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What is the SENTRI program?

Updated: Sep 01, 2022  | Tags: SENTRI, ESTA Experience

SENTRI, or if one prefers the full name, The Secure Electronic Network for Travelers’ Rapid Inspection, is a U.S. program run by the CBP (Customs and Border Protection). The main objective of this program is to facilitate rapid clearance upon their arrival in the U.S. for low-risk travelers who have already been pre-approved.

The program allows participants to enter the country at southern land border crossings by making use of dedicated primary lanes. As already mentioned, travelers who want to take part in this program have to be pre-approved. Prepare for a personal interview and a very thorough background check before you are accepted for the SENTRI program.

What are the benefits of the SENTRI Program?

Being a member of the SENTRI program makes it possible for travelers to significantly reduce the waiting time at their designated port of entry. This is possible because SENTRI members are allowed to:

  • use dedicated processing lanes at the country’s southern land border crossings with Mexico)
  • use Global Entry kiosks when they enter the U.S. by air*
  • use the NEXUS lane when they enter the U.S. from Canada at a land border crossing

* Mexican nationals who are members of the SENTRI program have to apply for Global Entry via their Trusted Traveler Program.

Who should consider getting a SENTRI pass?

The following types of travelers stand to gain the most from applying for a SENTRI pass:

[1] People who live close to the U.S.-Mexican border and who frequently cross that border

It is not uncommon to wait for hours to cross the international land border between these two countries. If you and your companions have SENTRI passes, you could eliminate many hours of waiting in long queues at these border crossings.

Taking into account that SENTRI was primarily created for individuals who have to frequently cross the U.S.-Mexico border, most enrollment centers are located in cities that are near this border. Currently, there are 11 of these centers:

  • California: San Diego and Calexico
  • Texas: Hidalgo, El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville
  • Arizona: Tucson, Phoenix, Nogales, Douglas, and San Luis.

[2] People who will soon embark on several Mexican road trips

If you intend to do quite a few road trips between Mexico and the United States in the near future, it could be well worth the effort and money to apply for a SENTRI card. Keep in mind, however, that you will first have to visit one of the enrollment centers mentioned above.

What are the eligibility requirements for the SENTRI program?

The good news is that the Secure Electronic Network For Travelers Rapid Inspection program has no age or citizenship requirements. Applicants who are not yet 18 years old must, however, get consent from a parent or legal guardian to join the SENTRI program.

You might not be allowed to take part in the SENTRI program if you:

  • Provide incomplete or false info on your application
  • Have ever made yourself guilty of violating any immigration, customs, or agriculture laws or regulations in any country
  • Have ever been found guilty of a criminal offense
  • Have outstanding warrants or pending criminal charges, including for driving a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating substance
  • Have not been approved when you applied to buy a firearm
  • Have been pardoned for a criminal offense in any country
  • Are not admissible to the U.S. under current immigration-related regulations. This includes applicants who have approved waivers of parole documentation or inadmissibility
  • Are currently being investigated by any local, state, or federal law enforcement agency
  • Are unable to convince CBP of your low-risk status

What is the SENTRI application process?

Before you apply to join the SENTRI program, please go through the eligibility requirements above if you haven’t done so already.

The application process itself is quite simple and involves only a few steps, these are as follows:

  1. Start by creating a TTP (Trusted Traveler Program System) account. You cannot use somebody else’s TTP account. Irrespective of your age, you must have your own account.
  2. Once you have created a TTP account, log in and finalize the application. Please note that every application requires the payment of a non-refundable fee.
  3. After receiving your application and the relevant fee, CBP will go through it to make sure that you meet all the requirements. In case they conditionally approve your application, you will be given instructions on how to arrange a meeting at one of the SENTRI enrollment centers. Every applicant has to attend his or her own interview, even if they are under the age of 18.
  4. When you go for the interview at one of the SENTRI enrollment centers you should take your passport with you, as well as another form of identification such as an ID card or driver’s license. Lawful permanent residents will also have to show their permanent resident cards. Apart from these, you also have to bring your vehicle registration papers as well as proof of U.S. automobile insurance by a firm that is legally allowed to provide automobile insurance in the U.S.

What to do when you have your SENTRI card?

If your SENTRI application is approved after the interview, you will be issued an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) card that identifies you as a member of the SENTRI program.

How to activate your SENTRI card?

All you have to do to activate your SENTRI card is to log in to your GOES (Global Online Enrollment System) account. Once you are logged in, navigate to the Program Membership section, find the ‘Activate Membership Card’ button, and click on it. It can’t be any easier.

How to use your SENTRI card?

When you get to the border crossing, make sure you are in a SENTRI lane. The system will then automatically identify your vehicle as well as the identities of all its occupants. This is done via the following steps:

  • When you arrive, the system will read your RFID card file number
  • It will then look for your information and bring it up on the CBP officer’s computer screen
  • The officer will then verify your data and you will either be given the go-ahead or be asked to go for an additional inspection

SENTRI Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I live in Mexico. Can I apply for a SENTRI card?

A. Anyone who is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or Mexico can apply. The SENTRI card will, however, only be issued to pre-approved, low-risk travelers whose personal information has been meticulously checked by both the United States and Mexican law enforcement and border control agencies.

Q. How long will it take for my SENTRI card to be approved?

A. Your initial application should not take much longer than 20-30 minutes to be processed. Conditional application approval might, however, take as long as 6 weeks. Getting the compulsory interview scheduled can also take several weeks or months.

Q. For how long is a SENTRI card valid?

A. A SENTRI pass is valid for a period of five years from its issue date before it has to be renewed.

Q. When will SENTRI be a better option than Global Entry?

A. People who regularly visit Canada or Mexico by car will find SENTRI particularly useful. It costs more but comes with more perks than Global Entry. If you do not regularly travel by car to Canada or Mexico but do a lot of international traveling, Global Entry could be the better choice since its application fee is less than SENTRI.

Q. Will I be allowed to drive somebody else’s car through a SENTRI lane?

A. The short answer is no, you will not be allowed to do this. The vehicle has to be driven by an individual who is a member of the TTP (Trusted Traveler Program). The driver has to have his or her SENTRI Card, Global Entry Card, or NEXUS card ready.

Q. How does SENTRI relate to ESTA?

A. For those who qualify, ESTA is in essence a much faster alternative to applying for a US visa. While getting a visa can take six months or longer, an ESTA is typically approved within 72 hours. It is important to understand though that an ESTA does not ensure that you are admissible to the U.S. That will be determined by CBP upon arrival.

Only citizens of VWP (Visa Waiver Program) countries can apply for an ESTA though - and Mexico is not part of the Visa Waiver Program. This is where the SENTRI program comes in. It was specifically introduced to make the border crossing between that country and the United States faster and less cumbersome.

Q. Is the SENTRI pass worth the money?

A. Individuals who don’t live too far from their nearest SENTRI Enrollment Center and who cross the U.S.-Mexico border a couple of times a year should definitely consider getting a SENTRI pass. Although the quite hefty fee of $122.25 per person is the highest of any Trusted Traveler Program, you will save yourself many hours of waiting in long queues at the U.S.-Mexican border. On top of that, the benefits of TSA PreCheck®, Global Entry, and the use of NEXUS lanes can make the whole exercise even more worthwhile.