Claim your Singapore birthright- the APEC travel card

As Singapore citizens we are blessed with clean air, efficient government and the existential angst of Amos Yee.

However, not everyone may know of another great perk- the ability to apply for the APEC business travel card.

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If you already have it, congrats. This article is not for you. Go out and enjoy your newfound privilege. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, read on. It’ll be worth your while.

Tl;dr version: When you get the APEC business travel card you will be able to use special immigration lanes in Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, US and selected airports in Canada.

The below is shamelessly copied from the ICA’s section on the APEC Business Travel Card. I have added extra Milelion value via comments below each segment.

What is the APEC Business Travel Card?

The APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) scheme is designed to facilitate the travel of business persons between the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies. The ABTC is a multiple-journey-visa where cardholders enjoy visa free entry and expedited immigration clearance through designated ABTC lanes in ABTC participating economies.

The application fee for a new card is S$100 (non-refundable). Each card is valid for five years, or up to the validity of the passport, whichever is shorter.

Milelion notes: Unfortunately, paying the fee with your DBS Woman’s Card doesn’t earn you bonus points here because ICA manually processes the transaction on their backend.

Where can I get fast track immigration?

The ABTC participating economies are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Besides being able to use designated APEC lanes at the 19 participating economies, cardholders are also entitled to use ‘fast-track’ immigration lanes (currently designated for air-crew) at all international airports in the USA and the following designated airports in Canada:

  • Vancouver International Airport
  • Toronto Pearson Int’l Airport ( Terminal 1 & 2)
  • Ottawa Macdonald – Cartier International Airport
  • Montreal -Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
  • Halifax Robert L Stansfield International Airport
  • Calgary International Airport
  • Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport
  • Edmonton International Airport

Milelion notes: Strictly speaking, each country does their own pre-clearance and it is possible you’ll get access to some countries and not others. In practice though, it’s highly unlikely any individual country will deny you access. You can see the countries which have cleared you on the back of your card

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Being able to skip the queues at US airports is a lifesaver, believe me. In most airports there should be a clearly marked APEC queue, sometimes it goes by other names eg ABTC (APEC Business Travel Card) so don’t get confused.

Who can apply for one?

The following groups of Singapore Citizens are eligible to apply for the card:

  • Bona fide business persons (i.e. those who represent an economically-active business entity)
  • Members of professional bodies such as doctors, lawyers and other members of professional bodies
  • Public officers from Ministries, Government departments, economic agencies and statutory boards who need to travel in their official capacity

Milelion notes: the first bullet point can pretty much be anyone. There is no “you must travel X amount of times to countries in the APEC zone in a year” or “your company must have a business turnover of at least $y” restriction (I believe other countries do)- so long as you travel abroad for business, you can get this

How do I get one?

Milelion notes: Your HR department needs to fill out and sign this form.

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It was literally a 5 minute exercise for me, and costs your company nothing. I cannot imagine why HR would not be willing to sign one of these documents, even if you travel occasionally rather than frequently.

Can I use it for personal travel? 

Milelion notes: Officially, the APEC card is meant to facilitate “business travel” among member states. In practice though, many people have used it when on personal travel.  Of course if you are asked by the official what your purpose of visit is, you should never lie. A simple “mix of business and pleasure” usually suffices.

Can I bring a guest?

Milelion notes: Anecdotally, when I travelled with my family to Bangkok my Dad and I each had a card which we used to get my Mum and Sis through the fast track lane. Whether or not this is official policy, I do not know. I imagine officials would frown on you using 1 card to get 4 family members through, but 1 guest seems to be reasonable. I was also able to take a guest with me in Jakarta. YMMV. I would hesitate to try this in countries with, shall we say, unfriendlier immigration officials (hello USA!)

How long will I take to get it?

Milelion notes: The website says 3 months minimum, but mine took about 4-5 months. The reason it takes so long is that each individual country needs to clear you. However, based on what I hear online the processing time is decreasing

Conclusion

$100 is a small fee to pay for a card that lets you cut the queues for 5 years. Go for it! Feel free to ask me any questions about my experience using the card.

cover photo from here

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19 thoughts on “Claim your Singapore birthright- the APEC travel card”

  1. I am a Singaporean based in Beijing and travel feequently to HKG and TPE for business trips. It is always a headache whenever I clear the immigration in PEK. I had asked my HR to issue me with a supporting letter for the application of the APEC and their reply was pretty lame, “we do not have this policy in our company”. My secretary is willing to issue me with the letterhead but she’s worried that ICA or other countries may call my company’s mainline and ask for the HR to verify. I do not want to get both of us on the wrong end of the stick with my company. What are the chances that they will make these calls to my company? Thanks.

    1. Hi Alan. I’m sorry to hear that. Yes, that is an extremely lame thing for HR to hide behind. It’s quite symptomatic of the whole cover behind culture prevalent in some SG companies. I mean, it’s literally a 5 min exercise for them, why hide behind policy? I cannot tell you what the chances are because I only have my own experience to go on- I submitted my documents in October 13, got my card sometime in Feb/March 14. HR was never called.

    2. Short answer, very unlikely.

      I have supplied this card with company letter. but during the process, there is a bit issue. The officer sends the email to clarify with me directly (the email will have to be registered via ICA online application portal). HR was never in the loop.

  2. Can I have one question rewarding Russia? Frankly, Russia is the only country in the list that Singaporeans need a pre-approved visa for short visit. Russia’s tourist visa is extremely troublesome to get it, where the procedure and requirement is too much to bear.

    I was wondering, if you have personnel experience or from your friends, traveling with the ABTC card on leisure to Russia with a ” mixture of business and pleasure” speech to get clear the immigration at Russia?

    1. I don’t have personal experience. but something tells me you don’t want to mess with the russians.

      1. Haha, Aaron,

        Russians gave me the impression that they are not to be messed with. Look at Putin.

        I search the web for a while, no information on the personal leisure usage experience shared by anyone I can find on the internet. Too bad. I just found 3 same post that asking for the same thing. Seems like some other people also trying to by-pass the tourist visa thing.

        also, Russian Embassy in Singapore has specifically informed Singaporean not to use ABTC for tourist visa. (http://www.singapore.mid.ru/APEC_Business_Travel_Card.htm)

        seems like some Singaporean might already tried and failed – which triggered the Russian Embassy to make such statement.

        Do you think so?

        1. Let me put it this way. I wouldn’t risk it. I mean these guys wrestle with bears for recreation.

          speaking from personal experience, any country that makes it difficult to get a visa isn’t worth visiting. i’ve been trying to get one for paraguay, but they want my criminal records, income tax statement, medical cert from a doctor saying i’m std free, plane ticket and bank account statement, all translated into spanish and notarized. and there’s no embassy in singapore, so all these documents need to be sent to south korea for processing.

  3. Hi, do you know if they are stringent with issuing ABTC? Can I use my small business set up to apply for this or do they generally only issue to MNCs?

    1. I’m wondering this as well. Could we not just get a friend who is a small business owner to issue this for application purposes?

  4. Hi Aaron,

    Will the ABTC subsitute the need for a Chinese work visa? I am working in Shanghai on a Chinese work visa, and from what I read in many websites, the ABTC subsitutes the need for a work visa. Will there be a conflict if I hold a Chinese work visa, and a ABTC at the same time?

    Thanks

  5. Hi Aaron,

    Just wondering, how do you bring a guest with you through the fast track lane? From experience, the immigration officials usually request for each visitor to be processed one by one (like asking one to step behind the line again even when you try to move to the counter together). In this case, the guest would not have the APEC card when it is their turn at the counter. Will he/she be turned away to move to the normal lanes then?

    1. so this will vary from airport to airport and each one will have their own policy. in bangkok there was no problem bringing 1 guest with me to the fast track lane. this was also ok in seoul and mexico city.

      i would imagine the US taking a much dimmer view of this, given that they’re not even a proper part of the apec program per se, just recognizing it under some form of reciprocal agreement.

      if you do get separated you might just want to tell the officer handling you that you’re travelling with someone else. no guarantees it will work of course because by right the letter of the law is 1 card 1 person.

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