Key takeaways

  • Clear and Global Entry are two programs that allow you to expedite your airport travel clearances
  • Clear is a private program that lets you breeze through security clearance at airports and some other venues while Global Entry is a government program that speeds you through U.S. customs formalities upon arrival into the U.S.
  • While both of these programs cost to join, some credit cards offer a credit toward membership in these programs

If you spend a lot of time in airports, you know how much of a hassle it can be to wait in airport security lines. If you travel internationally, you know that customs lines often come with even longer waits. Clear Plus and Global Entry can help. These membership programs are designed to help travelers spend less time waiting in line, giving you more opportunity to enjoy your trip!

However, many travelers wonder whether Clear Plus is better than Global Entry, or vice versa. The truth is that each program is designed to help travelers through a different stage of the security process. Clear allows members to quickly verify their identity before clearing security at about 50 airports in the United States as well as at some event venues. Global Entry allows members to quickly move through U.S. customs after arriving via overseas flights and also gives you membership in TSA PreCheck, which expedites security at airports domestically.

Here are the three biggest differences between Clear and Global Entry:

  1. Clear (also know as Clear Plus) is a membership program offered through a private company, and Global Entry is a federal Trusted Traveler Program offered through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
  2. Clear allows travelers to quickly verify their identity before airport security, and Global Entry allows travelers to quickly navigate the U.S. customs process after arriving in the United States.
  3. Clear requires an annual membership fee of up to $189, with the option to add up to three adult family members, or friends, at $70 each (children under 18 years old can accompany a Clear member free of charge). Global Entry requires a $100 nonrefundable fee to apply for a five-year membership, and everyone regardless of age must apply and pay separately.

What is Clear?

Clear is an identity verification service that allows members to expedite the time it takes them to clear airport security and enter sporting, as well as other, arenas. At the airport, Clear members use biometric security pods to scan their boarding pass and quickly confirm their identity through an eye scan or fingerprint match.

Once verified, a Clear ambassador escorts members to the airport physical security screening line. This allows Clear members to save time at airport security — especially if they combine their Clear membership with TSA PreCheck, which allows them to pass through the security line without removing shoes, liquids, gels or laptops.

Clear benefits

Clear offers numerous benefits to members, including the ability to move through airport security more quickly. You can also use your Clear membership to reserve a spot in the airport security line, minimizing your wait time and giving you more time to relax in the airport. Clear also streamlines access to concerts and events. You can even use the Clear app as a health pass or digital vaccine card.

Clear application process and cost

Enrollment in Clear Plus costs up to $189 per year, with the option to add up to three adult family members or friends for $70 each. Children under 18 who are traveling with a Clear Plus member can use the Clear airport security lanes for free. You can cancel your Clear membership at any time and receive a refund for the unused portion of your annual membership.

The Clear Plus application process is simple. You’ll need to provide basic identifying information, such as a U.S. driver’s license or a U.S. passport. You’ll also need to provide biometric information, such as an eye scan or a fingerprint. You can complete the entire application in a few minutes at a Clear airport kiosk, or you can begin the application online and complete it at the airport.

Select American Express credit cards, including the American Express® Green Card* and The Platinum Card® from American Express, offer statement credits to cover the cost of your annual Clear Plus membership. Delta SkyMiles members and United MileagePlus members can also receive discounted pricing.

If you only want to use the Clear lane at participating stadiums and event venues, you don’t need a full membership. All you have to do is download the free Clear app. You can also store your vaccine card in the app for free.

What is Global Entry?

Global Entry is a Trusted Traveler Program offered by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection department of the federal government. The program allows members to quickly pass through U.S. customs, saving them time when arriving in the United States.

Like Clear, Global Entry gives members the opportunity to verify their identity through biometric screening at designated Global Entry kiosks. These kiosks also allow members to quickly complete their customs declaration forms.

Global Entry benefits

Global Entry is designed to benefit frequent international travelers who want to save time when they arrive in the United States. Since the Global Entry program allows you to quickly navigate the U.S. customs process, you may be able to bypass long lines and exit the airport more quickly. Global Entry membership also includes TSA PreCheck, giving frequent flyers the opportunity to move more quickly through the airport security screening process at more than 200 airports throughout the U.S.

Global Entry application process and cost

Global Entry is quite a bit less expensive than Clear, at $100 every five years, as opposed to $189 per year for Clear. But (unlike with Clear) the fee for Global Entry is nonrefundable, even if your application is denied. Additionally, children must apply and pay for Global Entry. Therefore, a family of four (two adults and two children under 18 years old) would pay up to $259 annually for Clear membership, but $400 every five years for Global Entry membership.

Applying for Global Entry is more complicated than applying for Clear. First, you’ll need to create a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP) account. Then, you’ll need to begin the Global Entry application process online, paying that $100 nonrefundable fee.

After your application is reviewed, the next step is to complete an in-person interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. You’ll need to bring a valid passport and an additional identifying document, such as a driver’s license, to your interview. You may need to travel a few hours from your home to attend your in-person interview, and it could take months to secure an interview slot. Rather than scheduling an appointment, you might be able to score a walk-in interview next time you arrive back in the U.S. from an international destination.

The Global Entry application process, which includes a background check, can be time-consuming, so make sure to plan your application well in advance of when you hope to use it. At the very least, get your application in ahead of your next international trip so you can perhaps take advantage of a walk-in interview option when you next travel abroad. Once your application is accepted, your membership lasts for five years.

Many travel credit cards offer statement credits to offset the cost of your Global Entry application, including some with annual fees under $100 such as:

And since your Global Entry membership enables you to participate in TSA PreCheck, you can take advantage of the benefits offered by both Trusted Traveler Programs.

Which is better: Clear or Global Entry?

Clear Plus and Global Entry offer different benefits, and each may suit your situation better than for someone else. Clear allows you to quickly confirm your identity, which can save you time as you begin the airport security screening process whether traveling domestically or internationally, and also offers unique additional benefits such as expedited access to sports events.

If you travel internationally on a regular basis, Global Entry may have the edge. Applying for Global Entry allows you to expedite the U.S. customs process — which could save you a lot of time when you return to the U.S. Plus, Global Entry gives you access to TSA PreCheck, which can save you time during airport security screenings within the U.S. regardless of your destination.

Global Entry is also available at more airports. Global Entry kiosks can be found at 75 airports in the U.S. and abroad. And since membership includes TSA PreCheck, you get expedited security at more than 200 airports altogether. Clear is available at more than 50 airports in the U.S. — and that may be all you need — as well as 20 sports venues.

If you travel with others, Clear may have an advantage by making it easy to add people to your account, for a fee — and is easy to cancel if you find you’re not using it. Family members or travel companions have to apply for their own Global Entry memberships, and those under 18 years of age are required to have parental or legal guardianship permission.

The good news: Many of today’s top travel rewards cards offer credits toward Clear or Global Entry as a benefit. In the end, if you receive Clear or Global Entry access as a perk on a travel credit card that you’re taking on for other reasons, you may find you get enough value out of either one to justify your annual fee. Or, if you travel widely and often, you may find it useful to have both, for different reasons.

Should you get both Clear and Global Entry?

Frequent flyers who want to minimize the time spent at the airport should consider getting both Clear and Global Entry. Since Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck, travelers who combine Global Entry and Clear can save time in three different ways:

  • by confirming their identity more quickly
  • by clearing the security line more quickly
  • by passing through U.S. customs more quickly

The bottom line

Clear and Global Entry are both programs that allow frequent travelers to expedite different security processes. Global Entry is designed for travelers who want to save time when going through U.S. customs, and Clear is designed for travelers who want to quickly confirm their identity before beginning the airport (and, in some cases, sports arena) security screening process.

Clear is easier to access and cancel, but considerably more expensive than Global Entry. It may prove beneficial if you travel with family and attend sporting events. Global Entry has the edge if you travel abroad. Global Entry membership also includes TSA PreCheck, giving you even more opportunity to save time as you travel. Some travelers who are considering Clear vs. Global Entry may want to apply for both — especially if they have a lot of international travel in their future.

*All information about the United℠ Explorer Card and American Express® Green Card has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.