When are inbound Express Path cards actually useful in Australia?

By Chris C., January 22 2019
When are inbound Express Path cards actually useful in Australia?

This article is part of our ongoing Business Travel 101 series for newcomers to the world of business travel.

When returning home, most Australian travellers love using the automated SmartGate lines to zip through passport control – which are often faster than the dedicated yet manned ‘express’ lanes – so why do airlines still hand out Express Path cards on arriving flights, and when are they useful?

Here are just some of the reasons you shouldn’t leave that inbound express card in your business class seat pocket.

1. If you’ve recently travelled to a Yellow Fever risk country

If your travels have taken you to places like Africa, Central or South America or the Caribbean in the six days prior to your arrival into Australia, you won’t be able to use SmartGate after touching down: and even if you approach a kiosk, you’ll be directed to manual processing anyway.

This is where your Express Path card comes in handy, because there’s no separate ‘Australians requiring a Yellow Fever check’ line at passport control – you need to line up with everybody else, so whip out that Express card and have your immunisation certificate ready for inspection.

While this applies to all passengers arriving on non-stop flights to Australia from places like Johannesburg and Santiago, it also applies to those on connecting or multi-city itineraries, who may be arriving on flights from anywhere else.

2. If you’re travelling with children under 10 years of age

Although this might not apply to your regular business trips, if you’re returning home from a (well-deserved) family holiday and have a child in your party under 10 years of age, they can’t use SmartGate, which means you’ll need to accompany them through manual passport control.

You’ll also need to queue at regular passport control with Australian children aged 10-15 years if there isn’t a second adult travelling with you.

3. For all passengers, at the final Customs and Quarantine check

Even if you keep that Express card in your pocket for passport control and zip on through the SmartGate line, there’s another opportunity to skip the queues at the final exit, after collecting any luggage.

Many Australian airports provide three exit paths: the green channel for regular travellers with nothing to declare, the red channel for passengers making a declaration, and the Express Path exit for eligible travellers – and during peak times, that Express exit can be very useful.

4. For foreign nationals visiting Australia

Don’t forget, although you might be able to use SmartGate on arrival into Australia, many travellers can’t, which is again where such Express Path cards are welcomely received.

Currently, Australian arrivals SmartGates can be used by foreigners with a passport from Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Macau, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the UK and the USA, but everyone else requires manual processing.

That said, all foreign nations travelling with children under 16 years of age must also be processed manually and can’t use SmartGate, even if travelling with a passport issued by the countries above – so whether you’re a local or are just visiting Australia, don’t toss that Express Path card!

Also read: Power up your Australian passport with these six savvy traveller tips

Chris C.

A former contributor to Executive Traveller, Chris lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

10 Nov 2011

Total posts 135

I often take a daytime flight back to SYD from SIN and when I arrive at 8pm-ish I breeze through customs, but when you arrive in the early morning peak the whole place is a zoo and it seems to me that the express paths aren't enforced and so when you most need it, the pass is useless.

22 Dec 2017

Total posts 25

Completely agree. In SYD, the Express Path at Customs is often closed during peak times. I now have an interesting collection of different airlines’ Express Path cards which are collecting dust in a drawer.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Jan 2018

Total posts 116

Yep the evening arrivals are much quieter. But I’ve also found morning peak is from 6.30-9... the NZ flights, all of the Sq, QF, CX, TG, EK, EY and the US carrier morning arrivals being at vietually the same time just clog up arrivals. I came in on the first SQ morning flight last year and it was literally the first arrival of the day. It was a breeze thru the process. Although the 12.45am departure from SG would he a better choice or one of the AM departures from 7.10, 9.30, or 10.30 - if coming from SG

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jan 2019

Total posts 2

Express Cards really useful to skip the queues in Melbourne for the busy morning US and European arrivals (post luggage pick up). Almost always open as flight crew use this also.

I have had customs officials tell me at MEL airport that the express cards are useless, don't mean anything and that they will be discontinued in the near future. In fact when you depart on an international flight, many carriers have actually stopped handing them out like CX and MH and if you want to use the express lane you just have to show your boarding pass which indicates you are flying biz or that you're an eligible frequent flyer. In any case if they have only 2 security lanes then the cards means nothing as they are chokers and you still have to line up with people who don't have any express cards. Mel airport is possibly the worst experience ever!

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jun 2017

Total posts 35

I have literally never had to show a yellow fever vaccination certificate when traveling from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, etc. And I’ve been able to use the smart gates all these times.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2583

For Australian citizens, the SmartGate kiosks ask only one question before issuing a ticket, and that's whether you've been to Central or South America, Africa or the Caribbean in the past six days. Answer 'yes' and you're directed to manual processing, or answer 'no' and you'll receive a ticket as usual. Q11 on the incoming passenger card asks the same thing.

It's possible that if you regularly travel from these regions, Border Force might have marked your travel profile as 'OK' for the Yellow Fever check and therefore permit you to use SmartGate, but ordinarily, if the answer to that question is 'yes', you can't.

22 Jan 2019

Total posts 4

If you say yes to the Africa/Sth America question, the kiosk will then ask if the travel has been to a displayed list of countries - the ones for which the certificate is asked for - Peru, Brazil etc. If you say yes to this question, then you are bounced to manual.

I did this in late December ex QF28, having been to Peru duly bounced but this was the only flight at the time, next to no queue.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2583

Interesting, thanks for sharing: the last time I tried after a trip to Brazil, the kiosk immediately advised I couldn't use SmartGate that day and should proceed to an immigration desk (without first showing a list of countries, only the yes/no question), so perhaps the kiosk was having a bad day, or the computer already knew I'd been to a Yellow Fever risk country.


26 Apr 2015

Total posts 19

I can confirm - we did this on Saturday coming back from Santiago and there is now a screen with a list of countries. If you haven’t been to one of them, you can still use the smartgate, When we were waiting for luggage (total fiasco), customs and bio security people were checking cards and we were asked a few times for yellow fever certificates, but they were happy to accept our statement that we hadn’t been in yellow fever areas

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Aug 2012

Total posts 215

I will be visiting Buenos Aires and nearby Montevideo, returning through Santiago in May. The CDC advice is that Yellow Fever vaccination is not necessary for any of those places. If you check out their yellow fever map of South America you will see all of these places are well outside the danger zone.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jun 2017

Total posts 35

Correct. A list of countries once you say “yes” appears. Most of the North American holiday destinations are exempt (Mexico, Cuba, etc)

It’s mostly the equatorial countries included.

12 Aug 2017

Total posts 76

Brisbane: even with the early morning arrival rush I have not had to queue at Customs. Only time was the week before the Commonwealth Games and that really showed how useful it is to kerp the Expess Path with you.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2017

Total posts 1

Hi Chris, the SmartGate worked for me last week and I had been in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa for 3 weeks... still kept the express card for next time though

12 Aug 2017

Total posts 76

Slightly off topic, but inbound to Heathrow for AU passport holders: I think holders can now use the eGates and these beat the Express Path tickets every time. Express Path is never Express!



21 Jul 2016

Total posts 37

Is there an express path at Customs at Brisbane international? I have passed through a few times but never seen one. I regu;arly travel from NZ and alway get an Express card but have never used it. Melbourne has a customs express but Sydney it doesn't seem to matter.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2583

Yes, but it usually closes after about midday when the airport is quieter. Used it earlier this month after arriving at about 9am on a Friday morning when the main line had a good 150-200 people in it, yet I was out in a few minutes. When it's open, the entrance is over at the far left, so don't join the main line which begins up in the middle of baggage claim.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

11 Feb 2018

Total posts 4

I save the arrivals express slips and then give them to family and friends, who are flying economy and without status, to use on departure from Sydney. I have not tried it that often, but it seems to work because the individuals checking the slips in the security line are not expecting it.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

17 Feb 2016

Total posts 47

When was the last time these cards worked at Sydney for the final Quarantine exit lines...I've literally not seen a separate express line there for years. I've stopped accepting them now.

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