Fastest way through the U.S. Immigration line

U.S. airport border control line

Why you should read this

You travel internationally. Avoiding an hour or two standing in long, frustrating immigration and customs lines is well worth the $20 per year fee for this government pre-screening program. You need to know the fastest way through the U.S. immigration line and this is it.

Why this is part of TheBoodLife

It’s all about your convenience, reduced stress and frustration. Cost and time are minimal but the return is great. You’re entitled to the red carpet treatment so enjoy.

The GOES Program

It’s been a great vacation. You’re rested and relaxed. But as you get off the plane stress creeps in. Since you’ve been traveling internationally you still have one big hurdle to overcome. You have to clear immigration and customs. Well maybe you’ll get lucky. Down the escalator with fingers crossed and into the arrivals hall. Ugh, there must be 400 people waiting in line. Your luck just ran out. You can expect at least 1 hour on the immigration line, and maybe another 30-45 minutes to clear customs. There must be a better way.

I have good news; there is. This ordeal is totally unnecessary. You can get through this entire process every time in less than 5 minutes. How? Join the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) GOES program. GOES stands for Global Online Enrollment System and with it you may never wait on a US immigration or customs line again. The enrollment process is simple:

GOES Enrollment Process

  1. Go to the GOES website here, get a user name and password, fill out and submit the online application and pay the $100 enrollment fee. Maybe a 20 minute process.
  2. Wait to receive a Conditional Approval notice from DHS. You’ll need to periodically log in to the GOES website to check for this. This is when DHS conducts your background check.
  3. Once you receive your Conditional Approval you will be advised to schedule an appointment at a CPB office for a brief, in-person interview. The interview must be scheduled within 30 days of your conditional approval. CPB offices are located at most major airports and in some downtown areas. The GOES website has an easy to use tool that allows you to select your location and schedule a time online.
  4. Go to the in-person interview. The interview itself is really short. One of the main purposes for the interview is to fingerprint you. They need your fingerprints because the kiosks you will be using to enter the US will scan and confirm your identity using your fingerprints.

Your final approval is good for 5 years.

At the airport

Back to our example. Now when you see that line of 400 people you simply ignore it and look instead for a GOES sign which will direct you to a bank of kiosks. In five years of using this system I have never had to wait more than a minute or two for a kiosk. Typically there is no wait at all. At the kiosk you will:

  1. Scan your passport so the system recognizes you and confirm your identity.
  2. Place the fingertips of one hand on the scanner where it will read your fingerprints and verify your identity.
  3. Use the touch screen to make a customs declaration – you can ignore the written form you got on the plane, it’s all done electronically at the kiosk.
  4. Receive a transaction receipt generated by the kiosk which you will take to baggage claim and the exit.

For a better look at how the system works take a minute to watch the CBP video.

GOES and Customs

Once you retrieve your luggage you can also ignore the customs line. Again, you look for the designated GOES line. If there isn’t one just walk to the front of the normal customs line (that’s right, you’re allowed to go to the front of the line), hold up the transaction receipt you got at the kiosk so the CBP officer can see it, and walk through.

Yes, it’s really that easy. Since the GOES program is designed for frequent international travelers it doesn’t seem to be that widely used and in fact most other travelers don’t seem aware of it. But the fact is that CBP doesn’t care if you travel once a year or 100 times, you can still take advantage of the program. And I can tell you that once you do you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.

Important things to be aware of

The GOES program charges a $100 fee per applicant. That means every member of your family traveling with you has to have his own GOES approval, make his own application, pay the fee, and be interviewed. And yes this includes children. While a $200 fee for a couple may be a no-brainer, $400 for a family of four and the logistics of the personal interview may seem prohibitive even if it is good for 5 years. Only you can decide but in this age where you pay for everything from checked bags to a snack on the plane, $20 per person per year – even if you only use it once a year – seems to me a very small price to pay for your time and the frustration you’ll avoid.

You also need to check to make sure that the airport where you will first enter the U.S. has GOES kiosks. This shouldn’t be a problem at major airports but if your airport doesn’t have kiosks you’ll have to wait on that long line so check in advance and remember, you need to be sure to check the airport where you will first enter the U.S. That is where you will clear immigration and customs although it might not be your home airport or final destination.

For more details about the GOES program visit the GOES FAQs page here.

Now if they could just do something to speed things up at baggage claim!

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