Nearly a year and a half ago, my wife and I got married. She decided to take my last name. While I appreciate her gesture, updating the various legal and corporate databases with that information has at times been easier but also more difficult than I predicted.
A copy of our marriage license has been sufficient in many cases to change credit cards and loyalty account information. Although most include instructions to fax, a scanned copy can be emailed in many cases. Instructions vary and can be hidden on most websites, so I would just call the customer service line and ask what to do and where to send it. It took another six months before she got around to changing her last name with the Social Security Administration and Washington State Department of Licensing, mostly because that would require waiting in line instead of sending an email. Her new passport followed a few months later, and the process was little different from an ordinary renewal.
It surprised me how easy it was to change someone’s legal name. All we needed was a marriage certificate, and that cost a few bucks. Even the Social Security Administration had the process down cold. But the painful part was yet to come.
Updating Your Name and Passport Number for Global Entry
Eventually we needed to update her Global Entry information with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Megan doesn’t travel internationally all that often. Her passport and ticket information were still under her maiden name during our honeymoon, so we faced no problems then. But an update would be required to use TSA PreCheck for domestic flights now that all her tickets were issued under her new name.
When we first enrolled in Global Entry before our wedding, we raised the topic and were told by a friendly CBP officer that we just needed to show up at an office unannounced.
It is possible to change your passport number online by yourself if you get it replaced. Name changes require an in-person appearance. Fortunately, we were told that an appointment would not be necessary unless we wanted to get the physical Global Entry card replaced, and we were told this card wasn’t actually necessary.
Before I go any further, I’ll skip to the punch line. Having gone through the process with Megan — and despite all the hassles thrown up by other officers — this original information is correct. Just show up. If they give you a hard time, persevere using the advice I provide below.
“You Need an Appointment”
We finally showed up at the office before an afternoon flight to London over Thanksgiving. But we were quickly turned away. There was no way they could do anything without an appointment, which we could request by filing a new application. Feeling a little rushed to catch our flight (Megan had been held up at work) we decided to check again when we returned home. But there was no way to file a new application from an existing account.
I called. I was told by a third officer that no appointment was needed. I pressed, explaining that we had been turned away, but he confirmed that Megan just needed to show up with her old and new passports. It wasn’t clear if her marriage license was needed, but I recommend bringing a copy.
Returning to the airport before Christmas, we were greeted by two officers: one was the same person I spoke to on the phone, and the other was the one who turned us away at Thanksgiving. Oh, shit.
Now they both wanted to turn us away for arriving without an appointment, and this is when I learned the source of their confusion.
The CBP Really Wants You to Get a Global Entry Card, but You Don’t Need It
An appointment was need to get a new Global Entry card. We did know that, but Megan didn’t want one. They told us she needed one. I asked, “Couldn’t we just get the name and passport number changed without an appointment?” Yes, but she’d still need a card. Fine. Do what you can now and we’ll take care of the card later.
The disagreeable agent who turned us away before took both passports and updated the information. I then logged into Megan’s GOES account from my computer. The name had been updated without the new passport number. This shows that the system updates itself immediately, but also that the job was still incomplete. I handed them back so he could go do it again. This time both fields were changed. I was not making friends.
Meanwhile I tried to clarify with the other officer why we needed to replace the Global Entry card. This was our second visit already. I did not want to make a third. Megan definitely did not want to make a third. She has limited patience for my travel antics.
Officer: “Who told you that you don’t need a card? Of course you need it! It’s part of the program!”
Me: “What does it do?”
Officer: “You need it to cross the border from Mexico or Canada.”
Me: “We use our passports. Does she need the card?”
Officer: “It’s an added benefit of the program.”
Me: “So it’s not required. It’s a benefit.”
Officer: “But what if you need your Trusted Traveler number for TSA?”
Me: “So her number will change when she requests a new card?”
Officer: “No, it won’t change. But you need the number to add it to her reservation.”
Me: “We’ve never had problems entering the number. It’s saved in her account.”
Officer: “But what if you forget it? Or the computers crash? Airline computer systems crash all the time. Stuff gets wiped out.”
Me: “Our numbers are written down. So I already have them. If the number isn’t changing and she can use her passport to cross a border then I don’t see why she needs a new card.”
Officer: “But it’s an added benefit of the program…”
His case was getting weaker and weaker. There did not seem to be any reason to get the card. I’ve been told by other agents that no one ever asks for it, that if you have your passport it should be enough (some bloggers have reported exceptions, but those officers appeared to be making up rules). And considering Megan’s Trusted Traveler number wouldn’t change it was not clear that she needed a new card in order to use PreCheck. But eventually I gave in and just applied for Megan’s new card and paid the $25 replacement fee.
The CBP officer was able to show us where this magical application button was located on the GOES website so we could request an appointment.
This actually launched the entire application process again. Megan had to fill out her employment information, residential addresses, and countries visited during the last five years. Good grief.
PreCheck Works without a New Global Entry Card
When we finally left the office, her application was only pending for review. She did not yet have an appointment or a new card, but I decided to check whether our recent visit was enough to get Megan back into the PreCheck line. Her number was already in her Alaska Airlines profile, so I tried checking her in again for our flight that afternoon. No good. Then I went into the reservation itself on my computer and clicked the link to update passenger information. I re-entered her Trusted Traveler number, saved it, and checked her in a third time. Success!
- You don’t need to make any changes as long as you continue to use the name and passport that were originally enrolled. If you change your name, you’ll need a new passport, and then you’ll need to update Global Entry.
- You don’t need an appointment to update your name and passport number in the system. The updated information should appear immediately.
- You don’t need to replace your Global Entry card after a name change to your passport. There is a $25 fee if you choose to replace it anyway.
- Any CBP officer who tells you otherwise is probably confused. They may get defensive. But they do have the power to update your name and passport number without an appointment, so play dumb and tell them you’ll get the card later.
If you do want a new card, you can apply for it by clicking the link for a “lost card.” People who do this should probably apply before their first visit rather than make two trips out of it. But whether you want to go through that hassle is entirely optional. If you find yourself at an airport with a CBP office and some spare time, I recommend getting the system updated now and doing the application later because wait times for an appointment can sometimes be months into the future. Fortunately, once you have an appointment you can often drop in like before to check if they have time for a walk-in.