While it's becoming easier to move to the head of the line in security-screening operations at U.S. airports, the most widely used option, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's method, remains available only for U.S. citizens traveling domestically. If any leg of an itinerary is international, the passenger will need to go through traditional screening. The process relies heavily on the membership data of major airlines' frequent flier programs, so many in the industry feel it could become a template for pre-screening programs that include international flights.
At the moment, participating in pre-screening, known as "Trusted Traveler" programs, for international travel requires an investment of both time and money. For many travelers, dealing with their restrictions is not worth the trouble. For those who qualify for the programs, though, expedited passage through security or immigration may be worth the effort.
TRUSTED TRAVELER PROGRAMS SERVING MEXICAN, CANADIAN TRAVEL
Due to heavy traffic between the U.S. and its two closest neighbors and major trading partners, separate programs exist to expedite processing on the Canadian and Mexican borders.
NEXUS is carried out through a partnership with Canada and covers land and sea travel, as well as air travel when flying to and from airports using the NEXUS program. Eight Canadian airports are part of the program, including Toronto Pearson International Airport and Montréal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. Almost 30 U.S. airports participate, including Miami International Airport, New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.
The SENTRI program covers entry into the U.S. by land or sea from Mexico, providing expedited travel to approved members over the international border. Dedicated commuter lanes are used to expedite daily travel between the two countries. SENTRI does not cover travel by air.
Additionally, NEXUS members are entitled to use Global Entry kiosks at participating airports at no additional cost. Mexican citizens who are SENTRI members are required to submit a Global Entry application and have it approved before they can use the program. However, there is no additional cost if the applicant is a current SENTRI participant.
Both programs require a fee ($50 for NEXUS and $122.25 for SENTRI) and an application to be submitted and reviewed.
Because they expedite the customs and immigration processes, both programs may prove to be useful to U.S., Canadian and Mexican nationals, particularly those who travel frequently between the participating nations.
WESTERN HEMISPHERE TRAVEL INITIATIVE (WHTI) STILL LIMITED IN SCOPE
Although its title suggests that the WHTI has broad sweeping implications, in reality it remains largely focused on Canada, Mexico and a number of Caribbean nations. In fact, its net result has been to impose more restrictive documentation requirements on U.S. travelers en-route to or from these destinations. Where a driver's license once sufficed, today either a passport or the recently-created passport card is required. The most important thing to know is that the passport card is only valid at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. While it more convenient and less expensive ($55) than a traditional passport ($165), the card cannot be used for international travel by air.
And, although its name suggests that it is hemisphere-wide in scope, WHTI excludes all of Central America and South America nations, plus such Caribbean destinations as Haiti and Barbados.
GLOBAL ENTRY REMAINS A TOP OPTION BUT HAS TIGHT GUIDELINES
The most broadly applicable trusted traveler program is probably Global Entry. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program allows expedited customs and immigration clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S. Participants process themselves by using automated kiosks at select airports. However, the program is currently limited to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as a few selected others. Thanks to reciprocal programs with several countries, Dutch, South Korean and Mexican nationals can participate. Canadians who are in the NEXUS program also receive Global Entry benefits.
Currently 44 major airports are part of the Global Entry program, but only one is located in Latin America - San Juan, Puerto Rico's Luis Muñoz Marin International. In addition to all of the major international airports in the U.S., the others include eight principal airports in Canada, one each in Guam and Saipan, and two in Ireland, Shannon and Dublin.
The program's drawbacks include the fee ($100) and a rigorous application process and screening in both the U.S. and the partner nation. This also requires the applicant to travel to one of the participating airports for a personal interview.