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TSA Precheck and TSA Global Entry are must-haves, but there’s a third critical program you should join ASAP

The STEP program may actually save your life

People walking through an airport with large windows in the background
Ekaterina Belinskaya/Pexels

Traveling should be an adventure — and if your safety is in question when traveling abroad, those adventures might have to come to an abrupt halt. While most international travelers are familiar with programs like TSA Precheck and TSA Global Entry, there’s a third United States government program that helps Americans traveling out of the country called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). If you’re abroad and the unthinkable happens — injury, illness, a lost passport, or even a global emergency — it’s one step you’ll be glad you took. 

Man standing with a suitcase facing the ocean looking out windows
Artem Zhukov

What is STEP?

Enrolling in STEP isn’t just about being informed; it’s about staying connected in times of need. And it’s free. When you sign up, you receive real-time updates, country-specific travel advisories, and information about U.S. embassy events. It’s a personalized safety net that also keeps you in the loop about the area where you’re traveling to, whether there’s a safety concern or just an embassy-hosted town hall meeting. 

In case of an emergency, STEP has the ability to facilitate communication between you and the nearest U.S. embassy quickly, ensuring that assistance is just a step away. Additionally, it serves as a link so that your family and friends back home can reach you in an emergency situation.

This type of connection is especially essential if your travel destination is in an area of political instability or if violence breaks out nearby — STEP ensures you receive real-time updates from the nearest U.S. consulate. It’s also a lifeline if you’re traveling off the grid or are in a particularly remote area, and can also help you stay safe and well-informed during large-scale events. 

Man in the distance hiking seaside mountains

Is STEP just like TSA Precheck?

No, it’s not. While TSA Precheck streamlines airport security procedures for domestic flights, STEP, by the U.S. Department of State, focuses on providing real-time safety updates and assistance to U.S. citizens traveling abroad. It creates a crucial communication link between American travelers and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate during emergencies. 

I know what you’re thinking: What about TSA Global Entry? It’s great, but it’s different. TSA Global Entry expedites international arrivals by facilitating a faster customs process. So, like TSA Precheck, it also focuses mainly on airport efficiency. 

STEP is an additional resource that provides an extra layer of security for all travelers, regardless of their destination.

An airplane midflight as seen from below
elpratviu / Pixabay

How to register for STEP

Getting started with STEP is easy. Setting up an account takes about five minutes, and registering a trip takes about one minute.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Create your account: On the STEP website, create an account and input your personal details along with emergency contacts.
  2. Register your trip: Log in and register each specific trip or residence abroad. 

That’s it. This minimal investment of time will pay off when you find yourself in need of urgent assistance while traveling abroad.

Consider STEP as a kind of travel insurance for unforeseen circumstances. If all goes smoothly, you might not even realize it’s there. But if you find yourself in a tight spot, the notifications from STEP can literally save your life. The goal is simple: ensure you’re safe and accounted for, no matter where your adventures take you.

TSA Precheck and Global Entry may expedite your airport experience, but STEP ensures your safety and peace of mind throughout your entire journey. So, before you embark on your next adventure, take that extra step.

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Ashley Jones
Ashley is a freelance journalist with bylines across a range of online and print publications.
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