General Travel

Updated: How can Singaporeans skip the immigration queues overseas?

Which countries offer expedited immigration access for Singapore passport holders?

If my travels have taught me anything, it’s that immigration queues are the biggest wild card in the equation.

You can look up the historical performance of your flight to gauge the odds of an on-time arrival. You can ballpark how long it takes for your bag to pop off the belt. But immigration queues? That’s a total black box. Some countries publish expected wait times, but everywhere else it’s anyone’s guess as to how long or short the queue will be.

Image result for immigration queue heathrow
Queues at Heathrow immigration exceeded two and a half hours in July

So what can you do if you’ve got a tight connection that requires clearing immigration, or just don’t fancy starting off your vacation with a multi-hour wait in line?

In this article I’m going to run through some options Singaporean passport holders have for getting through immigration faster in selected airports.

Programs which require prior registration

Multiple countries: APEC Business Travel Card

Image result for apec business travel card

Countries covered: Australia, Brunei, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, USA, Canada
Fee: S$100
Validity: 5 years or validity of passport, whichever is shorter
More information available here

I’ve written about the APEC card before but it bears repeating: if you’re a Singapore citizen, this little piece of plastic is your birthright. Holders of this card waltz through immigration queues in 21 different APEC and participating countries, and it’s an amazing feeling each time.

The catch, if you want to call it that, is that availability is restricted to:

  1. A bona fide business person representing an economically active business entity
  2. A member of a professional body (for example, a doctor, lawyer or accountant)
  3. A public officer representing a ministry, government department, economic agency or statutory board, travelling in your official capacity.

Criteria (2) and (3) seem pretty set in stone, but (1) is somewhat more ambiguous. Anyone who travels frequently for business would fit this category. If you believe you’re eligible, you’ll need to get your HR to fill out a support letter that looks something like this:

Letters need to be signed off by a member of senior management or your HR department. You can’t sign off on your own letter, unless you submit ACRA records to show that you’re also the company owner.

Processing time is understandably slow, given that you need to be cleared by 21 separate countries. You can check the status of your application here.

To start enjoying the benefits sooner, you can select up to five priority economies for pre-clearance. Once those five countries have cleared you, an interim ABTC will be sent which you can start using first. Protip: pick your five countries carefully, because you won’t get your interim card until all five pre-clearance economies have cleared you.

Image result for apec business card lane airport
APEC line at NRT

One common question is whether APEC cardholders can bring guests along with them to the priority line. The answer is YMMV. There are airports which explicitly prohibit this, there are airports which explicitly allow a certain number of guests, and there are airports which stay mum.

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If you’re a member of the following programs, you may be eligible for a reimbursement of the S$100 application fee:

Hong Kong e-Channel service

Image result for hong kong e-channel

Countries Covered: Hong Kong
Fee: None
Validity: Valid until current passport expires, after which re-enrolment is required
More information available here

A Singapore passport holder aged 11 or above can enroll for the e-Channel service if he/she has visited Hong Kong at least two times in the past 12 months. However, the visit requirement can be waived if the passport holder holds a HKSAR Travel Pass, an APEC Business Travel Card with Hong Kong clearance, or a frequent flyer programme membership card.

You will need to physically visit the office at the Hong Kong airport to get your registration done. There are two counters- the North Hall counter is open from 7.30am to 11pm, the South Hall counter is open from 10am to 6pm.

Location of Enrolment Offices at Airport

Japan Trusted Traveler Program

Image result for japan automated immigration

Countries Covered: Japan
Fee: 1,100 JPY
Validity: 3 years or expiry of passport, whichever comes first
More information available here

Technically speaking, Japan does have a Trusted Traveler Program that allows fast entry through automated passport gates. However, the qualification criteria is extremely stringent.

In addition to having visited Japan at least twice in the past 12 months, you must meet one of the following criteria:

This would disqualify most casual travelers to Japan.

Taiwan Speedy Immigration Counter

Countries Covered: Taiwan
Fee: None
Validity: One year
More information available here

Foreign visitors to Taiwan who have visited at least three times in the past 12 months can apply online for approval to use the Speedy Immigration Counter. If approved, you’ll receive a certificate to show upon arrival.

Credit: Jorg Jansen
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Note that this doesn’t give you access to the e-gates at the airport. Instead, you’ll queue at a special immigration counter for expedited processing.

Anecdotal accounts suggest that Singapore travelers can use the e-gates upon departure at Taipei International Airport.

UAE Smart Gate

Image result for dubai smart gate

Countries Covered: UAE
Fee: None
Validity: Unclear
More information available here

Singapore passport holders can register to use the Smart Gates at Dubai or Abu Dhabi airport after arriving in the UAE. The immigration officer at the regular passport control counter can process you on the spot if you request for it.

United States Global Entry

Image result for global entry terminal

Countries Covered: USA
Fee: US$100
Validity: 5 years
More information available here

Given the uncertainty of US immigration queues, the gruffness of customs officials and the whole “fortress America” mentality, I’d argue that Global Entry is worth applying for even if you don’t see yourself heading to the US more than a couple of times.

The best part about Global Entry is that it’s an (almost) completely human-free interaction upon landing. You find a kiosk, scan your passport, answer some customs questions and get a printed ticket. You pass this ticket to the official at the exit, and that’s it.

When you apply for Global Entry you also get admission into the TSA PreCheck program. This allows you to go through a simpler security process at the airport (shoes and light jackets stay on, laptops stay in bags, metal detector only). If you’ve ever traveled domestically in the US, you’ll know this can be a lifesaver.

Global Entry requires that you go for an interview and slots can be fully booked for months on end. However, the US Embassy organizes periodic sign up drives at AmCham where they try and clear as many people as possible over a few days.

If your passport expires while holding Global Entry, there’s no need to pay another US$100 fee. Simply go online and update your passport details.

No registration needed- use on arrival

Australia SmartGates

Image result for australia smartgate

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Singapore passport holders aged 16 or older can use the SmartGates upon arrival in Australia.

SmartGates are a two-step proces. You’ll first look for a self-service kiosk in the immigration area, where you scan your passport and answer some questions. Completing this issues a ticket which you use at the SmartGate itself. At the SmartGate, you’ll insert your ticket and have your photo taken. If your photo matches the one in your passport (don’t ask me how they ascertain this) the gate will open and you’ll get back your ticket, which you’ll need to present to an officer to exit the arrivals area.

Note that families or adults with young children under 10 cannot use the SmartGates.

New Zealand eGate

Singapore passport holders aged 12 and above can use eGate clearance at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown airports.

Thailand Auto Gate

Photo: Straits Times

Since August 2017, Singapore passport holders have been able to use the Auto Gates at Suvarnabhumi airport to enter Thailand. No prior registration is required- just show up and head for the gates.

UK e-passport gates

Image result for uk epassport gate

Since May 2019, Singaporeans visiting the UK are eligible to use automated ePassport gates. These can be found at the following airports:

  • Birmingham Airport (BHX)
  • Bristol Airport (BRS)
  • Cardiff Airport (CWL)
  • East Midlands Airport (EMA)
  • Edinburgh Airport (EDI)
  • Gatwick Airport (LGW)
  • Glasgow Airport (GLA)
  • Heathrow Airport (LHR)
  • London City Airport (LCY)
  • Luton Airport (LTN)
  • Manchester Airport (MAN)
  • Newcastle Airport (NCL)
  • Stansted Airport (STN)

ePassport gates can also be found at the Eurostar Brussels and Eurostar Paris terminals.

United States Automated Passport Control

Image result for automated passport control usa

If Global Entry is not for you and you can’t get an APEC card, it’s helpful to know that Singaporeans can use Automated Passport Control upon arrival in the USA.

These kiosks are available at

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Aruba Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA)
  • Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) [The US CBP operates a pre-clearance facility at Abu Dhabi airport where passengers bound for the US complete immigration formalities in AUH before landing in the US as a domestic flight]
  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
  • Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
  • Dublin International Airport (DUB)
  • Edmonton International Airport (YEG)
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
  • Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ)
  • Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
  • Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
  • Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  • Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
  • Montréal – Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL)
  • Nassau Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS)
  • New York – John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)
  • Portland International Airport (PDX)
  • Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)
  • Reno International Airport (RNO)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Seattle Sea-Tac Airport (SEA)
  • Tampa International Airport (TPA)
  • Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
  • Vancouver International Airport (YVR)
  • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • William P. Hobby International Airport (HOU)

The APC kiosks can be used by Singaporeans with valid ESTAs who have visited the US at least once after 2008. In other words, if this is your first-ever visit to the USA, you won’t be able to use the APC kiosk.

Conclusion

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Hopefully this post provides some clarity on the different options available to Singapore travelers. Our passport may be one of the mightiest in the world, but at immigration you’re in the same line as everyone else…unless you know about these programs beforehand!


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ipadfs
Guest
ipadfs

Is KrisFlyer consider as a FF for the purpose of HK e-channel registration?

Ben
Guest
Ben

Not entirely. See https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/hong-kong-macau/1072576-apply-e-channel-ff-status-7.html for the level of frequent flyer membership you need with each airline to get the HK e channel.

ipadfs
Guest
ipadfs

How do they count the “visited Hong Kong at least 3 times in the past 12 months”? If visited 2 times before, can enroll during the start of the third time? i.e. after flying in during the third visit and clearing immigration, can enroll?

Richard
Guest
Richard

They dont really check, can just apply, quite easy to get, however it only valid with your current passport.

JuxRebel
Guest
JuxRebel

Yes they do check. I was rejected because there was only 2 visited entries and I attempted to apply on my 3rd visit and got sent away.

VS
Guest
VS

I remember getting mine only on the 4th time. And you need to be entering by air all 4 times. i.e. going to Macau and back 4 times won’t work.

Alian
Guest
Alian

Ha my passport never works in Australia. Go there 3 to 4 times a year and my passport is only a year plus old. Ever airport I enter BNE SYD MEL PER when I scan it fails and I have to go old fashion way ….. sighz

Rlee
Guest
Rlee

Glad to know I’m not the only one. Haven’t managed to clear the facial recognition part even once.

Rlee
Guest
Rlee

Just received my APEC card last week woohoo! All the countries took about 2 months to approve, only Australia is outstanding. Thankfully I didn’t choose that as my priority country so I’ve got my interim card now.

Chris
Guest
Chris

On my 3rd APEC card.
Just a note, APEC card validity follows your passport. So when you replace/renew your passport due to expiry or running out of pages (most frequently my case), you will need to reapply the APEC card.

So the best way in my opinion is when the moment you get your new passport with max 5years validity, then you apply for the APEC card.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

Actually, the UK Registered Traveller programme can indeed be used by tourists. Even though Singaporeans don’t need a visa to visit the UK, you are still considered to be effectively holding a General Purpose Visitor category visa and this is one of the options when applying online. You just need to have entered the country four times in the last two years to qualify. You can also easily switch between visa categories, which is what I did when I switched from a student visa to visitor, without having to re-apply to the programme. The only inconvenience is that even after… Read more »

myra
Guest
myra

Can I check, with the APEC card, are you still required to get the business visa? Or can the APEC card double up as a business visa? Does anyone have any idea? 🙂

hsiaoyun
Member
hsiaoyun

Re ABTC: “You can’t sign off on your own letter, unless you submit ACRA records to show that you’re also the company owner.” — not necessarily the case, since I managed to do it. But you must be able to satisfactorily explain your purpose of travel (e.g. what goods/services you provide).

CD.
Guest
CD.

Re: Global Entry, you can also complete the interview upon landing at certain designated US airports (eg LAX, SFO). It means queueing up for an additional 30-45min after disembarking, but it saves you the hassle of arranging for an interview with the Embassy.

Ibrahim Iqbal
Guest
Ibrahim Iqbal

I don’t think you intended to include Abu Dhabi in US APC airports ..

Fred
Guest
Fred

As far as I know (my wife is Singaporean), Singaporeans can use automated gates in Amsterdam. I don’t remember about Frankfurt and Munich, though.

VS
Guest
VS

For Hong Kong it’s more of a transfer than a re-qualification. No need to do 3x in 12 months again.

JW
Guest
JW

Not really wanting to be party pusher, but this is something I really appreciate that PAP as the gov of sg has given Singaporeans. Look at the passports of our neighbours, none are even close to comparison.

Dominic Yeo
Guest
Dominic Yeo

In China,

Tell them you’re Singaporean.

Singaporean citizens, along with citizens of South Korea, Japan may use manned passport lines meant for citizens of the People’s Republic of China.

If Not, just tell them you’re Singaporean and they somehow offer fast track. This is especially handy if you’re flying China domestic where despite futuristic machines, locals and most nationalities have a everything out visual inspection policy.

Dominic Yeo
Guest
Dominic Yeo

Singaporeans may use lines for French citizens, EEC residents and SkyPriority (if flying on AF).

Ewen
Guest

Hi Aaron, good tips, thanks.

I’m a Singaporean travelling to the US and wishes to use automated passport control, your last option. Question is, how do we apply for VWP and ESTA, I can’t seemed to find the answer?

Is there a place to do so and I assume it’s through the US site and not our local ICA?

Thanks.