Last Thursday, one day shy of 5 months to the day after I filled out our application for Global Entry, Jason and I left the house at 6:30a on a dark, drizzling morning.  We told our kids the night before they’d have to fend for themselves – no safety net if the alarm didn’t go off.

Two weeks prior we received a long-awaited email that our applications had been officially processed and we selected the day and time for our interview – 8:30am (so Jason wouldn’t miss much work).   I had no concept that our application I submitted on May 18 would take this long to be approved.  A couple of months ago I even sought the help of Facebook friends for advice on speeding up the process.  No such enchufe existed to help me here – as we learned there were several factors that led to the slow process.

The drive to Derby Line, VT – the closest and most convenient US Border Patrol office that processes Global Entry applications – took an hour and forty minutes.  The combination of waiting time and interview time lasted just 19 minutes.  3 hours 20 minutes of driving for 19 minutes of action. Jason said it reminded him of taking Trevor to away hockey games. J

I did not imagine that our Global Entry interview would be an interesting learning experience, but as often happens, if you go somewhere with curiosity, you can discover interesting things in seemingly uninteresting places.

The border patrol officer who helped us was a warm, engaging guy from another part of NH.  Let’s call him Officer Henry.  I mentioned our 5 month wait and our lengthy drive up. He explained that many officers had been diverted to the southern border causing longer delays throughout most northern border patrol offices.  In fact, people have even been traveling up to Derby Line from Boston because the waits are actually shorter.  The other factor in the longer waits were ongoing repercussions of the government shutdown.

Just before we arrived at the station, I received a text message from Verizon welcoming me to Canada – that’s how close we were the border.  We hadn’t actually crossed it (of course), but Apple maps showed it right next to the road we were driving on. As we passed through an intersection, I turned to the right to see what the official border crossing looked like.  You would not believe what I saw – a row of flower pots intersecting the road delineating the USA from Canada!  I realize we aren’t on the southern border, but what an incredible contrast to the rhetoric of walls made of steel and brick and barbed wire!

I asked Officer Henry if what I witnessed was in fact the border and with a slight smile he nodded yes.  He mentioned that, due to a bunch of inadvertent crossings, there is now a CBP car stationed there. When this happens, it turns into a long day in the office, particularly if it is a person from a country other than Canada, that may not be on the list of countries that can’t come and go as they please in the US.

This all seemed a little unbelievable to me, so my curiosity inspired more questions.  He told me there is actually a library that straddles the two countries and in the middle of the library is a tape marking which country you are in.  Seriously?!  That is awesome.  There’s a door leading to America and another to Canada.

He shared an example of an Iranian family living in Canada who had a daughter attending university in Florida.  Her visa only allows her one entry and one exit (I recall that question on our visa application for residency in Spain, and I checked the box requesting multiple entries/exits. My guess is there are different rules for citizens of different countries.  Another example of extra benefits we get being Americans).  In order to see each other while she’s at school the parents drive to Derby Line and the daughter flies up from Florida (Burlington, VT is closest airport) and they walk in their respective doors and embrace in person.  I imagine for families, where this is the only option, they don’t blink at having to make such a big effort.  (note: when sharing this story with my neighbor she mentioned she’d heard a story about this on VPR, so I looked it up,  You can find it here.

Looking back, I wish Jason and I had taken a detour to the library on the way home.  However, we’ll get another opportunity…

One more tidbit Officer Henry shared with me is that children 16 years old* and under can apply for a NEXUS card, which gives them Global Entry.  And the price – $0.  It lasts for 5 years, so it could carry them until they are 21.  I had originally decided it wasn’t worth the effort to get the kids’ Global Entry – they don’t travel outside the US as much as us and they’d have to miss several hours of school for the interview.  But now, given how long we had to wait, by the time they are approved it might be summer, and the knowledge from Officer Henry that it’s also free – tips the scales in favor of getting it for them.  And you can be sure that I will be reminding them of the library story on our drive there, and we’ll be taking a field trip to the library afterwards. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see a family reuniting. I hope so!
(*follow up – as I was researching this article, I found the site for the NEXUS rules.  It’s normally $50 and children under 18 years old are free.  Another example of why it’s good to verify information before simply relying on it even when it comes from a trusted source).

A few helpful links if you’d like to get Global Entry for you or your child:
Global Entry Application
NEXUS Application

If you don’t have Global Entry, an easy substitute is Mobile Passport – an app you simply download on your phone.  You store pictures of your passport and other data and go through the steps each time you land back in the US.

I think it’s worth noting, you never really know what lines will be like at the airport. I’ve heard some people say they’ve been in lengthy Global Entry lines wondering what the benefit is.  My guess is more often than not it’s a time saver.  And since it also gives you TSA pre-check, you may shave off some time there.

And one more happy revelation.  We had the appointment the day before I was leaving for Madrid. I assumed I’d have to wait for my card in the mail – 2-3 weeks from now to be able to use it. Office Henry gave me more good news – simply showing my passport was enough – it’s now linked to my approved Global Entry status.

One quick follow up:
The day after getting my Global Entry approval I left for Spain from Boston Logan. As I was walking though the normal security lane, I happily remembered I could go in the TSA Precheck lane. So I did because there was no line.  I explained I just received Global Entry the day before and I thought it should work.  The TSA officer somewhat chuckled and said many people think Global Entry comes with TSA Precheck, but it doesn’t.  Hmm, that wasn’t what I remembered, but I think most of us have experienced people enforcing (or not) rules differently, depending on the person.  I went under the rope back to the normal line (which wasn’t actually very long either) and went through the process.  My curiosity necessitated that I look up the rules, and very clearly on this site, it says that TSA Precheck is a benefit of Global Entry.  However, you have to enter your known traveler number in your reservation, and have it printed on the boarding pass.  So I’m happy to know I was correct, but now I at least know the extra step needed – and now so do you!

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