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Originally published August 18, 2012 at 7:00 PM | Page modified August 20, 2012 at 11:33 AM

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Watch where you apply for Nexus border card

A Yakima couple clicked the wrong link when applying for Nexus cards and paid $250 more than needed.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Don and Melda Follett of Yakima take frequent road trips to Canada. So when they learned that by joining Nexus, the joint U.S./Canadian fast-pass border-crossing program, they could also qualify for PreCheck, the new expedited U.S. airport security screening for low-risk travelers, they decided to apply.

They went online, typed "Nexus" in a Google search box, then hit a link, thinking they were going directly to the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES), a website set up by U.S. Customs and Canadian authorities to streamline registration in either Nexus or Global Entry, a similar program for entry into the U.S. from other countries.

Only after they paid $353.25 on their MasterCard for two Nexus applications — that should have cost only $100 ($50 each) — did they realize they had mistakenly linked to an ad at the top of the online search page. That link took them to Immigroup Immigration, a Toronto-based private company that charges fees for its services.

Rather than pay a hefty cancellation charge and start over, the Folletts went ahead with their application through Immigroup. Lesson learned: "People need to know they should go through the U.S. website (https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/main/goes) and not get sidelined to another one," says Melda Follett.

That's certainly the advice of Mike Milne of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Seattle. Although the websites for commercial visa and immigration services (such as Immigroup) may look official, they're not (nor are they illegal).

"It's like paying someone to fill out your tax return," says Milne. "For the most part, you are able to do these things by yourself. But it takes time. We try to make it as easy as we can, but we're probably not all the way there yet."

With PreCheck eligibility now an added benefit (those who qualify can use special lanes at U.S. airports where they no longer have to take off jackets or shoes or remove laptops and liquids from carry-ons), American and Canadian officials say they're trying to streamline enrollment for Global Entry, Nexus and also Sentri, a program for expedited land-border crossings between Mexico and the U.S.

Those living in the Pacific Northwest will find Global Entry or Nexus the most useful. Here's what you need to know:

Global Entry: Allows expedited entry into the U.S. from another country, including Canada. Air travelers avoid lines at customs and immigration by running their passports through special kiosks and verifying their fingerprints. Or travelers show their Global Entry cards when entering the U.S. from Canadian land and sea borders. Global Entry cannot be used for entry into Canada or another country.

Cost: $100, good for five years.

How to apply: Go to https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/main/goes, fill out the online form, then wait for notification of an in-person interview (at Sea-Tac Airport, Boeing Field and other locations). You'll have your picture taken and fingerprints scanned and be notified of approval shortly after.

Nexus: A joint U.S./Canadian program for expedited airport entry into the U.S. and Canada from other countries and for land and sea border crossing into the U.S. and Canada.

Cost: $50, good for five years.

How to apply: Same as above. Interviews take place at Boeing Field, the Peace Arch border crossing at Blaine, the Vancouver, B.C., airport or in downtown Vancouver. Nexus members can use PreCheck lanes for certain U.S. airports. In Canada, they can use "trusted traveler" security lanes at Canadian airports, but must first submit to an iris scan.

Which way to go?

Wait time for Nexus approval tends to be longer. It takes an average of eight weeks to get an application approved versus 7 to 10 days for Global Entry, Milne said. But wait times for setting up appointments can add delays in both cases. Sea-Tac's Global Entry office has a three-month backlog for appointments, as does the Nexus office in Seattle.

Carol Pucci welcomes travel questions. Contact her at travel@carolpucci.com. Web/blog: www.carolpucci.com. Twitter: @carolpucci

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Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. Drawing on her own experiences and readers', Carol Pucci covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. Her column runs each Sunday in the Travel section.

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