Jetting off to London, Paris, and Tokyo is oh-so-fabulous…coming home and waiting in line at customs however is most certainly NOT. We’ve been meaning to apply for Global Entry (the program that allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to receive expedited clearance upon arrival in the USA) and after hearing our glamorous, globetrotting friend, jewelry designer Anita Ko, talk about it over brunch one day, we knew it was time to find out more. So we asked her all about it (hey, a little research is always a good idea) and here’s what she told us.
“Standing in line waiting to pass through customs can be so annoying. I mean, who hasn’t arrived from a long, international flight—tired, jet-lagged, and excited to be home—and then you see the endless, brutal customs lines…sigh..hundreds of passengers from Europe, Asia, and the UAE all standing between you and your bed. Torture!
So here’s what happened: two years ago a friend asked me to attend the Cannes Film Festival. I ran home to pack my bags and we were off (by the way, it was incredible!). When we returned to the U.S. we were stuck in a 3 hour customs line. As I’m standing there I happened to notice all these people buzzing by using these strange, little kiosks. In fact, I actually saw a husband kiss his wife goodbye and say, ‘see you at home,’ as he ran over to the Global Entry (GE) kiosk while his wife lingered behind in the ridiculously long line.
It was then that I vowed to myself, ‘never again.’ I went home and Googled ‘Global Entry’ and filled out the application form online. It’s $100 (totally well worth it and Platinum and Black American Express card members can be reimbursed!) and waited to hear a response.
A couple weeks later I learned I was ‘conditionally’ approved. Basically that means that they check your records and rumor has it that if you have any arrests, or have had any ‘indescretions’ at the airport like bringing in chocolate without declaring it, you most likely will be denied.
Once you are conditionally approved you must make an appointment to meet with an actual customs official in person. I went online and the next available appointment was 2 months away. I was leaving for Paris in 2 weeks and was determined to have Global Entry in place and ready to use for my return flight home. I had my assistant check the GE website every day—every couple of hours, in fact—for a cancellation. Within 3 days she found me a spot at the office at Los Angeles International Airport (yup, you actually go to the airport for your interview).
Once there you meet with an officer that asks you a few questions—things like: have you ever been arrested, where was your last international trip, etc. Then he taught me how to use the kiosks and said, “Have fun in France.” I was totally surprised he knew of my upcoming trip to Paris…but I guess customs knows everything (wink, wink).
On my return from Paris I was so excited to finally use GE. As my assistant got in the regular customs line, I walked over to a kiosk, slipped in my passport, had my fingerprints read, and I was out the door! Amazing! Oh, I almost forgot one of the best parts…you know those blue slips of paper you have to fill out on the plane (and let’s be honest, you never even have a pen with you anyways!)? Well when you have Global Entry you don’t have to fill those things out anymore. You answer the questions on a screen at the kiosk. So easy! Within 60 seconds I was walking over to baggage claim. It took another 10 minutes to find my luggage and then I simply gave the customs official the paper slip from the kiosk. Voila! I was outside waiting for my assistant. She came out an hour later. Truth be told, I waited to see how much time it actually saved me. Seriously, I couldn’t recommend a better time-saver in terms of travel and convenience. Everyone needs to get this!“
Anita Ko photographed in Paris