My Walk-In Global Entry Experience at SFO

[This is going to be a useless and boring post for anyone not looking to nab a convenient Global Entry interview at the San Francisco International Airport. (Or not my mom.) But because the information on how to navigate these waters is (from official govt. sites) hidden or (from Yelp and other such places) wrong and misleading, I thought I’d do a public service here. You’ve been warned. Click away.]

On April 11, 2017, I got the notification that I was approved for Global Entry, and was invited to schedule an interview to complete my application. I logged onto the official system and the soonest appointment was in November. (I’m flying abroad in late May.) This is because Republicans have defunded the government, and we should all feel nationally disgusted.

Neal found online that SFO accepted walk-ins, meaning you didn’t have to wait until your official appointment. Here are some notions from the general wisdom online (all of these are false/no longer true, btw):

  • The SFO Global Entry office only takes 6 walk-ins a day.
  • Walk-ins are only accepted first-thing in the morning; or, similarly, to be accepted as a walk-in, you have to be there before the office opens (at 7am).
  • To ensure being seen, you should show up before 5am.


Here’s what happened with us, today, Thursday May 4, 2017:

  1. Reading Yelp reviews of this, we decided to show up just before noon.
  2. We parked, as folks suggested, in the G garage, but the G garage wasn’t initially visible. First you have to follow signs for International Terminal, then once you are heading there go to International Hourly Parking, and THEN you’ll see a sign for the A and G garage. You for sure want G (to the left).
  3. We arrived at the Global Entry office (follow the clear signs) right at noon. There were maybe 20 people sitting and standing around. We were discouraged, having thought from online reading that we’d get seen within minutes.
  4. Within ten minutes, an officer came out of the locked office with clipboards. He first asked if anyone had an appointment. A number of people did. They got checked in, and were thus at the top of the list.
  5. Neal said we were walk-ins and asked if there was a signup sheet. The officer handed it over and Neal put our names in, along with the Program Membership numbers that were written on our Global Entry approval letters. (Print this out or screenshot it on your phone if you can’t print.)
  6. We were in the middle of the second page of walk-in signups. There were 10 names ahead of us in line.
  7. How It Goes I: Every 10 minutes, an officer comes out. They ask first “Anyone have an appointment?” If they have an appointment that day, they will get invited inside first. It doesn’t matter when their appointment is. If their appointment is 3 hours away, they will be ushered in. Always.
  8. How It Goes II: If no one around has an appointment, they will announce the next name on the walk-in list. So: If you don’t get your name on the walk-in list you will never be seen.
  9. Just before 1pm, an officer announced that they were taking no more names on the walk-in list until the 3pm shift started. How many total names were there on the list at that point? I don’t know. My guess if that 5 or 6 more walk-in folks showed up after us.
  10. By 1:15/1:20 it was clear that all the appointment folks had all been seen. More and more folks from the walk-in list were being called. Also: many of those walk-in folks who’d shown up hours ago had given up and left.
  11. Neal got called right before 1:30. I got called around 1:45, having to wait for a number of 1:30 appointment folks to show up and get seen. One guy had a 3:30 appointment, but still got to leap ahead of us all. So: If you have an appointment SHOW UP THAT DAY WHENEVER YOU’D LIKE and you’ll get ushered warmly inside.
  12. We were back at the garage at 2pm. It cost $20 total to park, paid via our Fastrak.

Where our federal government is so visibly awful is when it comes to transportation. This is not a failure of Government as a concept, it is a function of post-80s life in the United States (i.e., the only life I’ve ever known). It’s unconscionable that we were told we had to wait six months to complete our application?our application not to be accosted in customs?when the truth of the matter is we just had to show up on any random afternoon and be seen in good time. But that’s the world we’ve chosen to live in.

To say nothing of how much money it cost to get a passport ($135) or to enroll in Global Entry ($100). To say nothing of how much time it cost to get these: 2 hours to prepare req’d materials and visit a post office to apply for a passport; 3+ hours to apply for and get interviewed for Global Entry. All this aside from the cost of traveling abroad. Leaving the country is now a privilege for the wealthy, which is another shame we should all nationally feel. The United States?in the name of, what…? national security??makes it extraordinarily difficult to leave the country and see how life is lived elsewhere.

Like a cult does.

21 thoughts on “My Walk-In Global Entry Experience at SFO”

  1. Time will tell, I guess. Because of the discount airlines we’re flying on we can’t use the Pre-Check line, though Global Entry does give you access when it’s available. Ask me again when we come back to the US….

  2. I just got approved today and my flight is late tomorrow out of Terminal I ? thanks to your advice, I think I’ll show up in the afternoon and try to nip this in the bud versus waiting until the 22nd of September ? thanks, and I’ll be sure to pass it on!

  3. Thank you. I just spent the morning trying to reach the Global Office by phone. I dialed the correct number, but it kept getting switched to another office. One person in that office told me to just keep dialing until someone answered. That didn’t work either.
    I’m going to try your idea. It certainly sounds like a good, if not the only, way to go.

  4. I have a 2:30 appointment for today (July 12th). I had a free block of time for most of the day, so I got to the SFO office thinking that anyone with an appointment that day could get in at any time. I arrived shortly before 10:00, and it is almost 11:30, and I am still waiting. I actually think if I had signed up as a walk in, I would have been seen by now. I have spoken with two officers. Both said that they would call me when they could.

    So for anyone planning to show up at any time on the day of your appointment, be aware that there may be some inconsistencies from day to day.

  5. Just following up. It is 1:35, and I have been here since 10:00. They do not take earlier appointments.

  6. Once you completed the interview, did you walk out with the card or does that come later in the mail? If later, how long was it when you received the card in the mail?

  7. The card comes in the mail. Forget how long it took. No more than two weeks, for sure. Also, I’m pretty sure they assign your PASSID number on application approval, and that’s what you need to get TSA pre-check status when you book tix.

  8. Also, you don’t necessarily always need your Global Entry card to come back into the US through customs. Once you’re approved from the interview, your status is attached to your passport barcode.

  9. Oh, and following up: on arriving back at SFO, it took us about 7 minutes to get through customs, and 5 of that was walking down halls. I paused for 30 seconds to get my face scanned at a kiosk, and then 20 seconds while a man in front of me asked the agent a question. She looked at my kiosk receipt and waved me through. On the other side of the customs hall, there was a line of people that snaked back at least 5 bends, all waiting to be let into the country.

  10. Your blog offered valuable advice so I thought I’d add my experience from this morning, FWIW:

    Arrived 0645 and was 5th in walk-in line
    Office didn’t open until 0730
    Was called in at 0845
    Out by 0850

  11. I understand the SFO Global Entry Office is open until 11:00 pm. Has anyone tried walking in without an appointment at 10:00 or 10:30 pm?

  12. I just went right now to sfo to do a walk in its 9:30pm on 8/23/2017and they just said “they do not allow walk in after 7pm and I can leave now.” so if you’re planning on doing a walk in keep that in mind.

  13. This never happened based on what I experienced. I was the first one on the walk-in list as I was there a few hours before 7a. By 8a, the 6 spots for the walk-in list was taken up and the DHS officer shut it all down. From that point on, they weren’t accepting any more walk-ins and I went on 9/4.

    You have to backtrack your article as the walk-in list is very arbitrary and it depends on a number of factors I think mostly on how much the load is probably that day and if these DHS agents are feeling generous. You may say do not listen to all these reviews you see online but I say also to take your experience with a grain of salt.

  14. No advantage that I can see. I always get TSA precheck when I book. I get through as fast as any of my friends with global entry. I travel twice a year out of the US. Not an issue. Waste of time and money from my viewpoint.. I?m in the airport now, going to Morocco. Sailed right through precheck. Took about two minutes.

  15. @Lynne W, perhaps for you but I wouldn’t generalize. If you are white, that is an example of white privilege that many people don’t realize. My white female friends seem to get TSA PreChecks much more often (which is fine based on risk factors rather than political correctness) but TSA PreCheck is not that big a deal, only thing you avoid is potentially long lines at security.

    Global entry for coming in from abroad is a different story altogether.

    Non-whites/non-blacks (i.e., brown skins), especially with green cards than Citizenship, get very inconsistent treatment when they arrive from abroad depending on who they happen to get at CBP immigration control. Especially so since the beginning of this year. One is typically not denied entry unless there is real cause but arriving after a long haul trip to be treated like dirt by someone who seems entirely unhappy that he has to let you in is not what one is looking forward to.

    Getting the Global Entry is worth it for brown-skinned people just for that reason alone because it reduces the chances of that uneven treatment.

    Not making any political/ideological statement, just dealing with the reality of the day as one experiences and trying to live with it as best as one can.

  16. Wow…tell us how you really feel! LOL Here was my experience: applied 12/2/17 online. Conditionally approved on 12/7/17. Next available interview time was for 4/8…2018! Undeterred, I used the advice from a Yelp review for SFO. I refreshed the calendar for SFO. After about a day of trying, I scored an interview time on 12/9/17 in the morning! Unsure where to go, I arrived about an hour early. Parking was easy and the signage was easy to understand. I was officially at the door 45 minutes ahead of schedule. I checked in and they took me in 30 minutes ahead of time. Interview was about 5 minutes. By the time I exited the parking garage, I received an e-mail update regarding my application. I had my KTN just in time for my trip on 12/24/17.

    Keep in mind when scheduling an interview time online to book at locations where it says “enrollment center”. I had initially booked a time at an AmazonLab, which was meant for Amazon employees only. I also read this happened with Google. Looked enticing because it was a week ahead. If you live somewhere like LA/San Diego, check the other locations. Chances are you’ll get that interview sooner than later. Above all, refresh that calendar! Doing that may give you a last-second cancellation.

  17. When I got pre-approval on 12/11 I am signed up for AmazonLab appointment. I got one 12/13. I am not an Amazon employee, but was not told I couldn’t go. I was asked by the TSA agent if I knew anyone at that Amazon location, I said know and with other questions, I was out in 10 minutes.

  18. I do not even see the option of selecting Amazon or Google centers in SF Bay Area. Only location I see is SFO Ariport.

  19. Anyone heard of someone still being able to get an interview after their initial application was cancelled due to inaction? Or do you just have to suck it up and reapply? Asking for a friend…

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