How to Beat the Passport Control Line (Without Global Entry)
Have you ever arrived at the U.S. passport control line and heaved a sigh of despair at the serpentine line winding all the way back to the bathrooms? Perhaps you are in one of those lines right now and trying to figure out how to get out of it.
The passport control line can be stressful enough after a long flight, and even more stressful if you are rushing to make a connecting flight. As a family of six, with four kids between one and eight, we are always the last ones to passport control. If our seats aren’t at the back of the airplane, by the time we collect our gate checked items, make a bathroom stop, refill water bottles, shuffle the kids’ bags around, and traipse the half mile from the plane to immigration, the pilot and flight attendants have lapped us.
Sure, we have credit cards that will cover Global Entry, but we don’t have six of them, and kids need their own Global Entry to use the Global Entry line.
So how does our family beat the passport control line? Enter the Mobile Passport Control (MPC) application by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
What is the Mobile Passport Control App?
In short, the MPC app is a free app by CBP that enables eligible travelers to expedite their arrival process when entering the United States. Travelers enter their passport information, answer CBP questions, and generate a QR code on their smartphone when they arrive in the U.S. This QR code enables them to use the “Mobile Passport Control” lane available at 31 U.S. international airports and four seaports.
The last time you arrived in the U.S. you may have seen signs for Mobile Passport Control on the long walk from the plane to immigration, or you may have seen the (empty) Mobile Passport Control lane, and disregarded them because you didn’t know what it was or didn’t think it would help you. I’m here to tell you: download the MPC app and it could save you hours of waiting in your next U.S. passport control line.
At some airports the MPC lane is shared with the Global Entry lane, but it is NOT the same thing. There is no interview or enrollment process or biometrics or automatic kiosks, as with Global Entry. If you use MPC, once you arrive at passport control you will be directed to a specific processing line where you will show your passport to a CBP officer and be asked the usual questions.
However, because you have filled out your forms through the app:
1. You don’t have to fill out any paper forms
2. The CBP officer will not have to input your information into the system
3. You will have access to a shorter or nonexistent line.
In our experience, the only other passengers in it are those that see the signs while they’re waiting and download the app at the airport because they realize they’re fated to another 30-60 minutes in the standard line.
Though it’s been around since 2014, prior to February 2022, the MPC app was available through a private company, Airside. You had to pay for your passport information to be stored in the app and the free version had some annoying quirks.
As of February 1, 2022, the new MPC app is completely free and managed by CBP. When we used it in March of 2022 after our flight from Barcelona to JFK, we found it much easier to use since we were able to scan our passports in advance and the passenger information was easy to save in the app. This saved us a lot of time over the Airside app which would inevitably delete everything we had filled on the plane. This doesn’t seem to be an issue with the new app.
Mobile Passport Vs. Global Entry
MPC and Global Entry both enable eligible passengers entering the U.S. to get through passport control more quickly, but there are some key differences between these two programs. If you are debating Mobile Passport vs. Global Entry, know that Global Entry provides a more assured expedited entry into the U.S. However, it also comes with a cost and the wait of applying and going through an in-person interview. It can take several months to complete the process. MPC is a good option for those who travel abroad infrequently and/or aren’t able or willing to pay for Global Entry for themselves or their whole family.
There have even been occasional reports of people moving through MPC points more quickly than Global Entry. If you already have Global Entry, there’s no harm in also downloading the MPC app so that you can pick which mode of entry to use upon arrival.
Want to get Global Entry for free with your credit card? Check out this post for details.
Mobile Passport Vs. Global Entry
|Traveler Program||Mobile Passport Control||Global Entry|
|Cost||Free||$100 (valid for 5 years)|
|Eligibility||U.S citizens and some Canadian visa holders||U.S. citizens and citizens of 15 other approved countries|
|Requires a background check||No||Yes|
|Requires an interview||No||Yes|
|Available at all U.S. airports points of entry||No||Yes|
|Approval time||No approval process; can be used immediately upon downloading the app||Several months|
|Validity||Whenever app is downloaded||Five years|
|Includes TSA Precheck||No||Yes|
|Family use||Can be used by entire household||Each family member must have their own Global Entry|
Who Can Use the Mobile Passport Control App?
If you are a U.S. citizen or a Canadian citizen with a B1 or B2 visa and you are entering the U.S. at one of the following 31 international airports and 4 seaports you can use the MPC app:
- Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
- Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
- Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)
- Denver International Airport (DEN)
- Dulles International Airport (IAD)
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
- Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
- William P. Hobby Houston International Airport (HOU)
- Kansas City International Airport (MCI)
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
- Miami International Airport (MIA)
- Miami Seaport
- Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
- John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
- Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
- Oakland International Airport (OAK)
- Orlando International Airport (MCO)
- Palm Beach Seaport
- Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
- Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)
- Port Everglades Seaport
- Portland International Airport (PDX)
- Sacramento International Airport (SMF)
- San Diego International Airport (SAN)
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- San Jose International Airport (SJC)
- San Juan Airport (SJU)
- San Juan Seaport
- Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
- Tampa International Airport (TPA)
How do I use the Mobile Passport Control app?
First, you will need to download the Mobile Passport Control app, which is available for iOS and Android devices through the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
You will also still see the Mobile Passport by Airside App in the app store, but note that mobile passport is no longer available through this app.
Once you download the MPC app you will see a screen that says “Begin Your Entry Process.”
After you select whether you are arriving by airplane or cruise ship you will have the option to add travelers.
You can add up to 12 travelers per form by clicking the “+” below “Add Travelers” and scanning the passports or manually inputting each person’s passport information. Note that all the travelers on a form should be part of a single household.
After you have everyone’s documents input into the app you will be able to add them to the form and select your port of entry and terminal. You will proceed to answer six CBP questions; these are the same questions that are on the blue paper customs declaration form and include questions about what you are bringing into the U.S. and whether you have been in close proximity to livestock outside of the U.S.
After you have answered these six questions, you will review your submission and check to certify that you answered the questions truthfully. Then you can save your CBP form so that it is ready to submit as soon as you land. You do NOT need an internet connection to input your information and save your form, but you will need it to submit the form and generate your QR code.
Once you land in the U.S. you can submit your form, which should be saved in the “receipts” section of the app, and you will have four hours to complete the CBP entry process. You will receive QR codes for each traveler, which you will show to the CBP officer. Since CBP has the information they need to process your group, you can proceed to the lane marked “Mobile Passport Control”, and breeze through passport control.
Why Should I Use the Mobile Passport Control App?
If I haven’t already convinced you to download the MPC app, here’s why in a nutshell:
- It’s FREE to download and use;
- It’s available to all U.S. citizens with no special enrollments or interviews needed;
- Your information is submitted directly to CBP via secure encryption protocols, so your information is safe;
- You can use it for your whole family;
- It’s really easy to use;
- It saves paper and you don’t need to track down a pen;
- You will bypass dozens, if not hundreds, of people waiting in line; and
- Your traveling partner will be singing your praises all day.
Once you’ve made it through customs and immigration, if you want your traveling partner to sing your praises all week long, make sure you have a credit card, like the Capital One Venture X, that offers lounge access for your family while you wait for your connecting flight to take off! For more information on how to get airport lounge access for your whole family, check out the Guide to Airport Lounge Access for Families.
6 thoughts on “Mobile Passport Control: Complete Guide”
This is pure GOLD! Thank you for this tip, Katie!
Thank you so much!
So helpful, thank you! Going to use this on my trip home from the Bahamas next week!
This will be amazing for our family of six on our way home from the Dominican Republic next month. 🙂 Thank you for the info!