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Navigating the tedious security and customs procedures at airports can be a source of frustration for travelers, but trusted traveler programs like TSA PreCheck and NEXUS aim to alleviate these challenges. Both programs offer expedited security processes but cater to distinct travel needs and differ in coverage and benefits. Understanding the differences between TSA PreCheck and NEXUS is essential for travelers seeking to breeze through checkpoints with ease and efficiency.

To help you navigate these two programs, we delve into the key differences and similarities between TSA PreCheck and NEXUS, covering the eligibility requirements, benefits, costs and coverage areas. By examining these programs side by side, travelers can make informed decisions about which program aligns best with their travel habits and preferences, ensuring a smoother and more expedient journey through airport security. Here’s everything you need to know about TSA PreCheck vs. NEXUS:

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The PreCheck lane
The PreCheck lane at airport security © Joe Raedle / Getty

What is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is a trusted traveler program operated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the United States. It's designed to expedite the airport security screening process for eligible passengers, providing a smoother and more efficient experience at security checkpoints. Approved travelers benefit from dedicated TSA PreCheck lanes, which usually have shorter lines and faster processing times than standard security lanes.

Participants in TSA PreCheck can keep their shoes, belts and light jackets on, and they don't need to remove laptops or compliant liquids from their carry-on bags during screening. This streamlined process helps save time and reduces the hassle associated with traditional security screenings. TSA PreCheck aims to enhance travel convenience for pre-approved and low-risk individuals, offering a more convenient way to navigate security at participating airports across the United States.

To become eligible for TSA PreCheck, travelers must apply, undergo a background check and complete an in-person appointment for fingerprinting and verification. Upon approval, successful applicants receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) that they can use when booking flights to access TSA PreCheck benefits.

Best for: Travelers who want expedited security screenings at over 200 US airports.

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How to apply for TSA PreCheck

To qualify for TSA PreCheck, travelers must be US citizens, US nationals or lawful permanent residents. The application process involves filling out an online application, scheduling an in-person appointment at an enrollment center for a background check, fingerprinting and paying a non-refundable fee of up to $85. Here are the steps for applying for TSA PreCheck:

  • Complete the application: You can apply for TSA PreCheck online by providing the required personal information.
  • Visit an enrollment location: After submitting your application, you must visit an enrollment center for a brief appointment. At this appointment, you’ll present your eligible identification document, take a photo, complete fingerprinting and pay the $50 nonrefundable application fee. Some credit cards offer statement credits when you charge the fee to these cards (more on that later).
  • Get your Known Traveler Number (KTN): Upon approval, you will receive a KTN that you will need to enter when making airline reservations. Your boarding pass will have a PreCheck designation, allowing you to use the expedited security lane. 

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Credit cards that cover TSA PreCheck application fees

The TSA PreCheck application fee costs up to $85, and membership is valid for five years. While this fee is certainly reasonable, considering membership lasts five years, several credit cards offer statement credits towards this fee. These cards let you choose between a credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Since Global Entry includes PreCheck membership and only costs $22 more, it makes sense to splurge and get access to both. 

Here’s a list of all the credit cards that provide a credit every four years towards TSA PreCheck application fees:

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The NEXUS / Global Entry lane at Pearson International Airport in Toronto
The NEXUS / Global Entry lane at Pearson International Airport in Toronto © Zou Zheng / Xinhua / Getty

What is NEXUS?

The NEXUS Trusted Traveler Program is a joint initiative between the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). It aims to expedite the border clearance process for pre-approved, low-risk travelers who frequently cross the US-Canada border. NEXUS allows members to use dedicated lanes at land crossings and kiosks at airports to streamline their entry into either country.

Applicants must submit an application, pay the $50 application fee, undergo a background check and complete an in-person interview where biometric information is collected (i.e., photo and fingerprints). The application fee is waived for travelers under the age of 18. Once approved, membership is valid for five years, during which you’ll receive access to expedited lanes and kiosks when entering the US or Canada. 

NEXUS members can also access Global Entry and TSA PreCheck lanes, greatly improving the overall travel experience. NEXUS members can even use the Global Entry kiosks when entering US airports and the TSA PreCheck lines when going through security checkpoints. Considering the $50 application fee is lower than both Global Entry ($100) and PreCheck (up to $85), applying for NEXUS is the best choice for frequent travel to Canada since you get access to all three programs for less. Note that the Global Entry kiosks are limited to specific Canadian preclearance locations only.

Best for: Anyone traveling frequently between the US and Canada.

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How to apply for Nexus

The Nexus application process is fairly straightforward. To be eligible for NEXUS, applicants can’t have a criminal record or customs violations. Applicants must be US citizens, lawful permanent residents, Canadian citizens, Canadian lawful permanent residents or Mexican nationals who are members of Viajero Confiable. Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility, you can follow these steps to apply for Nexus: 

  • Create an online account: Visit the CBP's Trusted Traveler Programs website and create an account.
  • Complete the application: Log in to your TTP account and complete the NEXUS application form. You'll need personal information, employment history, travel history, etc. You’ll pay a $50 nonrefundable application fee. Some credit cards offer statement credits when you charge the fee to these cards (more on that later).
  • Schedule an interview: After submitting your application and fee, you'll be conditionally approved if you pass the initial screening. Then, schedule an interview at a NEXUS Enrollment Center.
  • Complete the interview: Bring your required documents to the interview. You will be asked questions about your application and biometric data, including fingerprints and photos.
  • Wait for approval: Following the interview, your application will be further processed. If approved, you'll receive your NEXUS card by mail. Membership is valid for five years.

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Credit cards that cover NEXUS application fees

Many travel credit cards offer up to $100 credit towards Nexus, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees. Some of these cards give you a choice between covering application fees for NEXUS, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. These credits are renewed every four years, just in time for renewals. Here’s a list of credit cards that cover NEXUS application fees:

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Expedite your way through airport security with TSA PreCheck
Expedite your way through airport security with TSA PreCheck © Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg / Getty

Comparison between TSA PreCheck and Nexus

Both programs offer expedited screening processes, but understanding their unique features and suitability for different travel needs is crucial in making an informed choice. Below is a comprehensive comparison table highlighting the key differences and similarities between TSA PreCheck and NEXUS, aiming to assist travelers in discerning which program aligns best with their specific travel requirements.

TSA PreCheck

NEXUS

Fee

Up to $85 for five years

$50 for five years

Expedited security screening?

Yes

Yes (TSA PreCheck lanes)

Expedited customs and border control check?

No

Yes

Requires background check?

Yes

Yes

Requires fingerprinting?

Yes

Yes

Requires an interview?

Yes

Yes

Requires a valid passport?

No

Yes

Best for

Travelers who want expedited security screenings at over 200 US airports.

Travelers who frequently travel between the US and Canada.

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Other Trusted Traveler Programs

TSA PreCheck and NEXUS are targeted towards two very different travelers. If you find you find that neither program suits your specific needs, there are other trusted traveler programs that might be a better fit. Here’s a look at these programs and the benefits they offer:

Global Entry

Global Entry is a trusted traveler program designed to expedite the customs and immigration process for pre-approved, low-risk travelers when they arrive in the US. It's particularly beneficial for frequent international travelers, reducing the time spent waiting in line for immigration and customs clearance at select airports. Applicants approved for Global Entry are automatically enrolled in TSA PreCheck.

Eligibility for Global Entry includes US citizens, lawful permanent residents and citizens from a few select countries. Applicants must have a clean criminal record and no violations of customs, immigration or agriculture laws.

The application process involves filling out an online form, paying a $100 non-refundable fee and undergoing a background check. Once conditionally approved, applicants need to complete an in-person interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. During this interview, biometric data is collected and the final eligibility determination is made.

Global Entry membership lasts for five years, after which individuals can apply for renewal. Alongside expedited entry benefits, Global Entry members also receive TSA PreCheck benefits for domestic travel, making security screening at participating airports faster and more convenient. Plenty of credit cards offer TSA PreCheck application fee credits, including the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Best for: Frequent or occasional international travelers who want to enjoy expedited customs and immigration processing. 

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The Clear lane at the airport
The Clear lane at the airport © Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock

CLEAR

CLEAR is a trusted traveler program in the United States that focuses specifically on expediting the security screening process at airports and certain venues by using biometric technology, such as fingerprint and iris scans, to verify identity. It's a complement to TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, allowing members to skip the ID check at security checkpoints.

CLEAR is available to US citizens and permanent residents aged 18 or older with a valid government ID. There are no background checks or extensive eligibility criteria beyond meeting the age requirement and providing the necessary identification documents during the sign-up process.

The cost for a CLEAR membership is $189 per year for individuals, while families can add additional members to existing accounts for $99 per person. There are often discounts available for certain affiliations, such as airline memberships and government employees. Additionally, several credit cards offer application fee credits towards CLEAR membership. These include the United℠ Explorer Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express*, American Express® Green Card* and others.

CLEAR is especially beneficial for individuals who prioritize saving time and value a seamless airport experience. Business travelers or frequent flyers who often find themselves in a time crunch or those who travel through airports with notoriously long security lines might find CLEAR advantageous. It's also valuable for travelers who don’t have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry but still seek a quicker way through airport security.

While CLEAR doesn't replace the need for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry in terms of accessing expedited security lanes or international customs clearance, it complements these programs by focusing specifically on biometric-based identity verification, ensuring a faster passage through security checkpoints at participating airports and venues. 

Best for: Frequent travelers who value speed and efficiency in passing through airport security and via CLEAR's expedited biometric identity verification.

TSA PreCheck vs. Clear: which one is best to expedite your travels?

Which should you apply for?

The choice between TSA PreCheck and NEXUS depends on your travel patterns and needs. If your primary travel involves domestic flights within the United States, TSA PreCheck might be the more suitable option. It expedites security screenings at participating US airports, allowing for a faster and smoother experience during domestic air travel. However, if you frequently travel between the US and Canada, NEXUS might be the better choice. 

NEXUS not only includes TSA PreCheck benefits for US travel but also provides expedited processing at both US and Canadian borders, streamlining the customs and immigration process for land, air and sea travel between the two countries. Assessing your travel habits and preferences is key to determining which program aligns best with your needs.

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These two programs will help you expedite your travels
These two programs will help you expedite your travels © Yuri A / PeopleImages.com / Shutterstock

FAQ

Do I need TSA PreCheck if I have NEXUS?

If you have NEXUS, you already have access to TSA PreCheck benefits when traveling within the US and flying on participating airlines. Hence, you don’t need to apply for TSA PreCheck separately.

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Is it better to get NEXUS or Global Entry?

Choosing between NEXUS and Global Entry largely depends on your travel patterns. If you frequently travel between the US and Canada, NEXUS offers benefits for expedited processing at both countries' borders. Meanwhile, Global Entry is more advantageous for broader international travel, providing expedited customs clearance upon entry to the United States from Canada and beyond.

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Does TSA PreCheck work in Canada?

TSA PreCheck is not available in Canada, as it's administered by the US-based Transportation Security Administration.

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Does Nexus include Global Entry?

NEXUS includes Global Entry benefits, offering expedited processing at both US and Canadian borders. 

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Can I get both TSA PreCheck and NEXUS?

Yes, you can have both TSA PreCheck and NEXUS memberships simultaneously.

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* Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions, and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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