officer working the nearest lane and explain the situation. Back then of course, many of the officers assumed that only my wife and I had GE and that we were trying to sneak the kids through with us. That would really irritate my wife, so she started to greet them with “Hi. My kids have Global Entry but they don’t have fingerprints on file” before they could accuse us of being GE scofflaws.

I always carry our official Global Entry ID cards with us to prove that the kids do have GE, but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked for them.  They are useful, however, when questioned by irritable customs officers who think you are trying to hijack the GE exit lane, just to ask them, “I have their Global Entry cards – would you like to see them?”

Would I Recommend Global Entry For Kids?

That depends. There’s not much point in you (or you and your spouse) getting Global Entry by yourselves if you travel most of the time with the kids. It won’t do you much good, unless you decide to split up, which isn’t something I would recommend in an immigration line for anyone (just ask Ben.)

Some say that getting through immigration faster just means you end up waiting in baggage claim. But for us, that’s far better.

There is no line! The kids can run! There are carts to play with, conveyor belts to ride on — wait, my kids would never do that. Meanwhile, waiting in any type of line, immigration or Disney, can just be miserable with tired, cranky kids.

Baggage claim is always better than the immigration line, even though most don't have Lego.
Baggage claim is always better than the immigration line, even though most don’t have Lego.

For the record, I’ve seen some horrendous lines at immigration during peak arrival periods, so I know that it can sometimes save a ton of time. It definitely has value to my family. Think of this as an insurance policy — you might not care about having it most of the time, but when you need it, you’ll care a lot.

Will My Credit Card Pay For My Kids GE?

If you have a credit card that reimburses the Global Entry application fee, absolutely.

When United was paying the Global Entry application fee for Premier Platinums, 1Ks, and Global Services members, they simply sent you a one-time use code for their corporate credit card. It didn’t matter who you used it for.

For the credit cards that provide Global Entry fee credits, you simply charge the application fee to the card in question, and then receive a statement credit. If you have one of those credit cards, you should be able to use the Global Entry fee credit for anyone.

Conclusion

We’ve had mostly favorable experiences using Global Entry with our kids. The update to the kiosk software that allows it to recognize that the kids have Global Entry but don’t have biometrics on file has removed the only real hiccup, and sort of formalized the process for taking kids through Global Entry. We get a lot less confused looks these days as a result.

There’s definitely value to GE if you travel internationally as a family but only you know how often you’d use it, and how much you are willing to pay to sidestep a huge line. If your credit card(s) will cover part of the cost for your family (as in you, or you and your wife), maybe it’s best to think of just the incremental cost required for the kids, since without them included, yours might not be as worth much.

The sooner you get through immigration, the sooner you can sleep in the car on the way home.
The sooner you get through immigration, the sooner you can sleep in the car on the way home.

Do your kids have Global Entry? 

Comments

  1. Great post! We are getting global entry for my wife and I through the ameriprise amex platin credit card. It has room for 3 authorized users.

    Unfortunately we have six kids so it will take us a long time :-). We still need to I get all the kids PASSPORTS (8 passports are expensive!!)

  2. A couple of things – it may depend on the agents as to what ages the kids get fingerprinted. At JFK, they did fingerprint my kids (aged 4, 3 at the time) and tried it with my toddler. It didn’t work so they said they would let “him slide.” 🙂
    I’m not sure if this is still the case but Nexus used to be free for kids which means that Global Entry is free with that. Anyone know if this is still the case?

  3. All my kids have Global Entry, my youngest is now 13. Unfortunately, it seems they (Delta, or the UM ground services people at BOS) never use it when she flies UM from Europe (even though, I include a note about it). But, she travels with me (or my wife) quite often; and it is of course a time saver in those situations (especially, when we do not have checked bags).

    I personally think it makes sense to do for all your kids, since it’s not a particularly painful process. In my sons interview (as a teenager) they only asked him “did you ever do anything really bad?”

  4. If I recall right, They tried to get prints from my 1 year old, but it didn’t work so we skipped it. My 4 year old was successful.

  5. It’s worth mentioning that the NEXUS program, which provides expedited border clearance at either the US or Canadian border for qualifying citizens of either country, also gives holders access to Global Entry at any US port of entry – and is only $50 in either USD or CAD. It is valid for 5 years and has the added benefit of allowing access to NEXUS car lanes at land border crossings. Similar to Global Entry, everyone in your party or vehicle have to have it to use the expedited lanes. But it can really be worth it. If you think jumping the queue at JFK on occasion is a benefit, you’ve never tried to cross the US/Canadian border on the Friday of a long weekend when the line of cars going each way stretch off over the horizon.

  6. One thing to be aware of is that the Global Entry interview scheduling may take a very long time at some airports. For example, the current wait time for Boston’s Logan airport is FOUR MONTHS. That’s your government at work, baby.

  7. Travis, yes, nexus is still free for kids. I think the cutoff is 18 years old. Comes with global entry benefits too.

    For a family of 4 such as yourself nexus would be 100 total versus 400 for global entry.

    If you can make it to the border for the dual country interview it’s a no brainer really

  8. Thank you for the info…unfortunately we don’t travel frequently enough to make this program worth the expense . I just wanted to say, your children are adorable. 🙂

  9. @Andy good point re: both NEXUS family pricing (it is free for kids) and the need to get to a border crossing for the joint US/Canadian interview, which is not going to be convenient for many (with the exception of Seattle and Detroit which have downtown locations available). But it’s worth remembering that you can also do it an international airport with US pre-clearance such as Toronto Pearson or Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver etc.

    The full interview locations list is here: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/prog/nexus/location-eng.html

    I also didn’t make it clear that while NEXUS gets you access to expedited lines or lanes entering Canada as well as expedited Global Entry entering the US, the reverse is *not* true. If you are a US citizen with Global Entry you do *not* get access to NEXUS fast track lines or lanes entering Canada at any port of entry. The only way to skip the queue entering Canada (today) is with a NEXUS card and everyone in your party or vehicle has to have one.

    As a sidebar, in 2012 1/3 of all foreign visits to the US are made by Canadians and 2/3 of foreign visits to Canada are made by Americans. In terms of visits to the US, Canadians accounted for 22.7m trips, compared to the UK in 3rd spot with 3.8m. Huge delta.

  10. Yes, Nexus is still free up until age 18. We just enrolled our 3 month old, with her interview in Toronto last week. Everything went smooth (they didn’t ask her any questions). If you travel to Canada, well worth it – $50 cheaper than GE and you get it, also.

    Interestingly enough, the U.S. Officer doing the “interview” told us not to use the GE machine for our little one at all – but to bring her through the GE lane with us and just fill out a blue customs declaration card for her, go through the regular GE process for us, and to just give the declaration & Nexus card to the officer working in the area to have her processed. This was a week and a half ago. I wonder if the process is different at a pre-clearance location, or if it is a matter of you get a different answer from different officers.

    Also, noticed you’ve never seen the flight information be wrong. I’ve seen it not come up for my wife on occasion, and she’s had to enter it in manually. But probably worse, when doing pre-clearance, every single time there’s a connection, without fail, it will show the correct flight number for the U.S. – Canada segment, but the final destination (of the second segment). Kind of drives me mad, and i didn’t know how i should handle it at first, but I just click that it’s correct and I’ve never had an issue.

  11. If the LEGO fails at Copenhagen Airport, the travel retail store next to the baggage belts sells all the candy necessary to fill up a kid’s mouth 🙂

  12. Great comments on Nexus. Will keep that in mind for the next round if I can’t get anyone else to pay for our renewals.

  13. Per the CBP website, you can also call and have them schedule a family appointment for the GE interview over the phone, if you have small kids

  14. Elliott — I can imagine skipping the GE process for the littles and just going to the officer, as that effectively is the net result anyway. We sort of just go through the motions at the kiosk, and it does print a receipt for them to take to the officer.

    And yes, it does matter on the point of entry. There are slightly different rules (or at least expectations) at each one. This annoys my wife greatly, as she just wants to do the right thing…..

  15. I had the same experience as some as the others – they did fingerprint my daughter, who was 17 months at the time. As one would expect, they didn’t get good prints and we found out later they shouldn’t have done them anyways. If you are going to take your kids, try to have the rules printed off from somewhere where it discusses kids and prints. We did ours in SLC.

  16. My now 2.5yr old has it, and had her fingerprints taken at 19months. They managed to get a good print and then it worked coming into SFO. The obligatory photobomb happened, but the receipt was valid so we just continued as a family right through. The CBP agent was a little shocked that it worked… Will see if her prints change enough by the next trip.

  17. Great and informative article! They did fingerprint my 4 & 5 year old in Seattle. We get the big X at the kiosk if the picture doesn’t turn out. 🙂 the immigration officer during our interview process interviewed the kids way longer than the 2 of us. We couldn’t figure out if he was just simply interested in what my kids have to say or catch us not telling the truth about our travels. Either way, we all got approved on the spot.

  18. Charlie,

    Nexus is still free for children until they reach 18. After that their minor membership would expire, they must update their account as an adult (no need to re register) and they would need to pay the $50 US fee. Hope this helps.

  19. Laurie Hu,

    You are correct in that some facilities take longer than others. What I would advise is check the website frequently for cancellation which due occur or if you are planning any domestic travel soon see if the city you are traveling too as a facility with less of a wait. You are not confined to facilities just in your state/ area.

  20. Stuart,

    Great info! If I may add something, border check points at Canada have three lanes General, Nexus, and Ready Lanes/ RFID (tech lingo). The ready lanes can be used by any of the GOES programs GE, Nexus, or Sentri while you and all passengers have membership cards in hand. Although not as fast as the Nexus lanes, it’s still faster than the general lanes. This is same for Sentri at the US/ Mexican border.

  21. Just FYI for those with Greencards. Use your GC at the kiosk instead of your passport. The instructions at the kiosks don’t say that. I tried using my passport and it didn’t work until I just decided to try my GC…

  22. Great article, thanks for posting. I’ve had GE for over a year and it’s been a huge benefit, enough of a benefit to justify signing up my wife and 9 year old daughter as well. Their interview is in August at EWR … in the case of our 9 year old, what supporting documentation is required? We already know we have to bring her passport and the approval letter but what else? Birth certificate? Either my wife’s or my drivers license to prove residential address?

    We want to make sure we have our ducks in a row to avoid any issues.

    Thanks

    Michael

  23. Nexus gives you eligibility for Pre-Check the same way GE does. You need to be flying a participating airline, and enter your PassID from the back of your Nexus card into the KTN field on your reservation. Note that Even doing that won’t always get you pre-check, but it should most of the time.

  24. I have GE by virtue of Nexus but it never works for my kids who have Nexus but were not fingerprinted since they were too young (1 & 3 years old). Usually the officer just lets us cut in line but does anyone know if they are “officially” GE? Or if there is something I need to do to get them official GE status due to their Nexus cards? I didn’t do anything special and GE just started working once I was Nexus.

    Thanks!

  25. Thanks for the info. I’m debating whether to get the GE or TSA Pre check since I travel mainly domestically now. If I do the GE route, does the TSA Pre check rules around children still apply? Can they go through that line with me, even if they don’t have GE?

  26. Yes, the same rules apply. Any children (12 and under, I believe) should be able to go with you.

    I usually travel with my wife – both her and I have Nexus, and have our KTNs in the reservation. Our infant (now 9 months) also has Nexus, but when booking her, we never have her KTN entered – since there is no point since she can come with us. And on 100% of our 6 trips with all 3, our daughter has pre-check on her BP.

  27. Totally unrelated, but oh my gosh, those children are not properly buckled in their carseats! Made me cringe.

  28. I know this is an old post, but just curious – did your kids get their cards at the same time as you when you applied? I had my interview last week (as did the kids, ages 3 and 1), the following day my application changed from conditional to approved online, and today I got my GE card. However, the kids’ applications still show up online as conditional, and thus they don’t have cards. Other than the fingerprinting issue, I can’t imagine what security holdup a 3 yo and 1yo would pose that an adult of South Asian origin doesn’t!! Thanks 🙂

  29. I’m with Jodi — holy cow how many errors can you spot with the car seats :(. The daughter’s shoulder straps are an entire slot too high, she looks to be small enough that rear-facing would be better, the straps aren’t even close to being snug enough. The little boy isn’t even buckled completely. What is thattwo clips at the crotch and no chest clip fastened? Why??

    Physics, man. Laws of physics apply no matter what, and I can tell you this — your children would have been seriously injured if not worse if you were in even a minor collision. Harm from the collision, and harm from the improper seat usage. Kids die from this. A lot.

    Now, if this were a parked car and you’d never ever drive like this ever, I do apologize. Maybe they were just taking a nap in your parked car.

  30. My boys and I are traveling to Iceland in April. Their passports are expired so we are applying for new ones this week. Do I have to wait to have their new passports and passport numbers for them to apply for global entry? Or can I go ahead and do that now in hopes that we will get an appointment and approval prior to our trip? Thanks!

  31. I wouldn’t apply with the expired ones. I mean you can try, but you’ll need to enter in the passport expiry dates, and I’d guess the system will err out if the expiry dates are in the past.

    Better to wait for the new ones, then apply at that time.

  32. When I first applied for GE (right after it first came out), they limited the program to people over a certain age (it was either 14 or 18). They put a “CBP” sticker on the inside back cover of my passport and told me that I could skip the line and bring my newborn through to an agent by showing the sticker or my GE receipt. In practice, I generally skipped the kiosk when travelling with my son since I knew I would have to see an agent. They just stamped my passport as well. No one ever objected.

    Just after he turned two, an agent in the GE lane at the exit from baggage claim in MIA told me that children were now being accepted into GE, so I signed him up. They fingerprinted him. The kiosk asks for his fingerprints, but rejects them every time (big “X” on the receipt). We simply go straight to an agent who stamps his receipt and off we go. (Once, the agent started to tell me that I needed to go back and fill out a standard customs form for him, but relented “just this once.”)

  33. Isn’t that Janet Napolitano? No wonder the CBP agent is trying to be pleasant!

    Also, enough of the hating on the carseat thing!!! Ye gods!

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