Your complete guide to the APEC Business Travel Card

Discover why the APEC card is a secret weapon in the passport wallet of Australian business travellers.

By Staff Writers, November 1 2022
Your complete guide to the APEC Business Travel Card

With the world reopening for business, Australians heading abroad are facing familiar headaches such as visa applications and lengthy immigration queues.

But there’s a way to bypass both of those hurdles on business trips throughout Asia, along with several South American countries and even Russia for good measure.

It’s the APEC Business Travel Card, and it’s surprisingly easy to obtain. Here’s what you need to know.

What is an APEC business travel card?

The APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) is issued and recognised by 19 member countries of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation pact to facilitate business travel across the APEC region. 

It significantly streamlines the travel process by removing the need to apply for a separate visa with each APEC country, with the bonus of letting you zip through airports using a special lane typically reserved for cabin crew and diplomats.

The following countries are full APEC members, in addition to Australia of course:

  • Brunei
  • Chile
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Indonesia
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Russia
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

While the USA and Canada are not full members, they still offer some fast-track benefits to APEC Business Travel Card holders.

Benefits of the APEC Business Travel card

There are two core benefits to holding an APEC Business Travel Card, and all of them will be music to the ears of any frequent flyer.

Visa-free travel: with an APEC Business Travel Card, you no longer need to apply for a visa to enter any of the 19 APEC member nations. That’s an immediate saver of time, hassles and money.

As a bonus, you can also stay up to 60 or even 90 days on each trip (the exact number depends on which country you’re visiting) and enjoy multiple entries within a consecutive 90-day period, again without the need for a special ‘multiple entry’ visa .

This all vastly simplifies the process of embarking upon a single business trip to Asia and visiting several countries within the region.

The only exception to this is the USA and Canada, which as ‘transitional’ APEC members still require travellers to complete a visa waiver.

Fast-track customs and immigration: say goodbye to all those times you’ve turned up at the airport, or landed in another country, only to be confronted with long snaking barely-moving lines for immigration and customs.

Your APEC Business Travel Card unlocks access to a special series of fast-track lanes at customs and immigration checkpoints.

These aren’t just the same priority lanes assigned to first and business class passengers: instead, they’re the special lanes used by cabin crew and the holders of diplomatic passports.

That’s the fastest of fast-tracks and it’ll get you to your hotel or meeting in record time – especially if you’re in the habit of being a ‘hand-luggage only’ flyer who eschews checked bags.

And because the APEC Business Travel Card is valid for five years, you’re in for five years of quicker, easier travel throughout Asia and beyond.

How do I apply for an APEC Business Travel Card?

While each APEC member country has its own set of guidelines for applying for an APEC Business Travel Card, the eligibility criteria and overall process is generally quite similar.

In Australia, applications for an APEC Business Travel Card are processed by the Department of Home Affairs and requires a $200 non-refundable application fee.

Although the APEC Business Travel Card was previously a physical card, the Australian Government has now moved to a ‘virtual’ card presented through a smartphone app available on the Apple iPhone and Google Android platforms.

To be eligible for an APEC Business Travel Card, Australian applicants must first of all travel frequently to an APEC country for business purposes, and have not been convicted of any criminal offence.

Assuming you tick both of those boxes, you can be any of the following:

  • an owner, director or board member of a registered business entity
  • Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer or regional or country head of a registered business entity
  • Chief Executive Officer of Chief Financial Officer “of an Australian-based business peak body”
  • a Vice President, Executive, Director, Senior Manager or similar of an eligible company
  • an employee of a registered business entity nominated by the CEO, CFO, regional head, owner or director of the organisation
  • a senior government official (defined as a member of the Australian Public Service who is at the Senior Executive Service level or above, or a state/territory equivalent)

Finally, your business or “Australian-based peak business body” must be “engaged in international trade or investment between APEC economies.”

That can cover “trading goods, services or conducting investment activities between APEC economies”, although the rules provide leniency “if the business is a start-up operation.”

The Department of Home Affairs website offers more detail on how it assesses if your business is  uitable for the APEC Business Travel Card.

APEC business travel card: FAQs

Do I still need a passport for entry into APEC economies?

Yes. The ABTC is not intended to replace the passport and you will be required to present it together with your ABTC when arriving and departing from participating economies.

What’s the processing time of my APEC business travel card application?

As a general rule, each application takes between two to three months to be processed. However, some economies require additional information and may impose additional eligibility criteria, which may delay the clearing process even further.

If you are planning to travel through the APEC region within a short time of applying, the Australian Government offers an interim ABTC option.  

This alternative will allow you to indicate five priority economies when submitting your application and receive a provisional card for those five economies whilst you wait to receive your official ABTC.

How long does it take for my ABTC to expire?

The ABTC is valid for five years. Note, however, that your ABTC card is associated with the specific passport you used in your application, so if your passport expires, you’ll have to update the details by submitting a copy of your new passport bio-data page through your ImmiAccount.

How can I renew my APEC business travel card?

Unfortunately, there is no established renewal process. Your only option is to file a new application once your current ABTC has expired, meaning you’ll once again have to wait for all the countries of the ABTC scheme to process and approve your application.

We therefore recommend submitting the application for the new ABTC at least three months before the expiry of your current card.

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

20 Apr 2015

Total posts 32

Be careful if you are applying for an APEC card for visa free travel to Vietnam. I've had my card since February and Vietnam has still not processed/updated my status. I was told that Vietnam stopped reviewing applications during Covid and have only recently started to assess applications. Assume there is quite a back log.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Feb 2017

Total posts 3

I have had all countries other than Vietnam,  PNG and of course RUS approved for approx 6 months so unsure if and when this will change although no issues with the interim virtual card entering IDN, MYS, PHL, SGP and AUS so far in this time.

31 Oct 2018

Total posts 13

Does the APEC Business Travel Card permit you to bring family members / companions through the diplomatic queue? Or does each person need a card?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Feb 2017

Total posts 3

While no direct experience with this i have witnessed what looks like family members being turned away at the counter and then ending up at the back of a huge line in MNL. Personally i would not risk as most immigration officers in SEA aren't the friendliest people at the best of times when not trying to bend the rules.              

25 Oct 2010

Total posts 25

I have had mixed experience here.  Mostly I am able to get my spouse through using the card.  But I was stopped in New Zealand once. Was told "this is only for business trips, you are clearly on a holiday, head to the other queue".  

25 Oct 2010

Total posts 25

sssshhhhhhhh!  The first rule of APEC card is dont talk about APEC card!!  The only "best tips on travelling" that I dont give as I (selfishly) want to make the APEC queues as short as possible in Oz, Japan, Korea, Thailand and more! 

04 Nov 2022

Total posts 1

Tim is correct. These APEC Cards are tremendous. I have managed to get a few friends through in different cities, always looking very business like, of course. They were cracking down on the pre-requisites a few years back and making it harder for people to get them. To renew your Card you have to prove that you made 4 trips to those countries listed in the last 12 months. I dont know what will happen to me as mine runs out in 6 months and because of Covid, I have not travelled. I sometimes use my physical card as an identity document as it has my face on it, so well worthwhile having one. Not sure about the virtual ones.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

14 Jul 2017

Total posts 17

Just be aware China has said it will not recognize virtual cards and you'll need to apply for a visa to enter China.  I've not been able to confirm if physical cards will be accepted.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 531

For the foreseeable future, foreigners aren't really able to enter China anyway. Everyone has to submit to quarantine so that's only going to become relevant once China fully reopens, which could be a while away.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Feb 2017

Total posts 3

Has anybody tried their luck at DPS using card while going in as tourist and what was the outcome?  

S
S

13 Sep 2013

Total posts 115

Have done it multiple times. Never had an issue


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