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What is TSA PreCheck? A Guide to the Program

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If you fly often, TSA PreCheck can make airport travel a snap —it allows you to speed through airport security lines and avoid hassles like taking off your shoes.

TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program for domestic travel from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It’s also included as part of Global Entry, a similar program for international travel from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

You have to pay an application fee and jump through some hoops to get TSA PreCheck membership, but it can save you hours with expedited security lines and other benefits.

TSA PreCheck is a program that allows you to get vetted by the TSA before travel, with a background check, fingerprints or other biometric data and an interview. This allows you to move through airport security much more quickly. Almost all TSA PreCheck travelers spend less than 10 minutes waiting in an airport security line, according to the TSA.

Getting TSA PreCheck membership gives you access to dedicated security lines reserved for trusted travelers and allows you to skip some steps during security screening.

TSA PreCheck benefits allow you to:

  • Keep your shoes on during screening
  • Wear a light jacket through security
  • Keep your laptop in its case
  • Keep your 3-1-1 liquids in your bag

It’s not just the long security lines that make airport travel stressful. Taking off and putting on jackets and shoes while wrangling electronics and toiletry bags into plastic bins amid other impatient travelers can strain anyone’s nerves. For that reason, having the TSA PreCheck symbol on your boarding pass can make for a smoother airport experience.

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Important


TSA PreCheck benefits aren’t guaranteed. For example, a traveler in the program may be told to take off a jacket or remove liquids from their bag if a TSA agent deems it necessary.

How TSA PreCheck works

To use TSA PreCheck, you’ll need to apply and be approved for the program. Once you’re approved for TSA PreCheck membership, you’ll get a Known Traveler Number (KTN), also called a trusted traveler number. You can enter your KTN into airline reservations to get a TSA PreCheck symbol on your boarding pass when you fly. That symbol gives you access to all the TSA PreCheck benefits.

You can use TSA PreCheck at more than 200 U.S. airports in every state, with over 90 participating airlines. If you want to know whether you can use it on your trip, the TSA offers a map tool that allows you to click on a state or search by airport name or code.

Getting TSA PreCheck membership is fairly straightforward, and the process can take a few weeks or occasionally months. You can enroll by simply showing up at one of the TSA PreCheck enrollment centers — however, it’s faster and easier to follow the process below:

  1. Go to the TSA website and find the most convenient enrollment centers for you. They will either be Telos or IDEMIA enrollment locations.
  2. Go to the Telos or IDEMIA website and fill out a simple one-page TSA PreCheck application online. The application asks for your name, address and basic personal details, like your hair and eye color, weight, gender and place of birth. Filling out the application ahead of time — known as TSA PreCheck pre-enrollment — can save you time.
  3. Turn in the application.
  4. Set up an interview time at an enrollment center near you.
  5. Go to the interview at the designated time. A staff member will review your application, check your ID or other documents, take your fingerprints electronically and ask questions about your personal and travel history.
  6. Pay the fee at the enrollment center, which will either be $78 or $85, depending on the provider you use. With some travel credit cards, you may even be able to get reimbursed for the fee.

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Keep in mind

It’s difficult to find a no-annual-fee travel credit card that’ll reimburse you for the cost of TSA PreCheck. Credit cards that reimburse you for the TSA PreCheck fee will typically have an annual fee.

TSA PreCheck Requirements

The TSA PreCheck program is open to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and legal permanent residents of the country.

The TSA allows you to show one or more documents to prove your identity and eligibility. Any one of the following (unexpired) documents from this list works as proof:

  • U.S. Passport
  • U.S. Passport card
  • U.S. Enhanced Driver’s License
  • U.S. Enhanced Identification Card
  • Enhanced Tribal Card
  • Permanent Resident Card (“Green Card”)
  • Foreign passport and immigrant visa with I-551 annotation proving your permanent residence status
  • Re-entry permit
  • Free and Secure Trade Card

If you don’t have a document from this list, the TSA will allow you to prove your identity with a combination of a valid (unexpired) photo ID (like a driver’s license) and a document that shows proof of citizenship (like a birth certificate).

For example, you could use a U.S. military ID card and a U.S. certificate of citizenship. There are a variety of allowed document combinations.

TSA PreCheck disqualifiers

There are certain crimes or circumstances that can disqualify you permanently or temporarily for eligibility for TSA PreCheck. The list includes: espionage, treason, improper transportation of hazardous materials and violent crimes, like murder, robbery or terrorism. You can also be disqualified for reasons that are not criminal: For example, if you’ve been involuntarily committed for psychiatric reasons, or legally lack the capacity to manage your own affairs.

You will be temporarily ineligible if you’re wanted or under indictment for any disqualifying felonies. If you’re no longer wanted or your indictments are dismissed, you may be able to qualify.

The TSA PreCheck interview

The TSA PreCheck interview process typically only takes about 10 minutes. During the interview, you’ll provide your documents, have your photo and fingerprints taken and answer some basic questions about yourself and your history.

The TSA PreCheck interview questions may include basic personal information. As an example, you may be asked to confirm that you’re a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, where you’ve traveled recently and where you plan to travel and details about any criminal history.

How long does it take to get TSA PreCheck?

The TSA PreCheck process is much faster than other trusted traveler programs. You can get your TSA PreCheck Trusted Traveler Number in as little as three to five days, though it can take as long as 60 days. For most applicants, processing time doesn’t take longer than three weeks.

Notably, TSA PreCheck approval is much faster than Global Entry, which typically takes four to six months. It may even take almost a year for 2023 and 2024 applicants, as processing times have slowed due to a high volume of applications.

What is the TSA PreCheck renewal process?

The TSA precheck renewal process is pretty easy. Online renewal costs $70, which is less than the initial TSA PreCheck program application. You can even renew up to six months before your membership is set to expire.

To renew your TSA PreCheck, you simply click on the renewal link on the TSA website, choose one of the two providers and complete your renewal form online in as little as five minutes. An interview may be required.

You can renew your TSA PreCheck membership in person by going to one of the TSA PreCheck enrollment centers. Note that IDEMIA charges slightly more ($78) for in-person renewal. Further, some members, such as those who have had a name change, may need to renew in person.

The cost to enroll in TSA PreCheck for the first time varies based on which provider you choose to process your application. Here are the application and renewal costs from the two providers offered on the TSA website:

  • IDEMIA (620-plus active locations): $78 to enroll, then $70 to renew online or $78 to renew in person
  • Telos (26 active locations): $85 to enroll, then $70 to renew online or in person

But don’t let the cost of TSA PreCheck deter you — there are many credit cards with TSA Precheck or Global Entry benefits that offer a statement credit to reimburse you for the application fee for a trusted travel program.

You start by simply applying for a credit card with the benefit, or seeing if you already have one in your wallet. Then, use that card to pay your TSA PreCheck application fee with an eligible provider, and your card issuer will reimburse you with a statement credit.

If you’re trying to decide whether TSA PreCheck or Global Entry is the right program for you, here’s a quick comparison of perks and details of the two programs:

TSA PreCheckGlobal Entry
PerksGet entry into dedicated security lines, skip having to take off light jackets or shoes or remove laptops or 3-1-1 liquids in security lines.Get entry into dedicated security lines, skip having to take off light jackets or shoes or remove laptops or 3-1-1 liquids in security lines.
Membership length5 years5 years
Application processCan apply online, but requires in-person interviewCan apply online, but requires in-person interview
Approval timelineOften 3 to 5 days, but may take up to 60 daysNormally 4 to 6 months, but 2023 and 2024 applicants typically wait 11 months
Rules for childrenChildren ages 12 and under may use TSA PreCheck lanes when traveling with a parent who is enrolled.

Children ages 13 to 17 may use TSA PreCheck lanes when traveling on the same reservation with an enrolled parent or guardian, if the child's boarding pass shows the PreCheck symbol.

Children may enroll in the program, and children traveling alone will need to do so to get TSA PreCheck benefits.
Children of any age may enroll in the Global Entry program. For applicants under age 18, a parent or legal guardian will need to give consent and go with the child to the interview.

Only enrolled Global Entry members may use Global Entry lanes. This means even young children accompanying an enrolled parent may not use Global Entry lanes unless they also are enrolled in the program.

Entry lanes. This means even young children accompanying an enrolled parent may not use Global Entry lanes unless they also are enrolled in the program.
Cost$78 to $85$100
Best forTravelers who take domestic flights from U.S. airports at least 2 or 3 times a year.Travelers who fly to international destinations at least 3 or 4 times a year, and also fly domestically.

If you plan to apply for TSA PreCheck, it may be well worth it to get a credit card with Global Entry or TSAPreCheck reimbursement. Many of the best travel and airline credit cards offer this perk.

Here are some of the credit cards that offer a statement credit to cover the TSA PreCheck application fee:

If you’re looking for a card that offers a statement credit to reimburse the cost of a trusted traveler program, you’ll likely also want a credit card without foreign transaction fees, as it saves you money outside the country.

There are other travel perks you may want to consider when shopping for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit card. You may want to look at credit cards with travel insurance and credit cards with airport lounge access, like a Priority Pass membership.

Most credit cards that offer a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck statement credit will charge an annual fee — and sometimes a hefty one. When comparing credit cards, you’ll want to weigh the fees and perks against each other to make sure the card is a good value and fit for you.

TSA PreCheck is worth it for most people who travel domestically at least a few times a year. The TSA PreCheck application process is fairly quick compared with Global Entry, and it costs less than $100. If one of your existing credit cards will cover the cost of TSA PreCheck, you should probably take advantage of it, even if you don’t fly very often — you’ll get to save time in airport security, for free.

TSA PreCheck for kids

You get extra value when traveling with young children, who can hop into the TSA PreCheck line with you and enjoy the benefits without having to enroll in the program. This can be a sanity saver for families who travel domestically at least a few times a year.

But TSA PreCheck isn’t for everyone. The trusted traveler program may not be worth it for you if you fly only once every couple of years, or if most of your travel is international rather than domestic. If you’re a frequent international traveler, you may want to consider applying for Global Entry, which gives you TSA PreCheck for no extra cost.

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