One of the frustrating things about modern air travel is the long security lines at U.S. airports. The lines to get through customs and immigration when returning from overseas can be particularly long.
I was fortunate enough to recently vacation in Asia, and I can honestly say that the only unpleasant part of my 31-hour, two-stop journey home to Charleston was going through customs and immigration in Dallas.
Oh, if only I had known about Mobile Passport.
Frequent travelers know that they can sign up for Global Entry, which allows low-risk travelers to skip the immigration lines when returning to the U.S., get faster entry in some other countries, and also speed through U.S. security lines with TSA Pre-Check eligibility.
The problem is, it costs $100 to sign up for Global Entry, and requires an in-person interview, which is not regularly offered in South Carolina.
Mobile Passport is free, and offers an alternative way to access the short line at 26 international airports in the U.S., and three Florida seaports. Mobile Passport is a government-sanctioned app that can be downloaded to smartphones and tablets.
In the words of U.S. Customs and Border Protection: "Mobile Passport Control expedites the entry process and provides travelers with the option of using a specific processing lane."
So, it's possible to get some of the benefits of Global Entry — mostly, not having to wait in the long line at immigration — without having to pay $100 per person, and without having to travel outside South Carolina for a Global Entry interview.
Now, I don't travel abroad frequently, but here's what happened the last two times I did, when I did not have Mobile Passport or Global Entry:
- Two years ago, returning from Spain, the immigration and customs line at Philadelphia International was so long that my wife and I missed our connecting flight home.
- This month, returning from Japan, it took nearly two hours to clear customs in Dallas and go back through security for a connecting flight to Charleston. Most of that time was spent in line.
I have no upcoming plans to travel outside the U.S., but when I do, I'll be downloading Mobile Passport to my smartphone.
Mobile Passport won't currently help you if you're getting off an airplane in Charleston but remember, if you're returning to Charleston from abroad, you'll have to clear customs in a connecting airport, unless you're on a British Airways nonstop flight from London.
Mobile Passport can't be used at all airports, but 26 large international U.S. airports — New York, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles and so on — are on the list.
U.S. and Canadian citizens can use Mobile Passport, and the app can be used for an entire family.
For those who are still interested in Global Entry, but have been stymied by the fact that there are no interview locations in South Carolina, there's another option worth mentioning.
The "enrollment on arrival" option allows applicants who have paid their $100 fee and been conditionally approved for Global Entry to be interviewed at participating airports when returning to the country. That eliminates the need to schedule an out-of-state interview, and even with the interview, it could be quicker than waiting in the regular customs and immigration line.
There are no participating airports in South Carolina, but then again, few flights from other countries go directly to South Carolina. Chances are, if you're returning from overseas, the U.S. airport you first arrive at will likely be an "enrollment on arrival" location.
For more information visit the "trusted traveler" section of cpb.gov.