I have had Global Entry (a fast pass through US Airport Immigration and Customs), for years. I remember the first time I landed in London after I got my Global Entry, I thought that must mean I could use the fast track lane. Well no, although the name of the program is “Global” Entry it is only available in the United States. Now though, there is an option for non-UK citizens that want to go through airport immigration faster. The UK has expanded their UK Registered Traveller Program to include non-UK citizens who meet certain criteria.
The UK Border is one of the most strict I have gone through. You may remember my friend Steve who is an American citizen, who was deported back to the US because he didn’t have a Visa. I had become accustomed to being grilled each time I entered the UK. I made sure to be prepared to show my itinerary to confirm that I had onward travel.
Recently though, I noticed a change in the airport immigration officers. I was still going to England frequently but I didn’t get a lot of questions like I had before. Instead, they started trying to sell me on the UK Registered Traveller program telling me how I would save time.
I met the criteria to apply for the program because I had traveled to the UK more than 4 times in the last 24 months and I am from one of the eligible countries. Anyone who has a UK Visa can also apply. It just costs £70, and if you are not accepted you get £50 back.
It is more expensive than Global Entry. Global Entry costs $85 for five years and also includes the TSA precheck program. The TSA precheck program helps you get through security at participating US airports. On the plus side, the application process for the UK Registered Traveller program is much simpler and faster than what I had to go through for the US Global Entry service.
The first step is an online questionnaire where you answer mostly basic questions about yourself, like if you have been convicted of any crimes. The trickiest question is the reason for your travel to the UK. You are only allowed to select one. I decided to choose General Visitor. Completing the form took me about 5 minutes. Once you submit, then you get an email saying you will hear back in 10 days.
Five days later I got an email with provisional acceptance. I was instructed to follow the normal procedure, including filling out a landing card, the next time I landed at one of the airports that participates in the Registered Traveller program. If the airport immigration officer is satisfied that I meet the criteria then I would get my card.
So the next time I landed at Heathrow, I patiently waited in the All Passports line with my landing card and a printed copy of the email showing I had been provisionally accepted. When I reached the officer, I explained that I wanted to join the Registered Traveller program. She didn’t really ask me any additional questions. She did not give me a card though because they had run out! So she signed/stamped my paper and said it was input into the system so the next time I landed I could go in the shorter line. She told me to keep my paper just in case. I had my doubts if this would really work.
The next time I landed at Heathrow, I went to the e-gates line since I have a chip in my passport. I had never used it before. As I got closer it seemed like a lot of people were having issues with the e-gates. When it was my turn, of course, it would not read my passport, so I had to go and see the officer too.
I explained that I am a UK Register Traveller but I don’t have a card because they were out. When I asked if I could get a card, they told me if I wanted a card I would need to go to the All Passports line. I really didn’t have time for that. However, they could tell that I was a Registered Traveller so I guess I didn’t need it.
The next time I landed in the UK, I flew into Stansted airport and my passport worked fine at the e-gates. It really was much easier, shorter, and faster than the usual line I would have to stand in. Plus, no need to take to a border control officer.
I did have one little hiccup though. When I flew into Manchester, I walked straight to the e-gate line. This time there was a man checking passports to enter the queue. He saw I had a US passport and I explained that I was a UK Registered Traveller. He asked for my card. I explained that when I got approved they were out so I never got one. He did let me through, but told me that I needed to ask for a card at the desk. So now, I do have a card!
You are able to use the e-gates with the UK Registered Traveller Program service at most UK airports including Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, London City, Luton, Manchester, and Stansted. It is also nice that the program is available at Eurostar terminals at Brussels, Lille, and Paris.
So do I think the UK Registered Traveller program is worth it? The only negative really is the price. The process to apply is easy and it will save you time going through airport immigration when you land. It does not come cheap though. If you do business travel to England, you may be able to convince your company to cover the expense. Then it’s a no brainer – do it.
If you are going to have to pay for it yourself, you should consider how many times you will be going to the UK in one year and then divide the first year fee by that amount. So if you are going 7 times, then it will cost you 10 GBP each visit. That’s not terrible, but I am guessing most of you are not going to be going to the UK that frequently.
I decided to get it since I figured I would probably be going to the UK around 6 times. I was also getting tired of the questioning by the immigration officer, so I figured it would also help relieve a little stress.
After the first year, it costs £50 to renew each year. I have not decided if I will renew mine. What do you think of the UK Registered Traveller Program? Do you think it is worth the cost?
Expert Tips for UK Airport Immigration:
- Try to get your work to cover the cost of the UK Registered Traveller Program. It doesn’t hurt to ask, worst case they say no.
- You do not need to have the actual card to go through the e-passport gates, but you do need a passport with a chip.
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