Mobile Passport Control app

By Dan Barr
This item appears on page 13 of the July 2019 issue.

As my tour group was being driven to the airport in Turkey (June ’19, pg. 20) for our various flights to the US, one member asked, “Do you all have the Mobile Passport Control app?” We all shook our heads ‘no.’ “You have to download it,” he continued. “It’s saved me so much time at Customs.”

Intrigued, I took a look at the app on the Google Play store on my Android phone. As it was described, this free app allows you to fill out your Customs declaration on your phone well in advance, even while on the plane. Once you arrive in the US, you turn your phone’s data connection on (either your service provider or Wi-Fi) and submit your declaration, at which point you will receive a scannable QR code. (The code expires in four hours, so don’t submit the declaration before the flight.)

With that, instead of having to wait in the enormous line for a Customs kiosk to open up, you get to go to the Mobile Passport Control “express lane,” where you just show the QR code on your phone to the assigned Customs officer.

It sounded awesome to me, so before boarding my flight in Istanbul, I downloaded it and followed the instructions. When we arrived in Los Angeles, I joined a line with just a single person in front of me and was done with Customs in about two minutes. My cotravelers, who all decided they weren’t interested, spent 40 minutes in Customs.

This app is not the same as Global Entry, which guarantees expedited Customs clearance at any US port of entry (as I’m writing this, the Mobile Passport Control app can be used at only 26 airports and three cruise ports, but they are major ones) and gets you a bunch of other benefits, such as automatic enrollment in Pre√™ (Pre-check).

The advantages of the Mobile Passport Control app are you don’t have to apply for it, you don’t have to pay a $75 enrollment fee, and it has no expiration date.

Since I last used it, in January 2019, the app has added a “Premium” option that costs $15 a year, but the only advantage that this option seems to have is it allows your passport info to be saved. Using the free version just means that you have to reenter that info each time you use it, but that’s easily done on the plane or during the long walk from the gangway to Customs.

Unfortunately, as soon as everyone else discovers this app, the “express lane” is going to look more like the slow lane, but, for now, it’s a huge time-saver.

Assistant Editor, ITN