International business travel was recently made much easier when the U.S., finally, issued regulations for the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC). I say finally because Congress approved the policy change two and half years earlier. Since then it’s just been a matter of waiting for how and when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would implement this. Wikipedia also offers a nice explanation about the card.
First, a little history… The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) created the APEC Business Travel Card nearly 20 years ago. The plan was simple: Make it easier and more efficient for business travelers to cross borders. APEC estimates that as of a few years ago, cardholders saved over 62,000 hours of travel transit time through immigration. While member nations were originally from the Asia Pacific region, this program is really worldwide including Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Russia. The newest members are the U.S. and Canada. Currently the nation with the most members is Australia.
This travel card is a huge help to international business travelers, offering a fast track to clear through the airport immigration of other countries. Instead of waiting in the long entrance lines with most international travelers, ABTC cardholders can go directly to the very short pre-clearance lines. This can easily save thirty minutes to an hour or more, depending on the airport. For those who have Global Entry and enjoy expedited immigration when returning to the States, you can imagine how wonderful this is when entering another country as well.
The travel card works with all the 20 other countries that participate in ABTC. The card is valid for three years but there has been discussion about extending this to five years. To apply for the card in the U.S., you are also required to be a member of either Global Entry or SENTRI/NEXUS. If you are not a member of any of the CBP trusted traveler programs, you can apply for one of them at the same time as the ABTC. Since the U.S. is only a transitional member (not a full member) of APEC, visas are still required for visits to certain nations. Note carefully here, you need to produce this card when you travel, just like your passport. This is different than Global Entry because this program does not offer fingerprint scanners.
Also note that this is for business travel, not tourism. In other words, you need to establish a business purpose for visiting an ABTC member nation when applying for the card. Once you have the card, the rules say you cannot use it if you are traveling for leisure purposes. Instead, you will be required to use the regular immigration lines. How they would know if you are traveling for business or leisure escapes me unless you tell them but one thing is for sure, this applies to the cardholder only, not family members.
The cost is $70 for three years and anyone who has paid $100 for the five-year Global Entry knows this is a bargain. Just using the ABTC a couple times over three years would make it pay for itself.