The Lowdown On SENTRI Passes

It’s not easy to get, and they are quick to yank it away

It was a Monday afternoon and the border lanes were long, but the SENTRI lane looked like it would be a breeze. It’s my first time driving in the SENTRI lane, and I confidently rolled up to the  booth. I handed my Global Entry (GE) card (A Trusted Travelers program which includes SENTRI) to the Customs Border Protection (CBP) officer, and my buddy handed over his passport. “Do you have a Global or SENTRI card, sir?” the CBP officer asked my buddy. “No”, he replied. Screetch to a stop.

“We might have to resort to crossing like this if Sentri doesn’t lighten up a little”Nearly an hour passed while we cooled our heels, until finally a border officer approached to explain, “You’re in violation of SENTRI program rules because the passenger in your vehicle does not possess SENTRI or Global membership. Your GE membership is now revoked,”

 Eventually I was able to cross the border, but without my Global card, and that’s when I decided to further research the SENTRI program. On November 1, 1995 SENTRI was first implemented at the Otay Mesa, California port of entry – the busiest port of entry into the United States. SENTRI is an acronym for Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, and helps travelers cross the border efficiently, but holds them to a high standard for the privilege. Chief Customs Border Protection officer Angelica Decima explains, “SENTRI allows members access to dedicated pedestrian and vehicle lanes at ports of entry along the southern border separate from the general public, for faster crossings. For passenger vehicles there are 25 lanes under the headings “Standard,” “Readylane,” or “SENTRI.” Pedestrian lanes read the same way. Different lanes require different types of documentation for entry into the U.S.

Standard lanes are for the general public. Each traveler must either have a valid passport booklet or card. Sunday evening is a peak crossing time, and travelers in the Standard lane may endure wait times of five hours. During the weekday, average wait time is still 60-90 minutes in these lanes, so be sure to fill up at the pump if you’re headed through a Standard lane. And go to the bathroom first.

The Readylane is a faster way to go than the Standard lanes because CBP officers do not need to type in cardholder information.  Driving in the Readylane is 10 to 15 seconds faster per vehicle than the Standard lane. Imagine it’s 4th of July, and you and your friends have been partying at Papas and Beer. The weekend is over and everyone is hungover, tired and desperate to get home. It’s one o’clock in the afternoon, and somebody checks the San Ysidro border wait times from the website . In this scenario you’re likely to hear four hours to cross in Standard lanes, 120 minutes in Readylane and only thirty minutes for SENTRI?! Sign me up! If you’re ready to sign up, you’re eligible for SENTRI if you’re a U.S or Mexican citizen, a lawful permanent U.S. Resident, or one of a few others with no minimum crossings required. Membership lasts five years, and costs $122.25 at the writing of this article. Applicants will need to allow a background check against criminal, law enforcement, customs, immigration and terrorist indices, a 10 fingerprint law enforcement check, and a personal interview with a CBP officer. People ineligible for the program include convicted felons, anyone convicted of any criminal offense, or people who have previously violated customs immigration or agriculture laws.

As easy as it is to become a SENTRI member, it’s just as easy to have membership revoked, be fined or even face imprisonment.

SENTRI and Customs regulations are often the same, so if you violate a SENTRI rule, you may be breaking the law. Keep in mid that customs laws are federal laws, and they apply regardless of what state you come from or from where you leave the country. A few examples of SENTRI / Customs violations include, but are not limited to: if your car is not registered with SENTRI while driving in the SENTRI lane, if passengers in your vehicle are non-members, but you are, if you make a false declaration, or if you import large amounts of alcohol / tobacco products without paying the required duty to name a few.

For additional examples, pick up a Know Before You Go Brochure at the SENTRI enrollment office at the San Ysidro border crossing. Although my Global Entry membership was revoked it was reinstated after an extensive interview. Supervising CBP officer Gonzalez emphasized to me how important it is to follow the rules at all times. If I violate a SENTRI regulation again I will never be able to regain membership, so be aware of all rules and regulations before driving into the SENTRI lane, or crossing the border at all.

For more information on SENTRI and border crossing, visit To apply for SENTRI, visit For assistance with applying visit the San Ysidro SENTRI Enrollment Office at 795 East San Ysidro Blvd.; near the pedestrian exit at the San Ysidro Port of entry. Walk-in help is available Monday – Friday from 8 a.m – 4 p.m.