SENTRI Trusted Traveler Program Guide 2020 – Applying, Cost & Tips
Frequent travelers to Mexico can expedite their way back into the United States with SENTRI. As one of the five United States Trusted Traveler programs, SENTRI also allows members quicker access when returning to the United States via air from any country through Global Entry. There is a $122.50 non-refundable application fee, but it may be worth it if you cross the Mexico-United States border often.
Here is what you need to know about the SENTRI Trusted Traveler Program.
SENTRI, or Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, was launched in 1995. Its purpose is to expedite entry for low-risk and pre-approved travelers into the United States from Mexico via air and land. Additionally, SENTRI allows members to use NEXUS lanes to enter the United States by land from Canada. Certain members are also eligible for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck benefits.
It is open to U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and all foreign nationals. Unlike the other Trusted Traveler programs, SENTRI allows foreign nationals from all countries to apply. As a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program, applicants will undergo a comprehensive background check and interview.
In addition to expedited access to the United States from Mexico, SENTRI offers members numerous other benefits. Here are the important ones.
Dedicated SENTRI Lanes For Land Entry Into The United States From Mexico
SENTRI members enjoy expedited access entering the United States from Mexico via dedicated processing lanes. Unfortunately, members do not receive expedited access entering Mexico from the United States. While SENTRI lanes along the southern border usually offer quicker entry than traditional lanes, there is a chance you may have to undergo further inspection.
Vehicles must be registered before using SENTRI lanes, but inspections are no longer required. Every member of your party must be a SENTRI member to use the special lanes, and that includes children. An activated SENTRI card is required.
The Vacationer Tip
Do not attempt to use a SENTRI lane unless every person in your car is a SENTRI member. Doing so could lead to the termination of your membership.
NEXUS Lanes For Land Entry Into The United States From Canada
Global Entry When Arriving At The United States Via Air
U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents who are SENTRI members can use Global Entry kiosks when flying into the United States. The only requirement is members’ passport information and fingerprints must be on file with the CBP. Mexican nationals must apply separately for Global Entry.
When arriving in the United States, simply bypass the normal lines and head to the Global Entry kiosks. Scan your passport or permanent resident card and fingerprints. After answering a few questions, a receipt will print which you hand to a CBP officer.
TSA PreCheck When Flying From a United States Airport
U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents who are SENTRI members can use TSA PreCheck when flying from a participating United States airport. To access PreCheck benefits, SENTRI members should enter their PASSID in the Known Traveler Field when booking airline reservations. For future reservations, enter your PASSID in your Frequent Flyer profile so it automatically fills it in for you when booking. While you will not always receive TSA PreCheck, your odds dramatically increase when your information is inserted correctly.
How Much Does SENTRI Cost?
Out of the five Trusted Traveler Programs, SENTRI is the most expensive. It costs $122.50 with the following breakdown.
- Application Fee: $25 per person
- System Fee: $82.75 per person
- Fingerprint Fee: $14.50 (only for those 14 and older)
- Total Non-Refundable SENTRI Application Fee: $122.50
Additional vehicles incur a fee of $42 per vehicle. An initial payment of $25 must be made before completing your application on the Trusted Traveler Program website. You can pay via credit card, electronic bank transfer (EBT), money order, or certified check. SENTRI memberships are valid for five years.
Credit Cards Offering Reimbursement For The $122.50 Application Fee:
No credit cards currently reimburse SENTRI application fees. That is one of the drawbacks of signing up for SENTRI instead of Global Entry. Numerous travel-focused credit cards reimburse the $100 Global Entry application fee, which essentially makes it free. We will update this section if any credit cards begin reimbursing SENTRI application fees.
The Vacationer Tip
With a cost of $122.50 for five years, SENTRI is the most expensive of the five Trusted Traveler Programs. Consider NEXUS instead for $50 for five years or Global Entry for $100. Additionally, many credit cards reimburse the $100 non-refundable Global Entry application fee. Both NEXUS and Global Entry include access to SENTRI lanes.
SENTRI is for low-risk U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and all foreign nationals. No citizenship requirements are currently in place. Children under the age of 18 may apply, but parental consent is required. A parent or legal guardian must also be present for SENTRI interviews for children under 18.
New York State Residents May Not Apply For or Renew SENTRI Memberships
On February 6, 2020, the CBP released a statement detailing that New York state residents may no longer apply for or renew SENTRI memberships. In addition to SENTRI, the new rule applies to other Trusted Traveler Programs, including Global Entry, NEXUS, and FAST. The reason is that the state of New York now restricts the CBP from accessing criminal history maintained by the New York DMV.
Other Reasons for Ineligibility
Here are a few other requirements you must meet to be considered for a SENTRI membership.
- You must be able to prove to the CBP that you are a low-risk applicant. If you cannot, you will be denied.
- You must be truthful on your application. Lying or omitting information is grounds for denial.
- If you have been convicted of any criminal offenses, including drinking and driving, you may not get approved. Pending charges and warrants may also get you denied.
- You must not have violated any customs, immigration, or agriculture laws in any country.
- You must not be the subject of any law enforcement investigation, and that includes federal, state, and local agencies.
- Applicants must be admissible to the United States under immigration regulation
Be truthful and transparent on your application. You will be undergoing a comprehensive background check, so the CBP will uncover any lies or omissions.
SENTRI Enrollment Centers
As SENTRI is primarily a program for expedited entry to the United States from Mexico, the enrollment centers are located along the southern border.
- Douglas Enrollment Center
- Nogales Enrollment Center
- Phoenix – Phoenix Sky Harbor Enrollment Center
- San Luis Enrollment Center
- Tucson Enrollment Center
- Calexico Enrollment Center
- Otay Mesa Enrollment Center
- Albuquerque Enrollment Center
- Brownsville Enrollment Center
- Eagle Pass Enrollment Center
- El Paso Enrollment Center
- Hidalgo Enrollment Center
- Laredo Enrollment Center
If you do not have easy access to those enrollment centers, consider Global Entry instead. Global Entry has hundreds of enrollment centers across the United States, and the program also provides access to SENTRI lanes. If you live near the northern border, NEXUS is also a great and cheaper alternative.
Applying for SENTRI
Applying for SENTRI is quick and easy, but you should have a few documents ready before starting the process. United States citizens should have a passport and driver’s license. If you do not have a driver’s license, a photo ID card is acceptable. U.S. lawful permanent residents should have their permanent resident card.
As your vehicle needs to be registered to use SENTRI lanes, you will also need proof of registration and insurance. Bring those documents to the interview as well.
Filling out the application should take under 30 minutes. The entire process from filling out the application to approval could take as little as a few weeks to several months. It depends on the complexity of your application as well as how many other applications have been submitted. Having easily verifiable information on your application can also expedite the process.
The Vacationer Tip
Avoid lying or omitting any important information on your application. Your full employment and address history as well as any convicted criminal offenses should all be included. Even if your application has weak parts, being truthful will at least allow you to explain the situation at the interview to the CBP officer.
Fill Out The Application Online
After determining you meet the SENTR eligibility requirements, head over to the Trusted Travelers Programs website. In the programs list, find SENTRI and click Get Started.
If you have one, log into your Trusted Traveler account. If you do not have an account, now is the time to create one. After logging in, you will be asked to select your citizenship. Remember, U.S. citizenship is not a requirement for SENTRI.
After selecting your citizenship, you will choose SENTRI in the “Select a Program” area. As it notes, $25 will be collected at the end of the application. The remaining balance will be paid later. As previously noted, you must provide the vehicle information to use your vehicle in the SENTRI lanes. If you do not provide this information when filling out the application, you will have to pay a $42 registration fee later.
Next, you will be alerted of the background check required for approval. Additionally, you will see a list of reasons why your application may be denied. After clicking apply, you will then enter personal information. Ensure your name matches your passport or permanent resident card. Also ensure everything is current.
You will then be required to provide proof of citizenship as well as proof you may enter the United States. A few acceptable documents include passports, birth certificates, and citizenship certificates. After confirming your proof of citizenship and proof you may enter the United, you will enter your driver’s license information if applicable.
If you plan to drive your personal vehicle from Mexico to the United States using SENTRI lanes, now is the time to register it. In addition to the vehicle’s make and model, you will enter the VIN number and license plate number. After adding your vehicle, complete the application by entering your address and employment information as well as your travel history. Complete the application and pay the initial $25 application fee.
Conditional Approval and Scheduling an Interview
Conditional approval times depend on a few factors. The first is your application. If you provided accurate information, have no criminal history, and the CBP can easily verify you are a low-risk applicant, you could be approved within a week. If your application contains lies or omissions, you have a criminal history, or the CBP cannot easily verify your low-risk status, it could take several months.
The second factor is the total number of applications. If a lot of other people are applying for SENTRI at the same time as you, it could delay your approval. When you are conditionally approved, you will receive an email alerting you of a status change on your application. After signing into your account to verify you have been conditionally approved, it is now time to schedule your interview.
As outlined above, SENTRI enrollment centers are only located in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas. Select the nearest enrollment center to you and schedule your interview.
Interview Tips and Potential Questions
SENTRI interview questions will vary by applicant. The point of the interview is for the CBP officer to verify your information and learn why you want to become a member of SENTRI. Remember, you have already been conditionally approved, so you are really just verifying information already submitted. Please note, children under 18 must have a parent or guardian with them present during the interview.
Be sure to bring your passport or permanent resident card to the interview. You should also bring your driver’s license or another form of photo identification. To verify your current address, bring something such as a utility bill or a recent credit card statement. Finally, bring your vehicle’s registration information and proof of automobile insurance if you are registering it with SENTRI. Here are a few potential interview questions.
- Why are you applying for SENTRI?
- What do you do for work?
- Have you traveled to a foreign country recently?
- Do you have a criminal history?
- Have you ever attempted to bring any prohibited items across the border?
- Will you be using your SENTRI card for personal use, business use, or both?
In most cases, the interview should last fewer than 10 minutes. If approved, the CBP officer will take your picture and scan your fingerprints. Please note, your fingerprints must be on file to use Global Entry kiosks when returning to the United States via air. The officer will explain how to use your SENTRI card when returning by land to the United States from Mexico.
Using Your SENTRI Card to Enter The United States by Land From Mexico
Approved SENTRI members who also registered their vehicle may use their SENTRI card to enter the United States by land from Mexico. Your SENTRI card is a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card that provides access to the program’s benefits. After receiving your card, log in to your Trusted Traveler Account to activate it before use.
To use the card, find the SENTRI lane at the border crossing. The card will allow the CBP officer to verify your information and membership standing. After the officer verifies your information, he or she will either allow you to cross or will alert you that you need further inspection. Remember, every person in your car must be a SENTRI member in order to use the lane.
Use Your SENTRI Card to Access Ready Lanes
In addition to SENTRI lanes, members also have access to Ready Lanes. These are special lanes at the border for vehicles and pedestrians for expedited entry back into the United States. In order to use Ready Lanes, you must have your SENTRI card ready and available. Every member of your group (whether it be vehicle or pedestrians) over the age of 16 must have a Ready-Lane eligible card.
A SENTRI card is considered a REAL ID. That means you can use it to fly if your current driver’s license is not yet REAL ID compliant.
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) Compliant
SENTRI cards are WHTI compliant. That means U.S. citizens who have a SENTRI card may use it in place of a passport to enter the United States from any country in the Western Hemisphere.
SENTRI Vs. Other Trusted Traveler Programs
SENTRI is one of five United States Trusted Traveler Programs. Here is how it stacks up against the others.
With a cost of $100 for five years, Global Entry is $22.50 cheaper than SENTRI. Additionally, many credit cards provide full reimbursement for Global Entry’s $100 non-refundable application fee, which essentially makes it free for card holders.
Global Entry members have access to SENTRI lanes when driving from Mexico to the United States. In order to use the SENTRI lanes, Global Entry members must register their vehicle when signing up for Global Entry or at a later date for a $42 fee.
In addition to expedited land entry into the United States from Mexico, Global Entry has several other benefits. Notable ones include expedited entry through customs when returning to the United States via air, access to NEXUS lanes when returning to the United States from Canada, TSA PreCheck, and more. Additionally, Global Entry has more enrollment centers spread throughout the United States. SENTRI only has enrollment centers located in a handful of southern and southwestern states.
With a cost of $85 for five years, TSA PreCheck is $37.50 cheaper than SENTRI. Additionally, many travel-focused credit cards provide full reimbursement for TSA PreCheck’s non-refundable application fee.
As a PreCheck member, the main benefit is access to TSA PreCheck lanes when departing from United States airports. SENTRI also includes TSA PreCheck for certain members. It also includes Global Entry, access to NEXUS lanes when returning to the United States from Canada, and access to SENTRI lanes when returning to the United States from Mexico.
PreCheck has many more enrollment centers throughout the United States, but its benefits are a bit limited. Unless you are getting it for free, we recommend opting for Global Entry, SENTRI, or NEXUS instead of TSA PreCheck.
With a cost of only $50 for five years, NEXUS is $72.50 cheaper than SENTRI. Like SENTRI, no credit cards currently reimburse the $50 NEXUS non-refundable application fee.
NEXUS and SENTRI include many of the same benefits. The main difference is NEXUS members may use NEXUS lanes to cross into Canada from the United States via land. To get that privilege, NEXUS members must be interviewed and approved by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) offers. SENTRI members only need to be approved by the CBP.
Ultimately, the decision to apply to NEXUS or SENTRI will come down to your location. SENTRI enrollment centers are located in the southwestern part of the United States. NEXUS enrollment centers are located near the northern border.
SENTRI has a non-refundable $122.50 application fee. $25 of it is due when completing your application. The remaining amount is for fingerprints and processing.
SENTRI memberships are valid for five years. After the five years, you may renew for another five years.
U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents, and all foreign nationals
Replacement SENTRI cards are available for $25
Every person in your vehicle must be a member to use the SENTRI lanes.
Children can join SENTRI. Those under 18 must have a parent or guardians permission. The parent or guardian must also be present at the interview.
SENTRI members can use TSA PreCheck by entering their PASSID in the Known Traveler Field when booking an airline reservation. Only U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents may access TSA PreCheck lanes, however.
SENTRI members can use Global Entry when returning to the United States via air. Only U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents may use Global Entry. SENTRI members who are Mexican nationals must apply separately. In order to use Global Entry kiosks, eligible SENTRI members must have their fingerprints on file.
It is free if you register your vehicle when submitting your initial application. If you choose to register your vehicle at a later time, it is $42. If you want to add additional vehicles to your account, the cost is $42 per vehicle.
Inspection is no longer required to use SENTRI lanes.
SENTRI members may use NEXUS lanes when returning to the United States from Canada. SENTRI members may not use NEXUS lanes when entering Canada from the United States.
SENTRI was established in 1995. The first lane was in Otay Mesa, California.
You can find your SENTRI number by logging into your Trusted Traveler Account. You will see it in the upper right corner when logged into your account. You can also find it on your SENTRI card.
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts + Cheat Sheet
We recommend the SENTRI Trusted Traveler Program for those taking frequent trips by land to Mexico. In addition to expedited land travel, certain SENTRI members also enjoy Global Entry and TSA PreCheck benefits. Finally, SENTRI members have access to NEXUS lanes when returning by land to the United States from Canada. While Global Entry and NEXUS also include access to SENTRI lanes and are cheaper, it may still make sense to sign up for SENTRI if you live close to the southern border.
Featured Image via U.S. Customs and Border Protection
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