Mobile Passport Control

Hate customs lines? Get the Mobile Passport Control app

It’s not a secret. It’s free. And it can saves hours of time for travelers entering the United States after a long international flight.

Yet, so few people have downloaded and use the Mobile Passport Control app provided by the US Customs and Border Protection that you’ll feel like you’re getting away with something when you use it to breeze through the line ahead of everyone else – often ahead of even those who have paid for and are trying to use the Global Entry machines – at more than 20 airports and one sea port of entry, including:

  •     Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  •     Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
  •     Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  •     Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  •     Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  •     Denver International Airport (DEN)
  •     Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
  •     Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
  •     William P. Hobby Houston International Airport (HOU)
  •      Los Angeles International Airport (Terminals 4, 7 and TBIT)
  •     Miami International Airport (MIA)
  •     Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
  •     John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  •     Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  •     Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  •     Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)
  •     Sacramento International Airport (SMF)
  •     San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  •     San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  •     Seattle Sea-Tac Airport (SEA)
  •     Tampa International Airport (TPA)
  •     Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  •     Port Everglades (PEV)

U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors can use the app, which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store – and is now part of the Miami International Airport app.

Once you download the app you create a profile with your passport info and some other data and then, right before you land, you simply open the app and fill in some details about your current flight and answer the standard questions about whether or not you’re carrying more than $10,000 in cash or have been hanging about farm animals.

When your flight lands and you’ve taken your phone out of airport mode, you can submit your answers through the app and then just show the QR code that pops up to the customs officer as you sashay out of the arrivals area – past all those other people standing in line.



Getting Global Entry

Global entry

After almost a two-month wait, my interview appointment date arrived for Global Entry, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that gives approved travelers expedited clearance when arriving in the United States AND TSA PreCheck status. The fee is $100 and is good for five years.

Here are some things I learned from my interview that may be useful for others:

1. Once you get an appointment, put it in your calendar. Even though I had to wait two months for my appointment, Global Entry sends you no reminder that your appointment is coming up.

2. Global entry status is good for five years, but the expiration date is tied to your birthday. My interviewer said I’d get almost 6 years out of my membership because I celebrated my birthday recently.

3. In an increasing number of airports, the paid Global Entry status is not always faster than the free Mobile Passport Control program, also operated by US Custom and Border Protection.

There are different kiosks for each program for arriving travelers, but because so few people know about the Mobile Passport Control program those kiosks often have shorter or non-existent lines.

The catch: Mobile Passport Control users exit the arrivals hall with everyone else who picked up their checked bags; Global Entry status fliers have a different exit lane, which is often  – but not always – shorter and faster, said my interviewer because it’s filled with experienced travelers who usually don’t have much luggage. This may vary by airport, but in Seattle, my home town airport, that’s the way it works.

4. Once you get Global Entry status, keep it. In the video I had to watch before being interviewed, I learned that if I broke a customs rule  – by, say, trying to bring some fruit into the country – I could lose my Global Entry status.  Having forgotten that I had a piece of fruit in my carry-on on more than one occasion, I asked about this. “Just be honest,” said my interviewer, “and you should be fine.”

5. Read the instructions… If you don’t pass the interview or the background check, you’ll be denied Global Entry status and you won’t get your $100 application fee back.  One of the other people being interviewed when I was in the room was evidently rejected for a legal infraction ‘no no’ that was clearly on the list.  “I told him to stay clean and maybe he’d have better luck next year,” one of the CBP officers was telling another as I left the room.