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What Is TSA PreCheck? Beginner’s Guide

TSA PreCheck is a government program that allows the TSA to classify travelers as low risk and pass through expedited security screening
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
Interest Rates Last Update: April 15, 2024
The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.
Author: Baruch Mann (Silvermann)
Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Writer, Contributor

Experience

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
Interest Rates Last Update: April 15, 2024

The banking product interest rates, including savings, CDs, and money market, are accurate as of this date.

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Table Of Content

For most people, the flight time is not the most tedious aspect of their journey. It’s the delays at the airport. There seem to be endless lines for check-in, bag drop off and of course, the TSA line.

Fortunately, there is something you can do about the last line with TSA PreCheck. So, here we’ll delve into the TSA PreCheck program to help you decide if it would be a good option for you.

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a government program that allows the TSA to classify travelers as low-risk and pass through expedited security screening. Recent reviews suggest that most TSA PreCheck passengers pass through security in less than five minutes. Currently, there are over 10 million members of the TSA PreCheck program.

TSA PreCheck involves providing your fingerprints, submitting a background check, and paying a non-refundable application fee. Once you’ve been accepted into the program, you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number or KTN.

What Do You Get If You Qualify?

As a qualifying traveler, at many airports, you’ll have a special line at security checkpoints and you’ll have additional perks that make going through security quicker and easier. For example, you won’t need to remove your shoes or belt and can leave your laptop in its case.

So, although you will still need to go through security, you are not likely to face the long lines and a potentially frustrating wait with shoes in hand!

TSA PreCheck is one of several programs that provides this type of expedited security process, but it is the cheapest. It is ideal for frequent travelers, but if you tend to travel abroad often, you may prefer the Global Entry program.

What Is TSA PreCheck Beginners Guide
(Photo by David Tran Photo/Shutterstock)

How Does TSA PreCheck Work?

The TSA PreCheck program was launched in 2013 with the intention of speeding up passage through security checkpoints for verified travelers. If you’ve ever flown, you’re likely to be aware of how crowded the security checkpoint lines can get.

In addition to long lines, typically passengers need to remove shoes, belts and light jackets in addition to removing personal items from hand luggage, so they can be checked for hazardous materials.

For example, there were previous attempts to smuggle explosives on board airplanes in shoes, which is why they need to be removed and checked to pass through security. Electronic equipment like your laptop is also subject to scrutiny since there have been past attempts to remove components and hide materials inside.

Quick Pass For Low-Risk Passengers

The TSA PreCheck program has been designed to verify the passengers present the lowest flight security risk. After you’ve been verified and received PreCheck status, you will be able to pass through security checkpoints without needing to remove clothing or personal items including liquids from your carry-on bags.

The program is available to U.S citizens, nationals, and lawful permanent residents. However, if you provide false or incomplete application information, violate transportation security regulations, or have disqualifying criminal offenses, you may be ineligible for the program.

How Much Does TSA PreCheck Cost?

There is a non refundable initial application fee that currently costs $78. Your TSA PreCheck will last for five years and online renewals cost $70.

However, there are a number of credit cards and brand loyalty programs that will cover the PreCheck application fee as part of their benefits package. So, you can get your TSA PreCheck for free.

Which Credit Cards Pay For TSA PreCheck?

There are a number of credit cards that offer TSA PreCheck application fee reimbursement including:

However, these are only part of the cards. You can find a full list on the TSA PreCheck website.

What Do You Need for TSA PreCheck?

You can pre enroll for the TSA PreCheck program online. This allows you to confirm your eligibility and set up an interview in a few simple steps.

  • Visit the TSA Website: Go to the official TSA website and find the TSA PreCheck program page under the “Travel” tab. Then click the “Apply Now” button.
  • Complete the Questionnaire: You’ll be directed to a brief questionnaire to confirm your eligibility for the PreCheck program. Remember to be honest and complete all the mandatory fields in full to avoid invalidating your application.
  • Choose Your Identifying Documentation: You’ll need to provide a list of documents that you will bring along with you to your interview. We’ll cover the required documentation in more detail below.
  • Schedule Your Appointment: You will then need to select one of the enrollment centers where you would like your interview conducted. There are over 380 enrollment centers around the country that can facilitate your TSA PreCheck appointment.
  • Check Your Email: Once you have scheduled your appointment, keep an eye on your email account. You should receive a message confirming your PreCheck appointment.

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Which Documents Should You Prepare?

As we touched on above, you’ll need to provide documentation to support your application when you attend your interview.

You need to provide original or certified copies of your identity and citizenship status documentation with the names on all your documents exactly matching the name you provided on your application.

If your name has been legally changed, you need to provide original or certified name change documentation, for example, a marriage certificate or divorce decree.

The required documentation includes one of the following:

  • An unexpired U.S Passport
  • An unexpired FAST (Free and Secure Trade) card
  • An unexpired ETC (Enhanced Tribal Card)
  • An unexpired U.S EDL (Enhanced Driver’s License) or EID (Enhanced Identification Card)
  • I-551 Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)
  • Unexpired foreign passport with immigration visa with I-551 annotation “Upon Endorsement Serves and Temporary I-551 Evidencing Permanent Residence of One year.”
  • I-327 Unexpired re entry permit

What If I Don't Have Any Of These Documents?

If you don’t have one of the documents from the above list, you’ll need to provide at least two of the following:

  • A document that meets the citizenship requirements such as a U.S Birth Certificate/ N-560 or N-561 U.S Certificate of Citizenship/ N-550 or N-570 U.S Certificate of Naturalization/ I-170 or I-197 U.S Citizen Identification Card/ FS-240 Consular Report of Birth Abroad/ DS-1350 or FS-545 Certificate of Report of Birth Abroad/ Expired U.S passport with an expiration date of fewer than 12 months/
  • And a valid photo ID such as An unexpired state driver’s license / temporary driver’s license together with an expired driver’s license / U.S military ID card/ U.S military dependent’s card/ U.S retired military ID card/ photo ID issued by a state or the federal government/ DHS, TSA or TWIC identity card/ Merchant Mariner Credential

Global Entry Vs. TSA PreCheck

Global Entry is another federal government administered Trusted Traveler Program. However, unlike PreCheck which is designed for domestic travel, Global Entry has been designed to help you expedite customs when you return to the U.S from an international airport.

With Global Entry, you can use the Global Entry Customs Kiosks when you reenter the U.S. This eliminates the need for in-person customs interviews and filling out customs paperwork. At the Global Entry Kiosks, you’ll need to provide fingerprint verification to confirm your identity and you can complete your customs declarations there.

Global Entry Includes TSA PreCheck

Global Entry has a nonrefundable $100 application fee, but like PreCheck, membership lasts five years. However, your Global Entry membership does include TSA PreCheck automatically. This means that as a Global Entry traveler, you can enjoy a quicker screening process whether you travel domestically or are returning from a trip abroad.

Just bear in mind that the application process for Global Entry is typically more time consuming compared to TSA PreCheck. According to the Department of Homeland Security, it can take 90 days or more to process a Global Entry application.

Therefore, the official advice is if you’re not planning an international trip within the next six months to consider TSA PreCheck.

How Long Does TSA PreCheck Take?

Completing the initial online application should only take a few minutes. In most cases, you should be able to complete the required steps in less than five minutes. However, the scheduled interview will take a little longer. You’ll have the option to schedule your interview for a convenient time at one of the 380 plus enrollment centers around the country.

When you register with your required identification documents, a TSA agent will call you in for an “interview”. During this interview, you will be asked to confirm your address, register your fingerprints, have your photo taken, and pay your application fee.

If approved, typically, it can take up to five days after your enrollment center appointment to receive your Known Traveler Number or KTN. However, some applications may take up to 60 days. So, if you’re planning on traveling, it is best to arrange your PreCheck early.

Is TSA PreCheck Worth It?

Of course, no product or service is perfect and there are both pros and cons associated with TSA Precheck that you’ll need to consider. These include:

Pros
Cons
Ability to skip long lines
Not Available Everywhere
Low Cost
Intensity
No Need to Strip Off
Paying Extra
No Carry On Hassle

This is by far the best PreCheck benefit as you can skip ahead of the crowds to use a significantly shorter line. 

However, you must ensure that you use your KTN when you make your travel plans, so you have the PreCheck symbol on your boarding pass.

While using the regular security lines is free when you travel, TSA PreCheck is modestly priced and well worth the expense. 

At a cost of $78 for five years you can enjoy quick checks and short lines for a more pleasant airport experience.

True, they don’t make you strip down to your underwear, but it can be a real pain to have to take off your shoes and belt to get through security.

You can walk through the security line without feeling like you’re half dressed, so you can retain your dignity.

Another perk of PreCheck is that you don’t need to pull things out of your carry on. You don’t need to take out your laptop or your bag of liquids and gels.

Currently, TSA PreCheck is only available in approximately 200 airports. This is a small proportion of the several thousand airports located across the nation.

So, if you have airports that you regularly use, it is well worth checking if PreCheck is available or you could simply be wasting your money.

The program does require travelers to be fingerprinted and go through a background check, which some people may find intense and daunting.

You also need to be well organized as your interview needs to be done well before you intend to travel.

Many people feel uncomfortable with the principle of paying extra for something that should be standard. It can feel a little like bribery to access an efficient airport experience.

In fact, the TSA reported that fewer people signing up for PreCheck was one of the reasons for the long lines in the last summer.

How to Apply for TSA PreCheck

As we touched on above, there are two simple steps in the TSA PreCheck application process. Firstly, you need to complete the quick online application.

You’ll need to provide some basic personal information such as your full name, date of birth and your address. You will then need to schedule your appointment for an interview at an enrollment center for fingerprinting and background check.

The two step process costs $78 and you will need to pay this at your interview. Upon approval, you’ll have PreCheck for five years. You’ll receive a reminder to renew approximately six months before the validity of your PreCheck is due to expire.

Do I need an Appointment for TSA PreCheck?

Yes, after you fill in the online form, you’ll need an appointment to complete the process.

During the appointment you’ll provide the necessary supporting documentation, be fingerprinted and make your payment. Although some centers accept walk ins, it is best to schedule your appointment in advance.

During the interview, you’ll also have your photo taken and be asked to confirm your address. The entire process should take less than 10 minutes.

How to Renew TSA PreCheck

The TSA recommends that you renew your PreCheck membership a minimum of 60 days before expiry. However, you’ll receive a renewal notice six months before expiration. You can also renew up to six months in advance. You’ll receive no penalty for renewing early as your new membership will start when the old one expires.

You can renew at an enrollment center, but online renewal offers a discount. You can visit the TSA website and select the “Renewal” tab or if you have a valid email on your TSA PreCheck record, you’ll receive reminder emails with a renewal link.

If you’re renewing from the website, you can complete the process in a few simple steps.

  1. Click Renewal: On the PreCheck website, look for the “Renewal” tab to start the process.
  2. Enter Your Details: You’ll need to provide your legal last name, date of birth and KTN.
  3. Confirm Your Information: The site will then guide you through several screens to confirm your passport and address information and answer a few security questions. Remember to be honest, as if you are found to have provided false or incomplete information, your PreCheck could be revoked or suspended.
  4. Await Approval: Typically, you’ll receive an approval notification within five days. You’ll retain your KTN and have another five years of PreCheck after your previous PreCheck expires. However, if your case is more complicated, it can take up to 60 days to receive application approval.

If your membership has expired before you renewed, you will not receive any PreCheck benefits. This means that even if you booked a flight before your PreCheck expired, you’ll not be able to use the PreCheck lane.

The TSA states that it is not possible to renew your PreCheck after it has expired, so you will need to submit a new application. Upon approval, you’ll receive a new Known Traveler Number.

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How Do I Find My TSA PreCheck Number?

When you’re approved to the PreCheck program, you’ll receive a KTN or Known Traveler Number. This is your only PreCheck reference number and you’ll need to add it to the KTN field whenever you book airline travel reservations. This ensures that the PreCheck indicator will appear on your boarding pass.

The KTN is a nine digit reference that can be a combination of numbers and letters. If you can’t remember your KTN, you can look it up on the PreCheck website or submit an online form. If you prefer, you can also call the helpline which is available 8 am to 11 pm ET on weekdays and 9 am to 8 pm on weekends and holidays.

FAQs

If a child is aged 17 and under, and traveling alone or without a PreCheck eligible parent or guardian, they will need to apply for PreCheck for themselves.

However, children aged 12 and under traveling with an eligible adult, can join their parent or guardian in the PreCheck lane.

Children aged 13 to 17 may also go through the PreCheck line with their eligible parent or guardian, but they may be randomly excluded, which would mean they would need to go through the standard security screening process.

Unfortunately, your spouse would need their own TSA PreCheck. If you have PreCheck indicated on your boarding pass, but your spouse does not, you’ll not be able to use the PreCheck lane together

You can check the status of your application using the Universal Enroll website and selecting “Check my Service Status”.

However, if your state does not use this TSA enrollment provider, you’ll need to check the status of your application with your state licensing agency.

Yes, you can use PreCheck when you depart from an airport in the U.S to a foreign destination. However, if you typically travel internationally four plus times per year, you may be better suited to the Global Entry program.

There are a number of credit cards that offer TSA PreCheck application fee reimbursement including Capital One Venture Rewards, Chase Sapphire Reserve, United Explorer and Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite. However, you can find a full list on the TSA PreCheck website.

Once your PreCheck expires, you will not receive any membership benefits. So, even if you booked a flight while your membership was valid, you’ll not be able to use the TSA PreCheck lane.

There is no option for renewal after expiry, so you’ll need to complete a new application and receive a new KTN.

If you’re already a member of the PreCheck program, you can call the helpline to make changes to your PreCheck profile including a change of name or address. You can also submit an online inquiry.

Picture of Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Mann (Silvermann)

Baruch Silvermann is a financial expert, experienced analyst, and founder of The Smart Investor.  Silvermann has contributed to Yahoo Finance and cited as an authoritative source in financial outlets like Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, CNET, Bankrate, Fox Business, The Street, and more.
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Welcome Bonus:
80,000 points 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $8,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership

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The product offers that appear on this site are from companies from which this website receives compensation.
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Rewards Plan:
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Welcome Bonus:
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