Are you tired of long lines, time-wasting procedures, and the whole the U.S. entry rigmarole? Here are a few federal programs designed to help trusted travelers skip the traditional lines at U.S. airports and other ports of entry. 

Border with Mexico 

The SENTRI program has been popularized across the land border with Mexico because it allows its members to avoid waits of up to several hours when crossing back into the U.S. by car.  Participants go through special lanes that move more quickly and are generally shorter.

To join the program, applicants need to pass a criminal background check and provide digital fingerprints. They also need to be interviewed by an official from the Department of Homeland Security. There is a fee of $122.25 per person for a five-year, renewable membership.

The following are some key points about the program:

  • Enrollments are available only through the online portal Global Online Enrollment System (GOES)
  • The application can be filled out in English or Spanish
  • Individuals convicted of criminal offenses or who have pending criminal charges are ineligible for the program
  • Each family member, including newborns and small children, must have his or her own GOES account
  • Once approved, members need to comply with the strict rules of the program or risk losing their privileges

    Traveling by plane 

    Travelers who want to avoid long lines when coming back to the U.S. by plane might want to consider enrolling in the Global Entry program. This program allows members to go through special lines or electronic kiosks at some airports, avoiding the traditional passport checks and customs booths.

    To enroll, travelers need to fill out an application and, just like in the SENTRI program, pass a background check and provide digital fingerprints.

    The following are some key points about the program:

  • There is a $100 fee per person, although applicants don’t have to pay it if they are already enrolled in the NEXUS or SENTRI programs
  • It’s only available at 20 airports nationwide
  • It’s designed for people who travel frequently, but it’s open to everybody
  • The program is open to U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents who are 14 years or older, and citizens of certain countries such as Mexico and the Netherlands

    Border with Canada

    U.S. and Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have lived in one or both countries during the last three years can enroll in a program called NEXUS that gives its members special privileges when crossing the border by air, land or sea ports.

    Members receive a special identification card that works as an alternative to a passport. This card helps them speed up the process when crossing into the United States or Canada.

    The following are some key points about the program:

  • Members can use special lanes when crossing the border by land; and they can use electronic kiosks at the airports or call in their arrival when crossing the border by sea
  • Applications are accepted in both the U.S. and Canada, but must be approved by both countries
  • The fee is $50 for applicants in the United States and $50 Canadian dollars for applicants inCanada
  • The application can be filled out by going to the GOES website
  • Applicants must pass a criminal background check




    Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".