The expert's guide to getting through airport customs faster

Business travel comes with many hurdles and headaches which you just don't need – so the more of those you can skip, the better.

Case in point: those long lines at airport immigration checkpoints, especially on arrival. You may be able to use the business class or first class check-in counters when you're flying out, along with express lanes or fast track channels, but it's hard to avoid the queue at customs.

That's especially galling if you're travelling in 'carry-on only' mode and you're primed to walk straight off the plane and be on the way to your hotel or your first meeting (or duck into the airport's arrivals lounge to freshen up first).

Here are four ways to scoot past the queue and be in a taxi headed for your hotel while other passengers on the same flight are still standing in line.


Formally known as the APEC Business trip Card, this is the trump card for corporate high-flyers.

It's available to eligible citizens of almost two dozen countries belonging to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. That roster includes Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taipei and Thailand… and, in a transitional agreement, the USA.

Not everybody is eligible: in addition to frequently visiting APEC countries for business you need to be "engaged in international trade or investment between APEC economies", according to the .

But if you qualify, this card (plus a $200 payment) unlocks those uncrowded inbound and outbound APEC lanes at the airports of member countries. APEC lanes are often the same lanes used by diplomats and airline crew, so you know you're on the fast track.

What's more, in most cases the APEC card replaces a visa (even for China) and provides multiple entries of up to 90 days, with the card itself valid for five years.


Singapore eIACS

The 'enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System' (eIACS) is Singapore's equivalent of Australia's automated SmartGate passport system, and is free to Australians who regularly visit Singapore.

The criteria are fairly modest: you need to have entered and exited Singapore – not simply made an in-transit stop at the airport – at least three times in the previous 12 months, using the same passport.

That's a doddle for most business travellers, and eIACS approval coverts you for up to five years.

Hidden counters

There's an eIACS Enrolment Centre in Changi's Terminal 3 – it's just off to your right, immediately after clearing outbound passport control – but this isn't convenient for everyone.

For starters, the weekday opening hours of 8am to 5pm don't always suit the arrival time of flights from Australia – nor does its location at T3, if you've arrived on a Qantas or British Airways flight at T1.

And let's face it, sometimes you just want to get out of the airport and check into your hotel.

That's where you might find it more convenient to register for eIACS at the head office of the country's Immigration & Checkpoints Authority in downtown Singapore.

Book ahead

The ICA building is handily located next to Lavender MRT station, which is on the green East-West line (station EW11).

You'll need to visit the to make an 'e-Appointment' – slots are 1 minutes apart between 8am and 5pm weekdays, and 8am to 1pm Saturdays – and download and fill out the two-page eIACS application form.

Once you get to the ICA building it's all very fast, straight-forward and typically Singaporean. My eIACS enrollment was done in 10 minutes.

Not only will you be able to use the automated eIACS or Singapore residents lanes at Changi Airport, you won't need to complete those arrival cards.

Hong Kong e-Channel

Also known as the ', this is free and available to all Australian passport holders – even on their first visit to Hong Kong – or top-tier frequent flyers holding the likes of a Qantas Gold or Platinum card, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Gold and PPS members and all Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club members.

Registration can be done at Hong Kong airport's two e-Channel registration offices (located either side of the main immigration channel, before you reach the baggage belts). If you've got checked luggage, I suggest enrolling in the Frequent Visitor e-Channel scheme while you wait for your bags to hit the belt.

An alternative is to sign up at Hong Kong Immigration Headquarters at Immigration Tower, .

There's no charge, and registration is valid until your passport expires.

As with Singapore's eIACS system, Hong Kong's Enrolled Frequent Visitor scheme authorises your passport to use the country's automated e-Channel gates both coming and going, and for bonus points removes the need to fill out an arrivals form.

UK Registered Traveller

Bound for Blighty? If you've visited the UK at least 4 times in the last 24 months, consider signing up for the .

You'll be able to use UK and EU passport entry lanes or ePassport gates, and won't need to fill in a landing card.

The Registered Traveller program covers a dozen UK airports (including the major gateways of Heathrow, Gatwick and London City) as well as Eurostar stations including Paris.

The only downside is the cost: it's a steep £70 ($130) for the first year plus £50 ($90) to renew each year following.