Why Mobile Passport Is the Best-Kept Secret Among International Travelers

Here’s everything you need to know about the app that gets you through U.S. immigration and customs faster.

Travelers walking through airport terminal with luggage

The free Mobile Passport app allows travelers to speed through customs when arriving back in the United States after an international flight.

Photo by Shutterstock

The ability to speed through U.S. immigration and customs after an international flight without waiting in a long line is perhaps one of the greatest improvements to modern travel. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry program has long been touted as the fastest way to get through the international arrival process at U.S. airports. But considering that the mandatory in-person interviews for Global Entry can be cumbersome to schedule (and often require lengthy wait times), and that it comes at a cost of $100 every five years, it’s not an ideal option for everyone.

Fortunately, there is another method of getting out of the airport (or making a tight connection) even quicker. Mobile Passport Control (also known as Mobile Passport), which CBP launched in 2014, is a free mobile app that lets travelers use a dedicated, and often shorter, customs line once airside in U.S. airports and at cruise ports. Here’s how Mobile Passport works and what you need to know before using it.

What is Mobile Passport?

The Mobile Passport app is available on the Apple app store for iOS and the Google Play store for Android devices and can be downloaded from the app store. It is both free to download and use.

The app serves as a replacement for completing a traditional, paper customs declaration form or using the Automated Passport Control kiosk when you arrive. The moment you land in the United States and connect to Wi-Fi or data, you can fire up the app and answer the regular questions; you can even make necessary declarations, such as restricted food or large purchases, within the program.

How to use Mobile Passport

When you first sign into the Mobile Passport app, you must upload a headshot (you can take a selfie on the spot) and enter your passport details (it’s as simple as scanning your passport page). When you’re ready to use the app, you can enter your chosen PIN code or use Touch ID if your phone has that capability.

Once you’ve indicated your arrival airport and airline, and submitted the form (the process takes about a minute), the app creates a QR code that you show to an immigration officer inside the airport. The CBP officer may ask a few questions about your trip, but the process is swift because, as a Mobile Passport user, you’ll have a dedicated lane in 33 participating airports that expedites the line to complete the standard immigration and customs process.

The secret is: the Mobile Passport line is often shorter than other customs lines. While Global Entry users are still completing their form on the kiosk, you might already be scanning your mobile device QR code with an officer. Any declarations would be discussed at that point, but if you have none, you are sent on your way. It’s worth noting that the Mobile Passport app doesn’t include any access to TSA PreCheck, which Global Entry does.

For now, Mobile Passport feels like a well-kept secret among international travelers. “There’s often no one else in the Mobile Passport line when I land at SFO [in San Francisco],” says AFAR senior SEO manager Jessie Beck. “Thanks to this app, I typically clear customs in five minutes or less—sometimes faster than my friends with Global Entry.”

Mobile Passport vs. Global Entry

While Global Entry users must schedule an interview appointment, go through a background check, and pay a fee once every five years, Mobile Passport is an instant download and free (it doesn’t require any kind of credit card information).

Unlike Global Entry, there is no application process, no lengthy interview appointment that requires a wait time of weeks or months, and no cost for the Mobile Passport Control app. U.S. citizens and Canadians with a B1 or B2 visa status are eligible.

Mobile Passport is not a replacement for a passport and is not a trusted traveler program. This means you have not been “vetted” in the same way that Global Entry users have been—it’s really just replacing the form you fill out at airport kiosks on arrival. Because not all travelers are eligible for Global Entry (due to prior customs violations, among other reasons), this app can be a great alternative.

Eligible travelers who also have Global Entry can still use Mobile Passport. This allows you to opt for whichever line is shorter once you reach border control.

Like Global Entry, Mobile Passport can only be used for arrival in the United States.

Where can you use Mobile Passport?

There are currently 33 airports and 4 cruise ports in the United States with Mobile Passport lines. Notable airports that are not on the list include Detroit, Michigan, and Charlotte, North Carolina. (Las Vegas was recently added.) However, the number of airports and ports of entry on the list continues to grow.

Airports with Mobile Passport

  • Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL)
  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
  • Honolulu Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)
  • Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
  • Houston William P. Hobby International Airport (HOU)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Kansas City International Airport (MCI)
  • Las Vegas Harry Ried International Airport (LAS)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)
  • Portland International Airport (PDX)
  • Sacramento International Airport (SMF)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  • San Juan Airport (SJU)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  • Tampa International Airport (TPA)

    Cruise ports with Mobile Passport

    • Port Everglades Cruise Port (USPEF), Fort Lauderdale
    • Miami Seaport (USMIA), Miami
    • Port of Palm Beach (USPBC), West Palm Beach
    • Port of San Juan (PRSJU), San Juan

    Using Mobile Passport for family travel

    Family members living within the same household can complete their form on one device as a group submission, provided each person’s photo and passport details are added to the app.

    Is the Mobile Passport secure?

    The Mobile Passport app has privacy protection barriers in place to keep your document details safe. There is also the option to delete your details (instead of storing them within the app) after each trip. The QR code that is transmitted to the CBP when you complete the form expires four hours after it is created.

    Udi Onyile and Erika Owen contributed reporting. This article was originally published in 2019; it was updated on May 2, 2023, with additional information.

    Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.
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