How long do APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) approvals take?

ABTC applications are a big waiting game- while some countries are fast, others drag their feet. Here's my experience, plus some tips you might not know.

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.

ABTC Homepage
FAQs

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. 

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

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 ICA_ABTC@ica.gov.sg with your full name and IC number. 

You can still use fast-track immigration without pre-clearance

Fast-track immigration is possible even without pre-clearance

Here’s one crucial point that not a lot of people know about.

The ABTC consists of two aspects:

  1. Pre-clearance (i.e. waiver of visa/ETA requirement)
  2. 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.

Conclusion

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?

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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Benjamin

Thanks for the insights Aaron. May I know if you have any idea if we would be issued a new card if we have a new country added a while later like Vietnam? How would we be notified if it is added? As I have an APEC card with all the countries except Vietnam for about a year now even though I selected it as priority.

Benjamin

Thanks!

Nightmare_Angel

Mine took more than a year to get approved and the delayed were coming from Vietnam and Malaysia. But the good thing is, the final card expired date is based on the date which the last country approves + 5 years.

Mike

APEC site states “Please note the five year validity of your ABTC begins from the date your first card is issued, whether this is an interim card or your final ABTC”. Hopefully its different in actual practice.

Daft

I can confirm I have a renewed 5 year validity from the date my Final card got issued, not interim card

Stajin

do you need a singapore passport to apply for apec in singapore or as long as its a member country you can apply for apec in singapore

Has anyone tried to take kids/family with you through the APEC line while traveling? What can we expect if one or both parents have APEC cards

CK Lim

I’ve done that numerous times. It’s usually fine for immediate family members, but it varies for extended family members.

Techtonic

I’m really frustrated because my interim card was issued in Nov 2021 and it’s now almost 2 years since then and I still have no idea when the approval for the other countries is coming. I’ve written to ICA a couple of times but received no response. I wasn’t even given an application reference number so I can’t even check the status on the link you provided. No idea what to do now to be honest.

Anony

Use your passport number

Sean

My ABTC is issued by NZL. The slowest APEC economy (note, the members of APEC are ‘economies’, not ‘countries’, which is why HKG and TWN are members) to approve was VNM, taking almost 12 months. NZL only issues virtual cards, which CHN now accepts.

LK LEE

With the ABTC, will you still require visa when entering countries like Australia?

Peter

I suppose not since they are part of the APEC member

George

My application is still labelled as Pending in the ICA site, but I was able to generate a list of countries from the ABTC status checker. Strange!

John

What is the application number?
Do we take the ABTC or just the last few numbers at the back?

Mark

I have the opposite problem, the ABTC status checker says “Either there are no approvals for this application or you have entered an invalid application/passport number” but ICA emailed that they are sending me the Interim Card. Perhaps the ABTC status checker is not updated yet.

komatineni

Note the passport numbers in ABTC status checker are ‘case sensitive’. Play with the number and hope you can find.

Tiat Jin

I am also waiting for the slow 3 lol…. My application went into a black hole from Dec last year until I finally found an email that I could send to them, i think in July. And then the countries started popping up. It is really really long drawn affair, but still worth it for the fast immigration clearance.

Anony

I have 5 pending after 2 months (PNG, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico and Malaysia). Went to Mexico APEC line. Quite useless as most are Americans and Mexicans who can go through the auto gates. Left the real foreigners in the line which are not many.

Alian

I got my apec interim card back in Nov 2022 (Applied in Sep 22) and full clearance since Apr 2023 but for 6 months I’ve not got my full card yet.

Just emailed ICA to enquire.

Some DP

John

if use APEC card for non business purpose, will they check ?

Howard

Thanks for the post.

Would note that it is way more efficient to visit ICA in person if you want them to issue you the interim card or the final card.

I received my interim card via post 5 working days after visiting the ICA where I informed them that I need the interim card issued. They were able to process my request on the spot and I received an automatic email confirmation that my interim card has been approved.

Megan Leong

Hi Howard, may I know how long did you wait at the ICA for them to process the interim card?

Alexander

Hi, I have 16 countries that approved my ABTC application. Unfortunately, Vietnam was on my priority list of countries, that have not been approved yet. I have written to ICA for an Interim card, but they referred me to another ICA website for FAQs and stated in their reply email to not reply to that email. I have tried calling them on their hotline and there are absolutely no options for you to select for the ABTC application. Is there anything I can do my next business trip is next month and I hope to get the card soon as… Read more »

Last edited 9 months ago by Alexander
Howard

Just visit ICA at Lavendar and told them to issue you the interim card without Vietnam. You will get your card within 7 working days. They are slow/inefficient with emails.

Alexandaer

Thank you Howard, will make a trip to ICA for this.

P L

DP: Applied in mid-July 2023, it’s now early October 2023. My outstanding countries are Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan. Unlike Aaron, Indonesia cleared pretty quickly for me. Thanks also and hat tip to Howard, the commenter who suggested to visit ICA in person. My email + chaser to ICA requesting for the interim card were ignored. I went down to ICA (go to level 3) on a weekday morning and was in and out in under 15 min. Immediately received the auto-generated email that my interim card was on its way to me via registered mail. The official… Read more »

Howard

I got the card on the 5th working day since my day of visit to the ICA

hermione

What if you are an australina based in Singapore? Who do you follow up with? As mine is under renew but its been a month and my card expires this month.

Rya

how long will it take for APEC card to be issued and sent to my mailing address after all 19 countries have approved? will there be any email notification to inform me that my card is fully approved and otw to my address?

Mark

Interesting data point, ICA sent me an email 3 months and 1 week after my application saying that they are still waiting for Japan to grant pre-clearance for the Interim Card. ICA offered to issue the Interim Card if I choose to forego the Japan pre-clearance. After replying yes, ICA almost immediately sent another email saying I’ll receive the Interim Card in 7 working days via registered mail.
I didn’t ask for the Interim Card, though I did email ICA twice in between to check on the status.

Mark

Here’s an update, I received the ABTC Card in my mailbox via registered mail today, which is 1 week and 1 day after that ICA email. But the surprising thing is I received the final ABTC card with all 19 economies, instead of an Interim Card without Japan. Throughout the application period, I had been checking the ABTC site (https://www.abtc-aps.org/abtc-core/status/checkresult.html) diligently but it has always said “Either there are no approvals for this application or you have entered an invalid application/passport number”. It still says that now, with the final ABTC card in my hands. In all, I received the… Read more »

Jonah

Surprisingly (and fortunately) I received mine within just 3.5months, as a full card! For some reason they never sent an interim card when the approvals came in, but it was a nice surprise to receive a full card from the get go at an even shorter wait than most.

D K

I believe the time to approval for each economy is on a case by case. For my case, I have all the economies approved except for Australia (which happens to be my priority economy and I used to be an Australia PR with clean records – makes me wonder why!). Anyway, I have applied for an interim card today since I have a trip coming up soon.