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When I travel abroad, there are few things I dread more than being greeted by what is usually a long and annoying U.S. Customs and Border Protection line at the airport to get back into the country.
Thanks to the invention of programs like Global Entry though, the process for American travelers to reenter the country is easier than it would be otherwise due to specific lanes for preapproved, low-risk travelers to pass through customs in minutes without having to scan their passports.
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Wait times for passport renewals have drastically improved from last year, but they’re still not back to pre-COVID-19 timeframes, Biden administration officials told TPG this week. According to a U.S. State Department official, wait times for standard passport renewals currently fall between eight and eleven weeks, longer than the six to eight weeks it took …According to a U.S. State Department official, wait times for standard passport renewals currently fall between eight and eleven weeks, longer than the six to eight weeks it took prior to the pandemic. For expedited requests, wait times are estimated at five to seven weeks, compared to two to three weeks before March 2020.
Although nearly 8 million people use Global Entry across 16 domestic airports and 15 international locations, there’s another service offered by the government, Mobile Passport, which also enables quick security passage and does not require a membership.
Like any expedited security program, whether it be Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or Mobile Passport, it’s only helpful when it works as designed. Lately, TPG readers and staffers alike have reported unsuccessful attempts at using Mobile Passport, prompting the question of whether the program is quietly being phased out.
Rest assured, if you encounter any issues attempting to use Mobile Passport, Global Entry is a solid alternative.
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Don’t necessarily expect shorter waits in applying for Global Entry and other ‘trusted traveler’ programs
Due to closures of varying degrees throughout the pandemic, applicants for “trusted traveler” programs, in addition to passport renewals, have reported experiencing inconsistent wait times. Just four days ago, TPG confirmed that although wait times for passport renewals have improved from 2021, the average wait time for standard renewals is between eight and 11 weeks, …Just four days ago, TPG confirmed that although wait times for passport renewals have improved from 2021, the average wait time for standard renewals is between eight and 11 weeks, which is more than my seven-week saga in June 2021. Both of these are compared to the six-to-eight-week time frame for renewals before COVID-19.
Unlike Global Entry, which costs $100 for a five-year membership, Mobile Passport is free and does not require travelers to apply and be approved for use.
U.S. passport holders can download the Mobile Passport Control app, which generates a digital version of the required customs form to complete instead of having to fill it out by hand.
“The use of MPC streamlines the traveler’s entry process into the United States by reducing passport control inspection time and overall wait time,” says CBP. “Travelers who successfully use an authorized MPC app will no longer have to complete a paper form or use an [Automated Passport Control] kiosk. As a result, travelers may experience shorter wait times, less congestion and efficient processing.”
Currently, Mobile Passport is available for use at 30 domestic airports and four seaports of entry, including Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and Miami Seaport.
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“Upon landing in the United States, travelers will select their arrival airport or seaport and terminal, take a self-photo, and answer a series of CBP inspection-related questions,” says CBP. “Once the traveler submits their transaction through the app, the traveler will receive an electronic receipt with an Encrypted Quick Response (QR) code. Travelers then bring their physical passport and mobile device with their digital QR-coded receipt to a CBP officer to finalize their inspection for entry into the United States.”
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When Global Entry is running smoothly, you can literally pass through customs in a matter of minutes after your identity is verified biometrically and further confirmed with a receipt reviewed by a CBP officer.
However, sometimes the Global Entry line can be longer than you would expect, which is where Mobile Passport may come in handy. Additionally, if you are traveling with someone who does not have Global Entry, all of you could use the Mobile Passport lane together.
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information. With the 2022 summer season just around the corner, we expect the airport surge of travelers this year to resemble the usual summer crowd, with long security lines of people anxious to travel thanks to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in many destinations. …With the 2022 summer season just around the corner, we expect the airport surge of travelers this year to resemble the usual summer crowd, with long security lines of people anxious to travel thanks to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in many destinations.
“I told a bunch of people about Mobile Passport, thinking it was a great hack since you could use it without Global Entry and there was no screening process to sign up,” TPG cruise writer Ashley Kosciolek told me. “Overall, the draw was less about speeding up the actual interaction with CBP officers at passport control and more about being able to access a shorter line or a line with no wait at all.”
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While Mobile Passport is certainly a convenient and helpful (and don’t forget free) option for travelers, recently, it seems that the service is no longer being offered at certain airports as promised.
TPG readers have reported via social media that Mobile Entry is no longer available at Miami International Airport (MIA), Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Washington, D.C., Denver International Airport (DEN), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), ORD, LAX, EWR and JFK.
When asked about the status of Mobile Passport at the airports in question, spokespeople for EWR, JFK, IAD and DEN all directed my query to CBP, which declined to comment on the aforementioned issues reported by users due to closures and said the program was operating as normal.
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It all depends on how much you're willing to spend.Earlier in the pandemic, renewing passports was a near impossible task. Many convenient passport couriers—which help with express renewals—paused their services, and standard renewal by mail was taking as long as sixteen weeks.
“The Mobile Passport Control (MPC) is available at 34 locations, 30 airports and four seaports,” a CBP spokesperson told me via email.”The MPC program is always open to adding locations. Check back periodically for additions.”
A representative for LAX confirmed Mobile Passport “remains an option for travelers” in Los Angeles, and the PR team for ATL did not respond to a request for comment.
Since its launch in August 2014, MPC has been used by more than 4 million travelers.
Related: How persistence paid off after 3 unsuccessful attempts at renewing Global Entry
Although CBP would not comment on any user issues with Mobile Passport, the agency announced changes to MPC effective Feb. 1, restricting the use of Mobile Passport to the aforementioned app administered by the government. Previously, travelers were also able to use other apps to access the Mobile Passport lane.
“Initially, when third-party apps were still allowed, I used the Mobile Passport by Airside app, which allowed me to put in my passport info while I was still on the plane and fill out the customs form, rather than doing a paper version,” recalled Kosciolek. “After entering the info, I’d be sent a QR code that I’d simply scan to pass through passport control. The line was always super fast. I don’t think I ever had to wait.”
Although other apps were previously available for use in the MPC lane, such as Airside Mobile and Clear MPC, neither those nor any third-party app are eligible for use as of this year.
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“I downloaded the CBP MPC app after my last international trip when another app didn’t work and went through a similar process to fill out my info and customs form. When I got to passport control at EWR, I noticed there was no longer a sign for mobile passport users, and the attendant directed me into the main line with everyone else,” she said. “I was told they no longer use Mobile Passport.”
Related: Global Entry tips: How to avoid waiting for an interview and get TSA PreCheck on your boarding passes
Based on current reports, you cannot assume that Mobile Passport is available as advertised.
To plan for this, don’t wait to see if Mobile Passport is available as it is alleged the next time you are arriving home from an international trip.
Global Entry remains your best (and most consistent) bet for expediting your way through airport security.
“Last night at Newark there were two lines at immigration: Global Entry and EVERYONE ELSE. The line was lonnnnng,” said Brian Kelly, the founder of TPG. “Mobile Passport holders probably had to wait an hour. I went through in one second.”
Before you apply for Global Entry, be sure to check to see if your credit card offers a reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, another “trusted traveler” program that helps users move through the Transportation Security Administration line faster by eliminating the need to remove one’s shoes, food, electronics, liquids, etc., in order to pass through security.
Staffing shortages and an ongoing application backlog remain across the government agency responsible for administering expediting security programs.
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If you are experiencing a delay in your Global Entry application, have the Mobile Passport app downloaded and ready to go the next time you are returning to a participating airport.
If Mobile Passport is not an option when you need it, plan on using Global Entry and take comfort in the knowledge that you could be waiting in an otherwise longer line and wasting more time without a membership to any expedited security program.
Read more: Don’t necessarily expect shorter waits in applying for Global Entry and other ‘trusted traveler’ programs
Featured photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
See 'Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore' star Jude Law's most swoon-worthy retro photos .
Take a look back at some of the hunkiest photos of Jude Law when he was younger!