Full guide: Applying for an APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) in Singapore

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Skip the immigration queues and avoid visa/ETA requirements with the APEC Business Travel Card- yours for just S$100.

With borders reopening around the world, travellers are once again coming to grips with pre-COVD headaches like visa/electronic travel authorisation (ETA) requirements and long queues at immigration.

But what if I told you there was a way of enjoying visa/ETA-free travel and expedited immigration clearance for up to five years, all for just S$100?

All it takes is an APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC). 

What is the ABTC?

ABTC Homepage
FAQs

The ABTC is a scheme designed to facilitate the movement of business travellers between APEC member economies, namely: 

🌎 ABTC-participating Countries
  • Australia
  • Brunei
  • Canada*
  • Chile
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Indonesia
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Russia
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • United States*
  • Vietnam
*Transitional members offering expedited immigration, but not visa/ETA-free entry

ABTC cardholders enjoy two main perks: 

  1. Fast-track immigration through special APEC lanes at participating airports
  2. Multiple, short-term entries to precleared APEC economies without visa or ETA requirements

Expedited immigration

ABTC cardholders get access to priority immigration lanes at participating airports, which can be either a mild convenience or an absolute lifesaver. Remember, even if you’re a regular First or Business Class traveller, most airports don’t have priority immigration queues for premium cabin passengers!

An APEC Business Travel Card lets you skip the immigration queue in participating countries

FYI: Some countries go above and beyond the requirements by having an expedited security lane as well for ABTC cardholders, such as Bangkok.

Bangkok premium immigration and security lane
❓ Can I bring a companion?

This is a classic case of YMMV. By right, the rule is 1 card, 1 person. By left, I’ve successfully used the priority lane in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand with a +1 in tow. However, I’ve heard that certain countries are much stricter; Japan, for instance, requires every person to have their own card.

It’s probably also a question of reasonableness. Bringing one guest may be shrugged at, but bringing a family of four is likely to be frowned upon.

Visa/ETA-free entry

ABTC cardholders do not need to apply for a visa or ETA when visiting APEC countries. 

For example, ABTC holders are exempt from applying for a K-ETA when travelling to South Korea, or an NZeTA when going to New Zealand. In fact, the NZeTA app was intelligent enough to figure out I had an ABTC, and updated my records accordingly!

For the maximum duration you can stay in each country when entering via the ABTC, refer to this table.

⚠️ Canada and USA travel

Do note that Canada and the USA are transitional members of APEC, which means they do not participate in the preclearance aspect of the ABTC scheme.

Therefore, ABTC cardholders are still required to apply for an eTA (CAD$7) or ESTA (US$21), or a visa if required. 

Do also note that the ABTC cannot be used by persons wishing to engage in paid employment or a working holiday, or professional athletes, news correspondents, entertainers, musicians, artists or persons engaged in similar occupations.

While the ABTC is “not designed for tourism purposes”, in practice it can also be used when entering a country for non-business purposes. You should, of course, honestly declare the purpose of your visit when asked by an immigration official. 

Who is eligible to apply?

To apply for an ABTC in Singapore, you must be a Singapore citizen without any past criminal convictions, and one of the following:

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

(2) and (3) are pretty straightforward, but (1) is more open to interpretation. 

Here’s the good news: there’s no minimum travel or minimum company size requirement. So long as you travel abroad for business, you’re eligible to apply for an ABTC.

Where it gets tricky is that unless you’re the director of your company (and can provide ACRA records to support it), you can’t sign your own letter. Support letters must be on the company’s letter head (or failing which, endorsed by the company stamp), and signed by a member of senior management or a HR personnel. 

Sample support letter

So it really boils down to the kind of relationship you have with your HR department. Some will sign it without so much as a glance, others will make you jump through every hoop imaginable. Having dealt with the latter before, I can only offer my commiserations. 

ICA provides the following templates (in PDF format) for your reference:

Applying for an ABTC in Singapore

ABTC Application

Applications for the ABTC in Singapore are processed via ICA. There is a S$100 non-refundable application fee, and the ABTC is valid for five years or the validity period of your passport, whichever is shorter.

This means that if your passport is due to expire soon, you may want to hold off on applying for an ABTC until you receive a replacement. The ABTC is tied to a specific passport number, so if you replace your passport, you need a new ABTC. 

🛂 Application fee reimbursement

Solitaire PPS Club members and Standard Chartered Priority Banking customers are eligible for a reimbursement of the S$100 application fee for the ABTC.

This only applies to the main cardholder (Solitaire PPS Club), or one account holder (in cases where the Priority Banking account is a joint one).

Processing time is understandably slow, given the number of countries involved. ICA stipulates a wait time of at least 3 months, and in practice I’ve waited 5-6 months for my past two cards. 

To start enjoying the benefits sooner, you can select up to five priority economies for pre-clearance during the application process. Once those five countries have cleared you, an interim ABTC will be sent which you can begin using first.

Strictly speaking, each country does their own pre-clearance and it’s possible you’ll get approved by 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.

apecsample

You can track which countries have approved your application via this link. Alternatively, you can write to [email protected] to check on your application status (provide your full name and IC number).

What about the virtual ABTC?

Virtual ABTC

In March 2021, the APEC Business Mobility Group announced the launch of a virtual ABTC, which is exactly what it sounds like: an app-based version of the ABTC. 

The virtual ABTC is an innovative new method for travelling on the ABTC. It brings the existing Scheme into the digital era, providing the much-valued service on cardholder’s smart devices. The virtual ABTC is a more secure, efficient, convenient and user-friendly service. Importantly, it provides real-time updates, so that a cardholder can immediately benefit from using their virtual-ABTC

-APEC BMG

To date, the virtual ABTC has been rolled out for the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Brunei
  • Chile
  • Indonesia
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Peru
  • Philippines

Given its fetish for all things digital, Singapore is surprisingly absent from the list. I’m sure ICA is working on it though, and hopefully this will lead to faster issuance going forward.

Conclusion

If you’re a Singapore citizen (or a citizen of any other eligible country) who travels for work, paying S$100 to avoid all visa/ETA fees and immigration queues for up to five years is a no-brainer.

The main issue I foresee is getting someone to sign off on the support letter, assuming you don’t run your own company or aren’t a member of a professional body. But once you’ve cleared that hurdle, waltzing up to the shortest immigration queue every time is one of the best feelings in the world.

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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anon

If I own a $1 company for amex highflyer, is that still a valid “I need to travel” reason for the card?

Oscar The Grouch

If you are a director of the $1 company, in theory you can sign off on that required supporting letter, but open to be questioned on the “…bona fide business person representing an economically active business entity” requirement. If the viability of the business is checked at least of the face of it and found to be lacking, I assume they can deny the application?

Maybe try anyways and have a plausible business case for the $1 company?

anon2

Is renewal as complicated as this? Or do I also need HR letter for renewals

Oscar The Grouch

Yes. Renewal is as good as a new application.

Yiwei

Renewals are the same as new applications

JIZ

Will a sole proprietorship business owner be able to apply for the ABTC?

Jeremy

a silly question – do i have to submit my passport while waiting for the approval?

Mike

No – you submit the application form. You keep your passport for continued use ….. 8-).

Zach

Based on your link: https://www.apec.org/docs/default-source/groups/abtc/abtc-economy-information-table.pdf, it says ABTC cancelled for AUS/NZL/PNG. Does this mean the ABTC card does not apply for these 3 countries anymore?

Yiwei

It means if you apply for additional visa for these 3 countries, it will revoke your ABTC visa, hence you should use ABTC as visa to enter and not apply for any new visas for AUS/NZL/PNG

Ak

Any body knew the processes of the public office route? Can just my boss to approve?

Melv

I applied for the ABTC many moons ago and you’re right, it’s a grand feeling to be able to waltz up to the dedicated immigration lane for expedited clearance. However, when it was time to renew it, I was rejected. No reason given. I appealed unsuccessfully. It was good while it lasted.

SLAAL

Hi, what’s your nationality?

Nightmare_Angel

Applied at the start of the year and strangely still pending Vietnam, Malaysia and Russia (this I can understand) approval. Meanwhile, gotten the interim card. This is an essential card if you are a frequent traveler around SEA countries!

JJJJ

I got approved for Russia haha. Applied 2 weeks back.

Andrew

I’m on an Australian passport and had for 1 year now. Same issue, those 3 economies missing. It’s a pain for an Aussie to enter Vietnam because I need a visa

Alian

Applied in June. The following countries have approved

Australia
Brunei Darussalam
Chile
China
Hong Kong, China
Indonesia
Japan
Korea
Mexico
New Zealand
Peru
Philippines
Russia
Singapore
Thailand

But my application status is still pending. Still a few countries left. Interesting Russia no issue for me

Oscar The Grouch

Same here. Applied last Nov, got my interim in Feb, but still have a few countries left (Vietnam, PNG and Brunei). Does this mean those have not cleared? How would we know if the application has been finalised one way or other, i.e. those not approved have rejected?

Tuan

“To start enjoying the benefits sooner, you can select up to five priority economies” So do you know which economies approve faster the others? So that I can get the card faster? Thanks

Peter

Yes, that will be good to know. Thanks.

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