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Two Cards Every Serious US Traveler Needs to Be Carrying

Travel Road Trips Insider Guides Airports + Flying
by Skye Sherman Aug 9, 2018

Minimalism while traveling is a virtue to be praised, but there are certain items you shouldn’t do without. Global Entry membership and an International Driving Permit (IDP) can make a huge difference in the way you wander. While it’s possible to get by without these two cards, travel for a while and you’re likely to encounter situation after situation that leaves you wishing you had planned ahead and taken the time to score them. For the relatively small amount of money you’ll invest in acquiring them, both offer abilities and benefits that can make a huge difference in your travel experience.

1. Apply for Global Entry

Global Entry is a pre-approval qualification that provides those whom Customs considers “low-risk travelers” — they look at things like criminal history, violation of customs or immigration laws, and the like during the approval process — with expedited clearance into the United States. Automated kiosks make the arrival process smooth and keep the lines super short. Not all airports have a Global Entry entrance, but many do, and the list keeps growing. Any US citizen, legal permanent resident, or resident of a select list of countries is eligible to apply for Global Entry.

The best part of Global Entry is that it includes TSA PreCheck. TSA PreCheck is a game-changer; members get their own lane and have the chance to speed through security because they’re not required to remove liquids, shoes, or outerwear during the screening process. For TSA PreCheck, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number as part of your Global Entry status, which you have to add to your reservation every time you book a flight (even for domestic travel). There are few things more satisfying to a serial traveler than breezing through a short security line and not having to remove your shoes, or place liquids and laptops into separate bins.

The application process for Global Entry is a little bit lengthy, so set aside enough time to provide information about your employment, residence history, and every country you’ve visited in the past five years. These tasks aren’t that complicated — they’re just tedious and time consuming. You’ll also want to plan ahead and complete the application process at least one month out from your departure date.

After submitting my Global Entry application, I was approved to schedule an in-person interview about eleven days later. Note that you won’t be notified when your application has been approved, so you have to keep logging into your account regularly to check on the status of your application. Following approval, I looked up the next available interview slot at my local enrollment center and it was two months away; however, I decided to swing by the enrollment center without making an appointment and try my luck at one of their daily walk-in hours. I was able to walk in during that time slot and, after waiting in line for about 20 minutes, was called in to meet with the Customs official. Fifteen minutes later, I was approved on the spot. Within a week of approval, my shiny new Global Entry card was in my mailbox. Once you receive it, simply activate your card by logging into your account and you’re all set.

Global Entry is worth the price tag — $100 is a small price to pay for five years of hassle-free airport security experiences. Plus, getting TSA PreCheck-approved is $85, so for just $15 extra, you might as well go for Global Entry.

2. Acquire an International Driving Permit (IDP)

Also known as an International Driver’s License, an IDP is a special addition to your regular driver’s license that allows you to legally drive abroad.

Getting by without one overseas and still renting cars or adventure vehicles is sometimes possible — not all countries will ask to see your IDP — but it’s not as safe. In most places, though, you won’t be able to rent any sort of vehicle without one.

According to the DMV, the only legally recognized organizations that can legitimately issue an IDP are the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). I applied for my IDP through AAA, because the AATA application requires an additional fee for shipping and handling.

The application process consists of:

  • Printing and filling out a two-page application
  • Attaching two signed passport-sized photos
  • Attaching a back and front copy of your driver’s license
  • Writing a check for $20
  • Mailing everything to your local AAA office

This is not an online application. You’ll have to print everything out, fill it in, and mail it off the old-fashioned way. The process is relatively quick, though; your IDP should arrive in your mailbox in about two weeks.

What you need to know:

  • Your IDP is only valid for one year and you can’t renew it; you have to reapply each time.
  • Your IDP is only valid in conjunction with your driver’s license, so you must carry and present both your driver’s license and your IDP when traveling.
  • It costs $20 to get an IDP.

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