SmartGate: scanning your passport and face at the airport

By danwarne, July 1 2011
SmartGate: scanning your passport and face at the airport

If you like the self-service nature of Qantas' Next-Gen Check-in, you'll want to try out the Australian Government's  SmartGate computerised immigration system, which, from today, is available in every Australian international airport.

The eighth and final airport, Darwin International, launched SmartGate this morning, allowing Australian and NZ e-Passport holders on all incoming international flights to go through immigration without actually having to deal with a border inspector.

The first SmartGate opened at Brisbane in 2007 and has been rolling out progressively since, and is now available in Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne, Perth, Darwin and the Gold Coast.

The government says more than 3.5 million travellers have used SmartGate, including 986,000 people this year.

SmartGate uses a wireless chip that has been embedded in passports issued since 24th October 2005, along with face recognition technology to perform the customs and immigration checks that are usually conducted by a Customs and Border Protection officer.

How SmartGate works

To use SmartGate, you have to be an Australian or New Zealand resident, with an e-Passport and be aged 18 years or over.

You can tell if your passport is an e-passport by looking at the bottom of the front cover for the printed e-passport symbol, which looks a bit like the metal contacts of a SIM-card.

All passports issued after 24th October 2005 are e-passports.

There's no need to pre-register to use SmartGate -- anyone meeting the above criteria can use it.

When you get off your international flight and arrive into the customs hall, you firstly go to a SmartGate kiosk, which you answer some standard questions on to check that you're eligible.

It will also do facial recognition on you at that point to check that you're using the correct passport.

It then issues a printed ticket which you take to an automated exit gateway, which will again check your face against your passport's electronic record, and then let you go through.

If you are exiting New Zealand through Auckland, you can even do the first step of the SmartGate process there -- there are Australian Government SmartGate terminals in the airport.

This video shows how it works.

Tips for using SmartGate

You do still need to complete an incoming passenger declaration card on the plane or in the arrival hall, and after exiting immigration you are still subject to manual customs checks.

Also, don't throw away the SmartGate printed ticket after you've exited the gate! You need it as evidence that immigration has cleared your entry into the country, and you'll have to hand it in to a customs official.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 529

It would be great if it worked. I tried this morning and it didn't work and hasn't worked for me for my last 4-5 trips. Same went for the person who was in front of me who voiced his complaint to the uncaring immigration officer at the desk. Maybe you can let your readers know what to do if the system doesn't work like who we contact etc. The queues at immigration this morning were ridiculous so at least if they had a system that worked it might be handy. It would be more efficient if it worked off a thumb print or something like that.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

25 Aug 2012

Total posts 21

Did you ever get to the bottom of this? I have the same problem.

23 Jul 2018

Total posts 2

The officers there couldn't care less and are highly rude. I'm an airline pilot and leave Melbourne airport 3-4 times p/month. The smartgate system departing has NEVER worked for me (over the last 4-5 years), and I have a fairly new passport. I keep getting directed to get a new passport which I've done. This is one of the worlds worst exit/entry system, and the only reason I can think that it is so crap, it because it keeps people in jobs.

23 Jul 2018

Total posts 2

Fingerprint technology (as used in Hong Kong) has a far higher success rate (98% roughly) than facial recognition (Australian smartgates) at around 72%.

It's also much cheaper to buy and maintain, is more secure, and you don't need a small army of 'immabogans' at every airport to carry out secondary screening and give attitude.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jun 2011

Total posts 148

Have never had any issues with it and saves me a ton of time. Love the kiosks along arrivals before immigration that let's you process yourself before you get to the gates too.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Mar 2011

Total posts 4

I agree it's a brilliant time saver and the one time it did not work I was directed to a seperate queue for people have troble with it which was still far shorter than the regular queues.  If you travel OS regulary it would be worth getting a new passport just to take advantage of this.

Virgin Blue - Velocity Rewards

12 May 2011

Total posts 20

You have to make sure that you look like the photo that is embedded in your passport - I had a fringe at one stage and this caused some issues.

07 May 2016

Total posts 17

The statement that to use Smartgate "you have to be an Australian or New Zealand resident  ,, aged 18 years or over", is wrong. According to the website, if you are aged 16 years or older and hold an ePassport from an eligible country you can use the Arrivals Smartgate. Eligible countries include  Australia,  Canada,  Ireland,  New Zealand,  Singapore,  Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The info on the Departures Smartgate doesn't specify countries, so maybe that is for all.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2514

Hi Frank, this article was published almost five years ago and was correct at the time - the T&Cs have changed considerably since then.

18 May 2016

Total posts 1

I returned from South Korea last Sunday 15th May and joined the queue to use "Smartgate" I was held up by the couple in front of me having a problem getting the passport reader to read their electronic passports. After several attempts, they left. My E-Passport could also not be recognised by the Smartgate reader. After several attempts, I moved to a queue for a different terminal but with the same result. I had to then proceed to have my passport manually checked. I was the second passenger to leave the plane but by the time I reached the baggage carousel, my luggage was the last left.

Is this a common problem or can I confidently join the Smartgate queue the next time I fly?

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