I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you qualify for an APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC), it’s totally worth the S$100 application fee.
Waltz past lengthy immigration queues. Avoid pesky visa or electronic travel authorisation fees. And with up to five years’ validity, even a semi-regular traveller should be able to get his/her money’s worth.
In fact, the biggest pain point about the ABTC isn’t the fee, it’s the waiting time. With 19 different countries involved in the approvals process, you’ll soon learn a new level of bureaucratic hell. ICA warns applicants that the processing time for an ABTC application ranges from three months to a year, and they’re not exaggerating.
I’ve already written a separate guide on applying for an ABTC, so in this post I’ll share about my approvals timeline, as well as a few other useful things waiting applicants should know.
My ABTC approvals timeline
Once ICA approves your application, you can track individual country approvals here. If you get an error message, it just means that ICA hasn’t approved you yet, so sit tight!
I submitted my application on 25 May 2023 and it was radio silence for more than a month before I started bugging them over email. Finally my application was approved on 19 July 2023.
Since then, here’s how the approvals have come:
|Economy||Date of Approval |
(days since SG approval)
|🇦🇺 Australia||19 Jul 23 (+0)|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||22 Jul 23 (+3)|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||26 Jul 23 (+7)|
|🇵🇭 Philippines||26 Jul 23 (+7)|
|🇨🇱 Chile||27 Jul 23 (+8)|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||27 Jul 23 (+8)|
|🇵🇪 Peru||27 Jul 23 (+8)|
|🇹🇭 Thailand||31 Jul 23 (+12)|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||5 Aug 23 (+17)|
|🇷🇺 Russia||8 Aug 23 (+20)|
|🇨🇳 China||10 Aug 23 (+22)|
|🇲🇽 Mexico||14 Aug 23 (+26)|
|🇹🇼 Taiwan||25 Aug 23 (+37)|
|🇧🇳 Brunei||25 Aug 23 (+37)|
|🇯🇵 Japan||30 Aug 23 (+42)|
|🇮🇩 Indonesia||25 Sep 23 (+68)|
|🇻🇳 Vietnam||3 Oct 23 (+76)|
|🇲🇾 Malaysia||10 Oct 23 (+83)|
|As a reminder, the USA and Canada are transitional APEC members which do not offer pre-clearance. However, you will enjoy fast-track immigration processing from the moment you receive your ABTC.|
As you can see, Australia, New Zealand, and surprisingly Papua New Guinea and the Philippines were very fast to clear. Within the first two weeks, I had eight approvals (plus Singapore, of course), and within the first month, 12.
Popular destinations like Japan and Taiwan sure took their time, but weren’t anywhere as bad as Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. The MileLioness waited almost a year for Vietnam to approve her, and based on community data points she’s not alone.
Priority economies don’t necessarily get cleared faster!
ABTC applicants are asked to select up to five priority economies. Once these economies clear you, an interim card will be issued for you can to start enjoying the perks.
In terms of approvals, nominating a country as a priority economy does not lead to faster processing. My priority economies were Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia. Australia, New Zealand and Thailand came relatively fast, but Japan took its time, and Indonesia still hasn’t granted approval.
If anything, you should avoid countries known to be slow in processing (e.g. Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam), because it can delay the issuance of your interim card.
You can still get an interim card without priority economy clearance
If you were unfortunate enough to nominate a few slower-processing economies on your priority list, don’t worry.
ICA will issue an interim ABTC so long as at least five economies have cleared you (whether or not they’re on your priority list). However, you’ll need to contact them to get this done. Simply send an email to [email protected] with your full name and IC number.
You can still use fast-track immigration without pre-clearance
Here’s one crucial point that not a lot of people know about.
The ABTC consists of two aspects:
- Pre-clearance (i.e. waiver of visa/ETA requirement)
- Fast-track immigration (i.e. express queue on arrival/departure)
You need to wait for individual country approval before you can enjoy pre-clearance. However, you do not need to wait for individual country approval before you can use fast-track immigration.
In other words, I can enjoy fast-track immigration at all ABTC-participating countries, regardless of whether or not that country appears on the back of my card. This is stated in black and white on the ABTC website:
|6. Travellers are exempted from applying for a visa only from economies listed on the back of their ABTC. If you wish to travel to an economy that is not listed on the back of your ABTC, you must present any visa, travel or identity document that is required by your destination economy for entry. However, any cardholder can use the fast-track lane in APEC economies’ airports regardless of which economies’ names are listed on the back of the card.|
But there’s one potential pitfall: immigration officers may not be aware of this. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of situations where ABTC cardholders were turned away from the fast-track line because the country they were visiting was not on the back of their card. And since it’s decidedly unwise to argue with the officials, all you can do in such a situation is curse your luck.
|❓Just one priority economy?|
Since pre-clearance approval and fast-track immigration are two separate things, what some ABTC applicants do is indicate just one priority economy on their card, which is known to clear applicants relatively quickly (Australia or New Zealand are good bets).
Once that country approves you, your interim ABTC should arrive and you can start enjoying fast-track immigration.
However, as mentioned above, this runs the risk of encountering an immigration official who wrongly believes you need the country on the back of your card to access the line.
Once ICA approves your ABTC application and dispatches it to other countries for processing, you can expect most pre-clearance approvals to roll in within two months. However, there will inevitably be some laggards that hold up the final approval- pitfalls of a multilateral process, I suppose.
The good news is that since the Singapore passport is already so powerful, pre-clearance isn’t so much the draw here (yes, I know we still need ETAs for some countries, and yes it’s nice to save on those junk fees) as is fast-track immigration. And fast-track immigration can be enjoyed from the moment you receive your physical ABTC, regardless of which countries are on the rear.
Of course, all this waiting time will be less of an issue when Singapore finally adopts the virtual ABTC, because your card will be constantly updated to always show the latest approvals. Let’s hope it happens sooner, rather than later.
ABTC applicants: Which countries were fast? Which ones were slow?