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

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.

Similar Articles

Comments

82 COMMENTS

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

82 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
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

Jay

Process for renewal is the same, but I got approved by most economies within a couple of months.

Dan dan

Can I check, status on ICA website is “pending” for 1.5 months. Is it normal until other countries have cleared me?

JIZ

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

leon

so the sole prop will also be the signatory for the letter?

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?

Vera

Hello! Can I know how long did it take for you to get your interim card from the time you applied ?

john

From what i know and what I have experienced, you will get your interim card once your priority economies have cleared you.

If pending priority like vietnam, then you will get an interim card after 6 months first.

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.

Peter

I realized it says upto 5. So it is not necessary to choose 5.

Jay

I choose 5, but I got my interim card with almost all economies approved (less 3) in less than 3 months. I guess the speed depends on your record with the economies.

Martin

What lanes can a apec card holder use while clearing us customs ? Can it take the place of global entry ?

john

Anyone who has applied this year got approved by PNG and VN yet? I am still missing this 2 after 6 months.

Thanks for reading.

john

thanks for the info, may i know when did your wife apply for it? i read somewhere that VN will only start to process ABTC applications when everything back to normal, which is hard to say, lol.

Ling

Me waiting for PNG and Vietnam, apply on
30 Aug 2022. I have forgotten which 5 prior country i have pick, is there anyway to find out. Thank you.

john

I applied on 5 june 2022 i think (VN was one of my priority economy which did not clear me yet – so no interim card), got an email saying on 1 november this month, around 5 months after my application that my overall application is still pending some economies (as above PNG and VN), and ICA issued me with an interim card with all the economies except the 2, and they will issue me a final card once all are cleared.

bin

I’ve waited for 6+ months too, based on previous experience, VN will be the last.

Jayce

I know someone who applied in the summer (July? August? I think) of 2021, NOT 2022, and still no Vietnam. Meanwhile, they have had PNG and Russia for months on end now. Vietnam was their #1 priority.

Jayce

No update on my acquaintance’s situation with Vietnam, but we’ve since tried calling the Vietnamese authorities directly, even had someone try to go in person, and they were given the runaround, told things like “such an office doesn’t exist,” etc. So honestly, who knows what’s going on over there.

As another reference point, another businessman I know applied in early 2021 and got all countries by the end of 2022.

Jayce

Huzzah, we have finally gotten Vietnam! After 1 year and 9 months from application…

Nightmare_Angel

I’m still missing VN after more than a year. Applied in Jan 2022 (renewal application but as good as fresh application) even stating VN as one of my priority country. Likewise for Russia which I can understand. ICA has chased VN and Russia immigration office 2x but nothing has changed. ;(

john

Hi, has PNG cleared you yet? as above i am just missing PNG and VN since I applied in June 2022.

Still wondering when will VN ever clear since their directive is to only process applications once covid is over. But heck they do not even check for vaccinations now.

john

yep just missing this 2 since i applied in June 2022, VN, IDR and TH have one of the slowest immigrations..

Jay

I just got my final card after 1.5 years. The new card has a validity of 5 years from the date it was printed. Well worth the VN delay if you ask me, since I got 6+ years of validity from my $100. LOL.

john

Great to hear, means everyone will need minimum 1.5 years to get approved by VN. So it means mine should be end of this year 2023 then. Haha.

Bin

I also still missing PNG and VN – applied also around June 2022.. VN probably will be the last.

john

got PNG yesterday, so now just left with VN…

Bin

Finally got the last one- VN
total wait= 1 year

Leon

So did you get your interim card or no? Despite VN not cleared as your priority country.

Jay

It’s pretty strange. I renewed 1 year 6 months ago, got my interim card after 3 months. 6 months after renewing, I checked the official ABTC site and saw that I was cleared for all economies, but ICA said VN didn’t get back. Last week, I went down to ICA and talked to the officer, she said that VN never replied them (emails?) for more than a year. Apparently VN hasn’t approved anyone by email for over a year. Anyway I showed the officer the ABTC site status, she fiddled with the system, and told me that mine was just… Read more »

Jay

https://www.abtc-aps.org/abtc-core/status/check.html

If anyone wants to check if they had been fully approved.

Migas

is it possible for friends or family to piggyback the ABTC card holder to clear immigrations faster?

Migas

Intending to use this to clear immigrations to and from Johor

P H

in theory no, whether you can or not depends on immigration officer’s mood that day. China is consistently no unless the piggybackee is a Chinese citizen.
Thailand have been ok for me.
Hong Kong is mood dependent.

Never tried Johor crossing for me because no point, same line for residents and APEC holders. INTO Johor, I never had the chance, been using MACS till it discontinued but never walked CIQ since.

Abc

My experience is different in china (pre COVID at least). In guangzhou had directed my colleague to the normal queue, but the pre-immigration lady checking for abtc said I could take my colleague through.
Jakarta my experience was no for guests. Tokyo I had a family member get turned back from abtc queue because he had ticked holiday as purpose of trip.
Really is YMMV, don’t complain if youre not allowed because it’s reallu not a privilege they owe you

P H

Just letting you all know Virtual ABTC is somewhat different. China and Russia withdrew from it and not much information about it.

I was approved for China for 1.5 months and they withdrew it later.

Peter

Hi, is the ABTC card delivered home or have to collect from ICA?

Jason

Delivered to the address stated on the application

Karen

Hi, one question – I am a HK citizen and holding a SPR. Can I submit my application in Singapore ICA or have to do it in Hong Kong?

P H

Obviously not Singapore ICA. You need to check the procedures for HK if they allow you to apply via Chinese embassy. But judging that it is not easy for Mainlanders to get ABTC, I doubt they will entertain an overseas request of ABTC application.

By luck HK may have some accommodations. Only saying this because some countries do allow their overseas residing citizens to get ABTC so long they meet the local equivalent requirements.

Sebastian

Has anyone successfully brought a companion in the ABTC lane at Taoyuan International Airport Taipei?

P H

yes, but 2012-2014. haven’t been there since.

anon

is the APEC business travel card strictly for Singaporeans? what about foreigners living in Singapore?

ezzz

Foreigners cannot apply from ICA. They have to apply from their home country.

David

I’m from Singapore, but I own a company in Viet Nam. I live in Viet Nam for a long time. Can you help me to find agency apply documents for APEC card for me? Email contact: [email protected]

Bin

You will need to submit the application using your Singpass

Dave

Anyone still missing VN approval only?

Leon

Anyone knows if you can change the priority countries for interim card? I put VN as one of the countries.. 😞

Does that mean I will not get my interim card soon?

I read that by 6 months the interim card will be issued maybe just excluding the not approved ones..

Dave

If I had known, will not have put VN as priority countries. I had contacted ICA regarding the change of priority countries, there is no reply to this issue.

Leon

did you get your interim card? its says they will issue interim after 6 months maybe just excluding vn

john

yep i am, it has been 11 months since i applied, everyone (including PNG last month) cleared me already, except VN.

john

Just checked and I got VN cleared, last time i checked was a week ago.

So in total it took me 11 months.

May I know how long will the final card take to be sent to the address? Because I am going VN in early july so I do hope to get the card before then.

Dave

Same qn here, let me know when you have gotten ur final card.

Dave

VN cleared me recently

Vera

Can anyone share with me how long it takes for the interim card to be approved or delivered? I only put China as my priority country since I’m only going to China and not other countries for business. When I checked the approval status it shows that China has been cleared. Does this mean I will get my interim card soon?

john

Hi, replied to your post on top before reading this.

If you put China as the only priority, you will get your interim card once China clears you, so now you are just waiting for the card.

But then you will not get your interim card after 6 months since you should have gotten it soon after China clears you as I mentioned above.

Then it is a long wait for the final card.

Last edited 9 months ago by john
TFSM

Does SMC membership mean that I can apply ? physician here.

D K

Get SMA to write letter for you. SMC is a statutory board and can be fairly nasty in their reply.

D K

Hi Aaron, I am the director of my company and got my APEC approved via professional pathway several years ago. Recently I supported my wife’s application for APEC, as we got tired of the inconsistencies of each economy (Thailand will tell you off for bringing family, Taiwan will laugh at you for leaving your family in the general queue, USA threatens to send you back the line for non business related visit etc). My wife holds a supporting administrative role in my company. Her application was rejected by ICA citing insufficient grounds for official travel. Do you have any comments… Read more »

Zaos

Doesn’t a busy Director need a competent secretary / assistant to help the director? Can’t really help if not travelling with on a biz trip.

CREDIT CARD SIGN UP BONUSES

Advertisment

Featured Deals

Advertisment

Follow us

7,110FansLike
10,313FollowersFollow

TAGS