What is TSA PreCheck? Everything you need to know

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While many Americans are still quarantining at home, states are now setting dates to reopen (if they haven’t already).  And when they do, you might be looking to take a much-awaited vacation.

If you’ve been considering applying for TSA PreCheck® to streamline the process of airport security, here’s your guide to everything from the interview process to tips for using your membership for the first time.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a Trusted Traveler Program meant to expedite the process of getting through airport security. The program is managed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and gives passengers access to special security lines at participating airports in the United States.

If you do any domestic travel, having TSA PreCheck can be a real benefit. However, if you’re looking to have a quicker re-entry into the U.S. after international travel, Global Entry is the program to look at.

TSA PreCheck is available in over 200 airports across the United States. When you get to the security line after check-in, an agent will direct you to the PreCheck line after confirming membership via your boarding pass. This allows you to keep your shoes and belt on and ensures liquids and electronics can stay inside your luggage. Then, it’s as simple as walking through a security scanner and you’re good to go to your gate. Membership to TSA Precheck costs $85 and is good for five years.

How to get TSA PreCheck

Becoming a member of the TSA Precheck Program will require a few steps, starting with your application.

In order to apply for TSA PreCheck, you must be a U.S. citizen, national or permanent resident. There is no age restriction for applicants, though children under 12 can utilize the membership of their parent or guardian and need not officially apply.

Once you’ve applied, you also need to schedule an appointment for a background check and fingerprinting. At this appointment, you’ll pay your membership fee and find out if you’ve been approved. Once you’ve been approved, you’ll receive a known traveler number (KTN) that you can use whenever you book a flight (you’ll also receive written notification of your approval). The process can take up to three weeks to complete.

Completing the application

The application for TSA Precheck can be found on the TSA website. When completing your application, it’s very important that your name appears exactly as it does on your government identification. Other information you’ll need includes:

  • A method of contact (email or phone)
  • Citizenship information
  • Permanent and residential address
  • Physical description
  • Mailing address
  • Criminal history (if any)
  • Official photo ID

During the completion of your application, you’ll be directed to set your appointment for your background check and fingerprinting and will be given a list of enrollment centers to choose from in your area. You’ll also have the opportunity to set a time and date for your appointment; enrollment must be completed 120 days from the moment you submit your application.

What to know about the TSA PreCheck interview

TSA Precheck allows walk-ins for interviews, but applicants with appointments have priority. Appointments are scheduled to last about 20 minutes, but if the enrollment center is busy, it may take a bit longer. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be required to wear a mask to enter the enrollment center. Each state has different protocols for this, so check your local government’s site for the most up-to-date information.

At your appointment, you’ll be required to present a valid photo ID and proof of citizenship. If you have a passport or an enhanced driver’s license, that will verify both. You’ll also be fingerprinted, have your photo taken and pay your membership fee. Membership fees are non-refundable and can be paid by credit card, cash or cashier’s check. Because you’ll be having your photo taken, it’s best to wear neutral clothing and minimal jewelry.

The interview itself is pretty low key. You’ll be asked to verify the information on your application and may also be asked about your employment history and travel habits. If you have any criminal history, you should be prepared to give more information about that.

How to get an earlier TSA PreCheck appointment

The best way to get an early TSA PreCheck appointment is to schedule it while completing your application. You’ll be given the option to choose from a variety of enrollment centers in your area. Be open to looking at a few different centers to nail down your preferred day and time.

Tips for using TSA PreCheck for the first time

Getting the most out of TSA PreCheck actually starts before you use the service. In fact, you can start to get the most out of TSA PreCheck at your interview when you pay. That is, if you pay with a credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. While this card has many travel benefits, the one that applies here is up to a $100 statement credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership. Once you have your PreCheck membership, here are some other tips that can help you make the most of it.

  • Make sure you use your KTN whenever you book a flight to ensure “TSA Pre” shows up on your boarding pass
  • If you’re a frequent flyer, add your KTN to your profile
  • Do online check-in for your flight 24 hours ahead of time to make sure your PreCheck status is there. If it isn’t, contact the airline
  • Arrive at the airport at least two hours ahead of your flight to make sure your PreCheck status is confirmed (if you aren’t able to do so online or by phone)
  • Be sure you are traveling through an airport with TSA PreCheck services

Family travel: Does one TSA PreCheck suffice?

The short answer to this question, unfortunately, is no. TSA Precheck membership doesn’t automatically transfer to your family members. The one exception is children aged 12 and under. Children in this age category can go through the TSA PreCheck line with a parent or guardian who has membership in the program. Children over the age of 12, however, will need to have their own membership to be able to use the line.

How to update personal information within the TSA PreCheck program

Your TSA PreCheck membership is good for five years. If during that time your personal information changes, you’ll need to update it as soon as you can.

The most direct way to do so is to call; the line for personal information changes is (855) 347- 8371 and is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST. You can also send an inquiry online to get information about how to change your personal information. This may take a little longer, however, because you will have to wait for a response.

How to update your U.S. passport information

TSA PreCheck is a Trusted Traveler Program (TTP). If you have a Trusted Traveler account, you can update your information online from your account dashboard. This option is available if you have TSA PreCheck through Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST.


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