Airport fast lanes proliferate along the Pacific Rim
Business travel between North America and the Asia Pacific region -- now the world’s largest air travel market -- should become a little bit easier following the US’s enrolment in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Traveller Card programme.
Through the program, cardholders from Pacific Rim nations get expedited visa processing and access to express immigration lanes upon arrival and departure, putting an end to long, tedious, jetlagged waits in airport passport queues after multi-hour flights across the Pacific.
Participating Pacific Rim nations include Australia, Brunei, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papau-New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The program is available at international airports in the US and in eight international airports in Canada, though for now, Canada, Russia and the United States are transitional members — which means that they only offer access to faster immigration lines; they don’t offer reciprocal visa arrangements as fully participating members do.
To get the card, you must be a citizen of a participating country, travel frequently among member countries on business, obtain any necessary visas and not have a criminal record. The fee for the card (around $100) varies by country, and potential cardholders apply via appropriate home country offices.
In addition, the US and South Korea recently announced the implementation of a new trusted traveller arrangement, which could mean faster immigration processing times through the use of electronic kiosks instead of personal interviews with agents. Starting in early 2012, this will link the popular US Global Entry program and Korea’s Smart Entry System, allowing eligible, pre-screened US and Korean business travellers to bypass long lines and clear immigration using automated border gates that read traveller’s biometric data such as fingerprints or iris scans when travelling between the two countries. A similar arrangement between the US and Singapore is also in the works, although there’s no timetable for implementation. Currently, only frequent travellers from the US, Canada, Mexico and the Netherlands are eligible for the US Global Entry program. Germany and the UK are expected to offer similar reciprocal benefits soon.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel