Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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If you regularly visit international destinations, you’ve probably seen various options for frequent traveler entry programs.
Whatever your needs may be, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have implemented several Trusted Traveler Programs aimed at speeding passengers through the airport and other port of entry lines faster and more efficiently.
SENTRI is the Trusted Traveler Program for travelers entering the U.S. from Mexico. In this post, we’ll look at:
Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) is a program providing modified security screening processes for its pre-approved members. SENTRI also greatly improves overall security because it makes screenings more efficient.
SENTRI program participants can enter the U.S. via dedicated primary lanes at certain Southern land border ports. In addition, SENTRI members are allowed to use the NEXUS lanes when they enter the U.S. from Canada by land, though this doesn’t work the other way around (such as entering Canada).
Note that SENTRI differs from NEXUS because the latter is a joint program between Canadian and U.S. immigration authorities, whereas SENTRI is just a CBP program. This means SENTRI only applies to customs and immigration inspections coming into the U.S., not into Canada or Mexico.
SENTRI was established in 1995 by representatives from the U.S. Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and 5 additional federal stakeholder agencies. The program was specifically designed to provide expedited U.S. CBP processing for pre-approved low-risk travelers.
The very first SENTRI lane was in Otay Mesa, California, and it was there that the design and concept were refined. More technology tests were conducted there, including lane-side facial recognition and in-vehicle biometrics.
SENTRI is one of 5 Trusted Traveler Programs, with 4 designed for both personal and business travelers:
The other program, FAST, was only started to accommodate commercial trucking companies. The U.S. CBP governs all programs (other than TSA PreCheck); TSA PreCheck falls under the Transportation Security Administration’s purview.
At one time (back in the ’90s), the CBP Global Entry program was called INSPASS. After the CBP and INS merged, the current program took its place. Now, as many as 10 million individual travelers are enrolled, and an estimated 3.5 million new applications are expected in 2023.
Hot Tip: Enrollment in SENTRI includes both Global Entry and PreCheck, giving you the benefit of 3 major Trusted Traveler Programs.
When you drive into the U.S. from Mexico or Canada, you’ll simply pass through a SENTRI (for Mexico) or NEXUS (for Canada) lane, have your credentials scanned, and be allowed to enter within a few minutes.
Hot Tip: You must register your car in your SENTRI account. Per the CBP, “Please note processing times for vehicle enrollment can vary and may take up to 12 months to process.” If you register your vehicle as part of the initial application, it is free. Any additional registrations will cost $42 per car.
If you are walking across the border, you can expedite your entry by scanning your Global Entry card at the SENTRI (for Mexico) and NEXUS (for Canada) travel lanes.
In addition, SENTRI members can enter a PASS ID membership number into the Known Traveler Number field when booking reservations. You can also enter it on your frequent flyer profile with any airline.
Your membership number gives TSA’s Secure Flight System the necessary data for proceeding with Trusted Traveler verification. This is the same system that processes whether or not you receive TSA PreCheck on any domestic flight, and the information is also tied to your passport and processing documents.
The many SENTRI Pass benefits include:
Hot Tip: Having SENTRI doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never speak to a border officer, though on most occasions, you’ll be allowed through with minimal human interaction.
In Trusted Traveler Programs, using biometrics can create a travel experience that is more seamless for all parties involved. In creating the SENTRI program, it was discovered that facial image recognition technology was the simplest system for CBP officers and travelers.
Biometric technology is hassle-free and highly intuitive, which means a traveler’s identity matches can be made quickly and accurately. You’ll sometimes find this same technology when boarding an aircraft; all you have to do is stand in front of the camera to take your photo. That picture is then matched to the photo you provided with your passport application. Once the photo is verified, you can board your flight.
There aren’t any requirements related to age or citizenship to be eligible for SENTRI. However, minors under 18 must have a parent or legal guardian’s consent to participate in the program.
Applicants must voluntarily submit to a thorough background check against several databases, including all of the following:
Applicants must also undergo:
Hot Tip: Do not hide any previous criminal history in your SENTRI application, or you may be denied approval. The customs officials looking at your application will uncover these details whether you share them or not, so it is best to be honest.
You may not be eligible for SENTRI if you:
Hot Tip: Being convicted of a crime or any other items above doesn’t necessarily mean you are ineligible to apply for a SENTRI card. It just means your chances of being approved are somewhat lower.
Before applying, you should ensure that you’re eligible for SENTRI by following these steps in the application process:
A person can fill out multiple applications, meaning a family member could fill them out for their entire family. When applying online, you must submit separate applications for each family member by filling out every section.
Hot Tip: There is no such thing as a whole family application for SENTRI — each family member will have to submit separate application forms since CBP needs a separate background and security check on each individual.
Depending on the application and interview backlog, the process can take 2 to 6 months. Your initial application only requires around 20 to 30 minutes, but conditional application approval could take up to 6 weeks, and the interview booking time period could be weeks or months.
SENTRI passes are valid for 5 years from the issue date before they must be renewed.
The CBP advises that you may experience delays in the processing of your application, in part due to the limited manpower and processing ability of the Trusted Traveler Program partners. This may also extend into limited appointment availabilities at some TTP sites.
Enrollment centers and SENTRI lanes can currently be found at these ports of entry, primarily located along the border:
To get SENTRI, you must present yourself for an interview before a CBP officer.
This interview is fairly painless; you don’t need to dress your Sunday best, though you should appear presentable. The interview process won’t last more than 20 to 30 minutes, and you’ll be asked several questions along with having your fingerprints taken.
Here are some typical questions you can expect to be asked throughout the process:
Hot Tip: The interview process usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes from start to finish. You will have your picture taken, so make sure to dress in something that you want to represent you for the next 5 years!
U.S. citizens can utilize their SENTRI memberships at Global Entry kiosks in participating U.S. airports. SENTRI members who are Mexican nationals can apply for Global Entry once they have passed a risk assessment check that the Mexican government conducts.
Global Entry members can use kiosks in select international arrivals airports for expedited processing. Instead of filling out a customs declaration form, members answer a few questions on a kiosk and then present the form to an officer, usually just by handing over a verification slip that prints from the machine.
When you drive through a port of entry, your vehicle may be searched. but if you register your vehicle, you can typically avoid this and can proceed through the entry more quickly.
SENTRI members who currently own SENTRI-registered vehicles should check whose membership the vehicle they’re driving is enrolled under to ensure the appropriate family member is verified and has updated the vehicle’s license plate information. (In other words, you should be driving the SENTRI vehicle you have registered, not someone else’s.)
Suppose you have a vehicle registered under the name of one particular immediate family member in the SENTRI program. In that case, you don’t need to re-register that vehicle in your name.
To avoid processing delays, though, you must verify and update your vehicle license plate info when it changes. Any SENTRI member who doesn’t update their license plate information could see delays while CBP officers attempt to verify their license plate information.
If your vehicle’s windshield has been damaged, you will need a new SENTRI tag (which is placed in the windshield upon approval so it can be seen as you enter the border checkpoint). You can get one by calling one of the Enrollment Centers, reporting the damage, and applying for a new SENTRI tag.
Once approved for participation in the SENTRI program, you’ll receive an RFID card for use at all designated SENTRI air, land, and marine ports of entry. Your SENTRI membership card is considered a valid travel document and can be utilized in place of your passport under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).
Remember that SENTRI conforms with the Global Entry program for expedited immigration and customs clearance and TSA PreCheck for faster airport security checks.
Once you receive your card, you must activate it. Begin by logging into your TTP account, and then click on the “Activate Membership Card” button in the Program Membership section to activate your card once you receive it.
You need to update your contact info and any changes to your documentation, such as a new passport, driver’s license, or permanent resident card as they occur. You can do this through your TTP portal.
If you are convicted of a crime (except traffic violations), you must inform SENTRI by calling an Enrollment Center.
If you lose your SENTRI card, you can get a new one for a small fee simply by calling one of the Enrollment Centers to report the loss. Do not apply for a new card via the SENTRI application; it will cancel your program membership.
SENTRI members are screened faster than non-SENTRI members at airports and borders (under a combination of SENTRI and Global Entry use since the membership comes with both).
While times vary based on the day and time, it is clear that wait times at popular border crossings show that SENTRI lines are significantly quicker than regular lines.
|Mexico Border Port of Entry||Average Wait* at SENTRI Lines||Average Wait* at Regular Lines|
|El Paso – Ysleta||3 minutes||28 minutes|
|Otay Mesa||13 minutes||78 minutes|
|San Ysidro||18 minutes||110 minutes|
* Average wait sample captured for Noon MDT.
The SENTRI nonrefundable enrollment and application fee is $122.25, and your SENTRI status will be valid for 5 years.
Most major premium credit cards do not cover SENTRI enrollment, but they do cover Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. You must decide whether enrolling in Global Entry using your credit card reimbursement is better than paying the separate SENTRI cost.
Hot Tip: If you frequently travel from Mexico into the U.S., you will likely find so much additional value in SENTRI that it is worth paying the separate fee.
If you lose your card and need a replacement, there will be a $25 fee. If you lose a transponder (mounted in your vehicle to assist with entry via a vehicle lane into the U.S.), there will be a replacement fee of $42.
Additional fees will apply when enrolling multiple vehicles in the program (up to a maximum of 4 vehicles). These fees will apply toward a 2-year enrollment in the SENTRI program.
No matter the age of a child, if you want them to be traveling with you when you use the SENTRI lane, they need to have a SENTRI pass. If you travel by car, all vehicle occupants must be SENTRI pass holders if you are using the SENTRI lane.
You can only use SENTRI at airports (via Global Entry) if you have your SENTRI or Global Entry card. You are required to fill out a separate application form for each child, and they must attend your SENTRI interview with you.
Domestic pets can be transported through the dedicated SENTRI lanes at land border crossings and SENTRI kiosks. Birds and any other prohibited animals will not be allowed in any SENTRI lanes.
Pets that are allowed will need a valid rabies vaccination certificate dated and signed by their licensed veterinarian. The certificate must:
Other important pet travel facts:
Hot Tip: Humans must also be aware of vaccinations they may need when traveling! See our complete travel vaccinations and travel health guide for all the details.
Some personal items are permitted in the SENTRI lanes, including:
Food is allowed across the border, but it should be declared, even if you think it is nothing important. Something “harmless” like an apple could be cause for removal from any Trusted Traveler Program if it is not declared properly — when in doubt, always declare.
The National Vetting Center (NVC) is an interagency collaborative that helps provide a clearer picture of homeland security, border security, national security, and any public safety threat that might be perpetrated by someone transiting U.S. borders.
The SENTRI program gets information about its participants from the NVC, which is important to know — it means the program is always aware of new information about members, even if you don’t openly disclose it (such as crimes).
The NVC is also responsible for simplifying, strengthening, and streamlining all of the complex information and methods utilized by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies when making critical operational decisions.
If you are a U.S. citizen who has become a SENTRI member, you also have the privilege of using TSA PreCheck on all participating airlines. Simply enter your Known Traveler Number or CBP ID number from your SENTRI card into your flight reservation information or frequent flyer account.
Members of TSA PreCheck have many benefits. For instance, passengers at PreCheck security checkpoints are not required to remove some clothing items, including shoes, belts, or lightweight outerwear, and usually only pass through a metal detector instead of a full body scanner. In addition, passengers can leave liquids and laptops inside their carry-on luggage.
All eligible travelers’ Trusted Traveler information will be embedded in their boarding pass barcode, which lets the TSA know whether you can use the PreCheck lanes. However, it’s worth noting that even TSA PreCheck-approved travelers are subject to random searches or security screenings.
Since launching in October 2011, it has been made available to members of CBP Trusted Traveler Programs (including SENTRI) who are U.S. citizens flying on the participating airlines (including non-U.S. airlines).
In addition, military members on active duty are eligible to use PreCheck. If you are a SENTRI program member, you automatically have a membership in TSA PreCheck. All individuals who are cleared to enroll in any of CBP’s eligible Trusted Traveler Programs (including SENTRI) are automatically qualified for participation in TSA PreCheck when flying on participating airlines at any participating airport.
If you’re one of the many people who frequently travel internationally, then you know exactly how difficult and time-consuming going through customs can be. That’s why programs like SENTRI were created — to provide fast and easy pre-approved clearance for low-risk travelers.
SENTRI can help lower stress, save time, and simplify your travel by allowing you to speed past those long customs entry lines and arrive at your destination much faster. If you frequently travel from Mexico to the U.S., the SENTRI program is definitely for you.
SENTRI is a Trusted Traveler Program that allows expedited access back into the U.S. from Mexico. It also includes Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, which allow expedited processing back into the U.S. from any foreign nation and security processing at U.S. airports, respectively.
It costs $122.25 to get SENTRI, which also includes Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. The fee cannot be covered by any premium credit card benefits.
SENTRI includes Global Entry, but is not directly the same. SENTRI allows expedited access into the U.S. via land border crossings from Mexico. Because SENTRI users undergo a thorough background check, they are also given Global Entry and TSA PreCheck benefits (though it is worth noting that Global Entry members don’t automatically get SENTRI).
Current application processing time for SENTRI is 10 to 12 months. This is an average time, so it could be shorter or longer. You can always check the current status by logging on to the Trusted Traveler Program website.
If you have an existing SENTRI application and submit your renewal prior to your membership expiration date, you will continue to maintain your membership until your application is processed.
Ready Lanes are expedited travel lanes at land border crossings that are available for a number of different types of eligible travelers, including those with a SENTRI card.
Other eligible types of documents include, U.S. Passport Cards, Enhanced Driver’s Licenses, Global Entry cards, FAST cards, and more.
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