Travel to and from the United States, especially by air, can be an endless torture of lineups. You line up to check in, you line up for immigration and customs, and then for security clearance. On a bad day, it can waste hours.

For almost half a million travellers, that torment is partially alleviated by NEXUS. With a NEXUS card in hand, you can bypass those queues of passengers awaiting immigration screening and head straight to security clearance at most major airports, pausing momentarily to peer into the iris-scanning kiosk and receive a card to hand to the customs officer.

Better yet, Canadians returning from anywhere (not just the U.S.) can make use of those same kiosks to re-enter the country without having to line up for clearance by Canadian authorities (it does not, however, absolve you from paying if you owe duty on imported goods – the process is just a bit different). And a NEXUS card is now your magic pass to expedited security clearance for domestic and some international (though, sadly, not U.S.) flights in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.

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NEXUS cards can also be used at many land and marine border points, although everyone in a party needs his or her own card for the group to participate. The NEXUS card is even accepted as demonstration of identity and citizenship when entering Canada using non-NEXUS dedicated lanes.

It's well worth the $50 fee for a five-year membership.

What, exactly, is NEXUS?

It's a joint program offered by the Canadian Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection that offers a simplified and expedited border clearance process to low-risk, pre-approved travellers. It has, believe it or not, been around since 2002. More than 450,000 card-holders, of whom more than 304,000 are Canadian, enjoy speedy passage into Canada and the U.S., and since 2008 those numbers have been growing at 30 per cent a year.

The key words above are "pre-approved." The application process, although not difficult, takes some time since both Canadian and U.S. authorities perform a rigorous security check and risk assessment on each applicant. To qualify, you need to be a citizen or permanent resident of Canada or the U.S., and to have lived in Canada and/or the U.S. continuously for the past three years.

Obviously, you must be admissible to each country under its immigration laws, you must not have been convicted of a serious criminal offence anywhere for which you have not been pardoned, and you must never have violated customs, immigration or agriculture laws. Read the full rules on the NEXUS website.

To apply, you first fill out a detailed application form and pay the aforementioned non-refundable $50 fee (you can do it all online). Assuming there are no major red flags, in a few weeks you are invited to schedule an interview at which you speak with both Canadian and U.S. authorities. Your photo, fingerprints and an iris image are taken, and the NEXUS card is generated. You get a lesson on its usage, a chance to try out the iris scanners (it takes a bit of practice) and to learn about the RFID readers used at land crossing points, and you're good to go for the next five years. The card is usually active within 24 hours.

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For more information, or to enroll in NEXUS, check out the instructions here.