Are you waiting for a Global Entry interview — or simply don’t want to pay the $100 application fee? There’s another option that can help you save nearly as much time at customs. Plus, it’s completely free.

“It’s not Global Entry. But it’s pretty close, ” said Marc Calixte, U.S. Customs and Border Protection port director of Dulles International Airport (IAD) near Washington, D.C.

We’re talking about Mobile Passport Control, a CBP app that lets you handle most of the international arrivals process right on your smartphone. After submitting some personal information online and snapping a selfie, you can skip the long line at passport control and head to a separate — usually far shorter — lane.

This time-saving option is available to a slew of travelers, from those not yet approved for Global Entry to those who don’t travel frequently enough to warrant the program’s cost.

Related: Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck: Which is more beneficial?

SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

In some cases, travelers who might not be eligible for Global Entry at all may be able to use this shortcut.

For all of this program’s benefits, though, it remains something of a well-kept secret in the eyes of the federal government.

“It’s been out for a while,” Calixte said during a recent conversation with TPG. “But what we lack is adoption.”

Who’s eligible for Mobile Passport Control?

MPC, as it’s known, is available to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and Canadian B1/B2 travelers. It’s also an option for travelers from 41 “visa waiver” countries who have been to the U.S. before, from Australia to Belgium, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

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You can find Mobile Passport Contol in both Google Play and the Apple App Store, where it’s available for free. It’s available for use at dozens of airports nationwide, plus numerous international Preclearance facilities, where travelers have to clear customs abroad — from Toronto to Dublin and Abu Dhabi.

CBP

How to use Mobile Passport Control

Upon landing, pull up the app and follow its prompts. You’ll enter your flight’s port of entry (aka your arrival airport).

The system will then ask you to scan your passport and enter some personal information.

Finally, you’ll take a selfie.

Traveling with a family? Do the same thing for every member of the family — you can even use the same smartphone. Thanks to a new upgrade, the app now allows travelers to add up to a dozen travelers in the same household to one mobile application.

Then, once you’re off the plane, follow the signs in the customs hall for the Mobile Passport Control line, like this one I saw at Dulles.

SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Once you reach an officer, one member of the traveling party will have their photo taken. That will pull up the information for all members of the party. You should be out in a matter of seconds.

It’s worth noting that photos taken on your phone will live in the app on your phone — not on CBP servers. The photo taken at the passport control booth will also be deleted within a few days, the agency says, often within 48 hours.

CBP hopes to expand MPC usage

Though MPC may sound novel, it’s actually been around for about a decade. Over 4 million travelers used the app in the 2023 fiscal year, CBP tells TPG. In 2024, the agency has already processed 4.6 million arriving passengers through the program.

Yet, CBP believes it has the capacity to handle far more passengers. Oftentimes, Calixte notes, peak periods will bring long lines to the standard passport control lanes, while just a handful of travelers visit the MPC “shortcut” lanes.

“I observe it daily,” Calixte mused. “It’s fascinating to watch people in the middle of the afternoon waiting … when there’s a free application that they could use that would definitely lessen the time.”

CBP is working with airlines to promote MPC a bit more broadly. It also hopes to potentially open up new ways for travelers to download the app while in flight.

Is MPC better than Global Entry?

To be clear, Global Entry remains the ultimate time-saving tool at customs, providing travelers with a seamless trip through its touchless kiosks.

SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

“Global Entry’s always faster,” Calixte noted.

For the five-year membership, which also includes TSA PreCheck access, you’ll pay $100 (or $120 as of October).

And though changes to Global Entry this fall will allow children of applicants or current members to apply for free, families may still be among the best-suited candidates for MPC — particularly those who don’t travel abroad often, CBP branch chief and spokesperson Corey Daboin told TPG this month.

“We’re trying to target these family groups that go on vacation once a year,” Daboin said. “Also, I think younger — maybe college — kids … they’re doing that random trip here or there, they can just do the MPC … when they get to the airport, download it, get it done, and submit it.”

Bottom line

Mobile Passport Control is an easy, wallet-friendly way to save time at customs, particularly if you don’t travel internationally enough to warrant a Global Entry application.

Amid record-breaking crowds already hitting airports this summer — and CBP expecting international traffic to stay robust throughout the summer — the program is an appealing alternative, whether you’re headed overseas in the coming months … or days.

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