Understanding the APEC business travel card

Meeting

There’s a lot to planning and managing business travel - especially when it comes to frequent international travel. Not all countries have the same entry requirements and visas, and because of this, it’s not unusual for travellers to find themselves stuck in long immigration lines on arrival and departure.

If you’re in charge of organising the business travel for your workplace, your corporate travel partner can help you navigate the maze, and if in doubt, put you in touch with a visa advisory service, like Travcorp.

For frequent travellers, the APEC business travel card (ABTC) is worth considering. Its main purpose is to streamline the entry process into APEC countries - making business travel managers’ lives easier and accelerating immigration processing for travellers.

This detailed article explains everything you need to know about the APEC business travel card.

Here’s what we’ll cover:
  • What is the ABTC?
  • What are its key benefits?
  • The 21 members of APEC and which are in the ABTC scheme
  • Fully participating and transitional members
  • Who is eligible?
  • Application criteria for New Zealand business travellers
  • Do I still need a visa and passport?
  • Business versus personal travel
  • When a traveller’s passport is lost, stolen or expired
  • Why your business needs an APEC business travel card

What is the APEC business travel card?

APEC, or the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, was formed in 1989 to help member nations discuss free trade and economic cooperation. In total 21 economies in the Asia Pacific region are members, with a focus on improving and facilitating business relationships, as well as supporting economic growth in the region - making it easier for goods, investments and people to move between member countries.

The APEC business travel card (ABTC) programme facilitates short-term business travel for eligible business travellers in the APEC region. It streamlines the entry process - visas and immigration - into APEC economies. Rather than applying for entry documentation for each country separately, New Zealand business travellers can apply once through Immigration New Zealand, and their information will be used for multiple destinations.

If successful, applicants are issued with ABTCs, giving them entry authority into other fully participating countries - effectively pre-clearance for short-term business travel of up to 90 days. Cardholders also benefit from express immigration processing at each country’s major international airport through special APEC lanes.

Key benefits of an APEC business travel card

Girl in airport with passport

There are two main benefits for business travellers holding APEC business travel cards:

  1. Express immigration - entry and exit through APEC lanes in the major international airports of fully participating and transitional APEC countries
  2. Apply for one, entry to many - multiple entries to fully participating countries for up to 90 days each visit without having to make separate visa applications

The 21 members of APEC, and those in the ABTC scheme

There are 19 countries that are fully participating members of APEC:

  • Australia
  • Brunei Darussalam
  • Chile
  • China
  • Hong Kong (China)
  • Indonesia
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Peru
  • The Philippines
  • The Russian Federation
  • Singapore
  • Chinese Taipei
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

There are also two transitional members: Canada and the United States.

When you apply for an APEC business travel card, you will need to specify which countries you require clearance for as these will be listed on the back of your ABTC when it’s granted. If you need to travel to a country not listed on the back of your ABTC, you’ll need to present the normal entry documentation. However as a cardholder, you can still use the APEC lanes in international airports no matter which countries you have printed on your ABTC.

Fully participating and transitional members of APEC

Globe

As mentioned previously, 19 member nations are deemed fully participating members. This means they participate in the pre-clearance aspect of the ABTC programme.

Canada and the United States are not fully participating members, but rather transitional members. This means they do not participate in the pre-clearance aspect of the ABTC programme, but they do still allow ABTC cardholders to use the fast-track immigration lanes at participating airports.

So how does this affect your business travel? ABTC holders granted pre-clearance by fully participating APEC countries do not need to make separate visa applications before being permitted to travel to those countries. On the back of your travellers’ ABTC will be a list of the APEC countries they have been granted pre-clearance for - and they will not be required to present any other entry documentation when they arrive at their destination.

ABTC holders travelling to transitional countries - Canada and the USA - will need to present any visas, travel or other entry documentation when they arrive, as pre-clearance has not been granted. The same goes for any country your business travellers do not have listed on their ABTCs - whether the country is fully participating or transitional.

Best practice is to make sure you apply for pre-clearance to all APEC countries you might travel to in the next five years. Check the back of your ABTC when it arrives, and before departure; if travelling to a transitional APEC member country, check the entry requirements before travel to make sure your business traveller is prepared with the right documents.

Who is eligible for an ABTC?

The general eligibility criteria for an ABTC are relatively simple. They are available to all bona fide business travellers, i.e. business people engaged in trade and investment activities who are:

  • passport holders from participating countries,
  • travel frequently to participating countries for business, and
  • have a clean criminal record.

On top of those three mandatory requirements, each APEC member can impose additional eligibility criteria and will vet its applicants.

Do I still need a visa and passport?

Business traveller checking in

Let’s start with passports. The ABTC does not replace your passport, so your business travellers still need to present valid passports on arrival and departure.

When it comes to visas, if your business travellers are headed to a fully participating APEC member country, they do not need to submit separate visa applications - so long as the country is listed on the backs of their ABTC. This means they have been granted pre-clearance.

If your business travellers are travelling to a transitional APEC country, or a fully participating country from which they have not received pre-clearance, they will need to make separate visa applications and present any travel and identity documents as required on arrival. 

Always check the conditions of your business’s ABTCs before any staff members travel, and check entry requirements for their destination country.

Business versus personal travel on an APEC business travel card

ABTCs are designed specifically for frequent business travellers within the APEC region. Therefore, they can only be used for business travel purposes. If you decide to visit any APEC member country for personal reasons, say a holiday with your family, you will need to apply for the appropriate visa before travelling - and each family member will need one too.

Other circumstances where an ABTC cannot be used:

  • Students travelling
  • For a business traveller’s spouse and children
  • For a person who wishes to engage in paid employment or a working holiday

Professional athletes, news correspondents, entertainers, musicians, artists or persons engaged in similar occupations

When a traveller’s passport is lost, stolen or expired

Passport

For business travellers’ ABTCs to remain valid, they need valid passports. The passport number listed on your business traveller’s ABTC must match the current passport. This means if a passport expires or is lost, and is renewed or replaced, the ABTC will also need to be updated or renewed. Some APEC countries will simply issue you a new card if your application is still valid - New Zealand is one - but some may require you to purchase a new one. It’s best to contact your home country. Make sure to always report a stolen passport to the police.

Similarly, if an ABTC is lost or stolen, this should be reported to the police and your home country. In New Zealand, if the ABTC is still valid, you’ll be asked to send a scanned copy of your passport to abtc@mbie.govt.nz before you can be issued with a new card.

Why your business needs an APEC business travel card

The APEC business travel card is designed to meet the needs of business travellers who engage frequently in international short-term travel - not replace visa applications for infrequent travel.

Corporate Traveller's National Sales Leader, Aisling Nevin, says she often recommends an ABTC to clients who travel overseas within the APEC region at least six times a year.

If you organise business travel as part of your role in a small to medium-size business, and your business traveller travels internationally at least six times a year, you should consider applying for an ABTC.

Still unsure whether an ABTC is right for your business? Talk to your dedicated Travel Expert or contact us to learn more.

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