You're probably missing out on this international travel hack that saves time at the airport and costs nothing

You're probably missing out on this international travel hack that saves time at the airport and costs nothing
  • Mobile Passport Control lets travelers skip customs lines with a free app on their phone.

  • The app, available since 2014, is underused despite being available at 33 major US airports.

  • Global Entry is faster and more widely used but costs $100 and requires an interview.

Global Entry isn't the only way international travelers can skip long lines at US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The popular program that allows travelers reentering the US to breeze through customs has a $100 application fee and requires an in-person interview at an airport or government building for approval, according to the CBP website.

"It's a great option for those who frequently travel internationally, but it doesn't make sense for everybody," Sean Cudahy, an aviation reporter at The Points Guy who has Global Entry and has already flown 65,000 miles this year, told Business Insider.

For occasional international travelers, there's a free way to save time at CBP, and no application or interview is required — all you need is your phone.

Mobile Passport Control

A couple speaks to a CBP officer as they try to use their new mobile app at an entry point
International travelers use Mobile Passport Control to get through customs.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Mobile Passport Control is an app available on Google Play and the Apple App Store. It allows many travelers to submit their CBP forms electronically and enter a shorter customs line upon arrival in 33 major international US airports, including John F. Kennedy, Phoenix Sky Harbor, and Dallas Fort Worth, according to the CBP website.

"On any given day, you might see a 30-minute line for customs, and most of the people that are standing in that line are eligible for the Mobile Passport Control line, which is sometimes only a couple of people at any given moment." Cudahy, who recently reported on the program, told BI. "It's available to a wide range of travelers."

US citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, Canadians with a B1/B2 visa, and permanent citizens of the 41 countries included in the Visa Waiver Program who have been to the US before can use the app when arriving in the US.

It's not exactly Global Entry

"Nothing is as fast as Global Entry," Cudahy said. "I've been through Global Entry probably a dozen times in the last eight or nine months, and on most of those occasions, it's so fast that my feet barely even stop moving."

While Mobile Passport Control users access a shorter line to talk to CBP officers, Global Entry members don't talk to an officer at all.

"You get off the plane, go right to a kiosk, it recognizes your face, and you're on your way in a matter of seconds," Cudahy said of Global Entry.

: An officer with the US Customs and Border Protection demonstrates a new arrivals processing kiosk
A Global Entry passenger uses a kiosk to get through customs.Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Global Entry is also available in twice as many US airports as Mobile Passport Control, and it includes TSA PreCheck access for the duration of the membership.

While it's a more useful perk than Mobile Passport Control, not every international traveler wants to pay $100 and go to the airport for an interview. But they can still avoid long wait times.

An underrated hack

Mobile Passport Control has been available since 2014, but not many people use it — especially compared to Global Entry. According to a CBP press release, 4 million travelers used Mobile Passport Control in 2023.

Meanwhile, more than 10 million travelers either enrolled in or renewed their Global Entry memberships in the same year, according to the CBP. And the regular customs line remains long.

A sign points passengers to the mobile passport control window set up for international travelers arriving at Miami International Airport
Global Entry and Mobile Passport Control lanes.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Cudahy told BI that CBP wants more travelers to use Mobile Passport Control.

How to use the app

Once your flight lands in the US, open the Mobile Passport Control app.

The app will ask you to select the airport you've arrived at.

Next, you'll be prompted to add travelers to your trip. Up to 12 travelers in your household can enter their information on the same phone, making it easier and more efficient for families traveling together.

Each traveler will scan their passport, enter their personal information and customs declaration forms, and take a selfie.

Once you submit the forms through the app and deplane, follow the signs for Mobile Passport Control to the shorter customs line.

A sign points passengers to the mobile passport control window set up for international travelers.
Customs lanes for Global Entry and Mobile Passport Control.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A customs officer will take only one traveler's photo to pull up everyone's information in your group.

First-timer tips

The process is simple, but Cudahy has a few tips for first-time users.

First off, download the app before your trip rather than after landing.

"Sometimes, when you take a phone off airplane mode, it could be a little wonky at first," he said.

When you download the app in advance, Cudahy suggests getting comfortable with it before your trip.

"Don't submit any declarations on the application until you're ready, but you can play around with it and familiarize yourself so you're ready to go when you land," he said.

A black iPhone with The Mobile Passport Control app on the screen.
The Mobile Passport Control app presented on an iPhone.Joey Hadden/Business Insider

And lastly, if you're traveling with family, make sure everyone knows about the selfie.

"Just have them all aware of the fact that everybody's going to need to take a selfie on the one person's phone," he said. "That way, you can do it in an efficient manner once the plane lands."

Once you deplane and see that short line next to rows of travelers in the regular customs line, you'll be glad you're in on this underrated hack.

Read the original article on Business Insider