Australians set for SmartGate-style US Customs fast track

By John Walton, May 7 2012
Australians set for SmartGate-style US Customs fast track

Those interminable queues at US airports could soon be a thing of the past, with US government planning to let Aussies with smartchipped e-passports use the fast-track Global Entry lane at airports such as Los Angeles and New York.

In return, Americans visiting our shores will be able to swipe their passports through the 'SmartGate' channels.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare signed a Joint Statement on Frequent Traveller Facilitation with US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano over the weekend that would grant reciprocal fast-track access for the US and Australian systems.

The Joint Statement "commits Australia and the US to exploring the potential for linking the US Global Entry Program with the Australian SmartGate program," according to a Government statement.

"Smartgate currently allows eligible Australians and New Zealanders with e-passports to simply use their passport to clear Customs instead of waiting in line" Minister Jason Clare explained. "The United States has a similar trusted traveller program called Global Entry that allows eligible passport holders to be screened faster at their borders."

"Today we have committed to working together to investigate if we can link the two systems to make it easier for Australians and Americans travelling between our countries to get through Customs."

Being 'committing to working together' is all very well, but since the US Global Entry program requires "a rigorous background check and interview before enrollment", it wouldn't be surprising if it takes a fair bit of negotiation and a visit to the US Embassy in Canberra or Consulates General in Sydney, Melbourne or Perth.

Curious about how SmartGate works? We've got a photo and video guide to explain the ins and outs of the biometric system.

SmartGate is available at every Australian international airport: Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne, Perth, Darwin and the Gold Coast. (Sorry Hobart, looks like you don't really count as "international" enough for SmartGate.)

The biometric chips required to use SmartGate are embedded in every passport issued since 24 October 2005.

If the US and Australian governments get their acts together and make this happen, it's just one more reason to think about upgrading your non-biometric passport.

Airline industry organisation IATA is counting on biometric measures like these to enable the airport security checkpoint of the future.

For the very latest business travel news and reviews, follow us on Twitter: we're @AusBT.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


22 Jun 2011

Total posts 10

How does Smartgate enable you "to clear Customs instead of waiting in line". I can clear immigration via SmartGate but still end up waiting in line at customs to get out. Minister Jason Clare seems unfamiliar with how it actually works ... (or am I missing something?).  At times, the customs lines in Melbourne are interminable and take far longer than immigration.

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