Reading Time: 9 minutes
Do you or members of your company frequently travel to countries in or around the Asia-Pacific region? Similarly, are you looking to expand internationally into these regional markets?
If so, an APEC business travel card membership may provide an attractive travel solution easing routine international business trips.
Explore our guide to APEC business travel cards to determine your eligibility, plus the costs and benefits of becoming an APEC travel cardholder.
What Is the APEC Business Travel Card?
APEC stands for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation, a multi-national coalition with 21 member countries. Since its inception in 1989, APEC’s stated goals are the facilitation of economic policy, financial cooperation, and free-trade policies amongst its participating nations.
In particular, APEC seeks to oversee improved business relationships via sustained and mutually beneficial economic regional growth, focusing on:
- Free-trade agreements for the transfer of goods and services.
- Enhanced investment opportunities.
- Easier travel for businesspersons in member nations working within corporate, manufacturing, finance, tech, and other industries relevant to APEC’s economic interests.
The APEC business travel card, or ABTC for short, is an APEC-run program permitting simplified APEC-related business travel. Also known as the ABTC scheme, bona fide businesspersons and senior government officials from APEC member nations can apply for APEC business travel cards, making routine short-term travel to and from these nations quicker, easier, and less bureaucratically red-taped.
What Countries Participate in APEC Cards?
Currently, 19 countries fully participate in the APEC business travel card agreement:
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Hong Kong
- South Korea
Furthermore, Canada and the United States are considered transitional members of APEC.
Given each of these countries’ locations, each respectively maintains a vested interest in trans-Pacific economic interactions, policies, and trade. However, there are a few discrepancies between full participating membership and transitional membership for prospective card members to note.
- Fully participatory countries: APEC business travel cardholders who are citizens of an APEC country receive pre-clearance benefits, meaning when traveling to other fully participating nations, they do not need to apply for visas, entry permits, or file any additional entry applications.
- Transitional countries: APEC cardholders who are citizens of transitional countries still need to apply for visas and entry permits and present relevant travel documents at customs. They do not receive automatic pre-clearance as their full participating counterparts do. Likewise, citizens from full participatory nations who travel to the U.S. or Canada do not receive automatic pre-clearance and must also apply for visas and present relevant travel documentation.
For quick reference, all full participatory ABTC countries you have been granted pre-clearance to will be listed on the back of your travel card.
Criteria to Qualify for the APEC Business Card
Every APEC economy maintains its own eligibility standards applicants must meet to become a cardholder.
However, several requirements cover all 21 current APEC countries for applicants to clear to be eligible for the program.
1. Clear Business Case
ABTC applicants must be considered a “bona fide” or “good faith” businesspersons.
A bona fide business traveler’s case is the most significant criterion for APEC card membership. To prove that “good faith” status, applicants must provide:
- Verifiable employment and a job title within an established, tax-registered company.
- Frequent international travel to APEC economies as a primary responsibility of their role.
- Documented, international business commitments in APEC economies related to finance, trade of goods, raw material procurement, investments, and other provisional services.
2. Citizen of an APEC Economy
Applicants must be documented citizens of a country within the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
- Exception: Residents of Hong Kong must maintain a Hong Kong permanent ID card in lieu of Chinese citizenship status.
3. No Criminal History
Applicants must have a clean criminal record, with no prior convictions of a criminal offense.
4. Valid Passport
Applicants must already hold a valid passport from their home country APEC nation, be that a full participatory or transitional one.
- Exception: Residents of Hong Kong must hold a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport.
5. Relevant Government Officials
Senior government officials whose appointments dictate frequent, consistent travel to APEC nations are also candidates for ABTC. In many cases, these government officials’ applications tend to receive priority treatment and expedited approval timelines.
How to Apply for an ABTC
Applying for an APEC business travel card is a multi-phased process that, in many ways, works similar to applying for passports.
1. Applying in Your Home Country
The first phase of receiving your APEC travel cards begins with an application submitted to your home country.
- In most countries, applications are received and reviewed by customs and border control agencies, departments of state, or departments of immigration.
- Applications are primarily performed online.
- Supporting documents needed to complete the ABTC application vary, but generally include scanned copies of a valid passport and proof of bona fide business status. In some countries, you may also need to present current membership in an ancillary trust travel program.
2. Approval From Other APEC Economies
After approving your core application, your home country of citizenship passes your materials onto the other full-participatory and transitional economies.
Full-participatory economies will each review your application individually for pre-clearance. These pre-clearance criteria and eligibility will vary and are at the discretion of each APEC nation independently processing your travel status.
3. Receive Your Card
You will be notified after all participatory APEC nations have granted conditional approvals. From there, you will receive instructions on officially receiving your physical traveler’s card, either via the mail or in-person at a government-administered enrollment center.
You may begin using your ABTC upon its date of issuance, which is the date you receive your card in the mail or in-person.
APEC Business Travel Card Benefits
Businesspersons can expect the following benefits as members of APEC’s business travel card program.
1. Airport Fast-Track
First and foremost, ABTC holders can use the fast-track lanes at customs and immigration checkpoints throughout all 21 APEC member countries’ major airports.
These lanes are typically labeled for government officials. Using APEC fast-track lanes at participating airports dramatically reduces your time spend waiting in immigration and customs, contributing to a smoother and more convenient overall traveling experience.
2. Visa-Free Travel
APEC cardholders do not need to apply for visas before visiting any of the full participatory countries listed on their cards.
This unique benefit eliminates the need to apply — and pay — for multiple short-term visa entries, saving businesses considerable money on total business travel expenditures.
Remember, though, that cardholders traveling to the U.S. and Canada will still need to present a visa upon arrival at customs and immigration. At this time, neither of these countries permit pre-clearance to any APEC citizens.
You will also need to apply for and present the appropriate visa for any full-participatory economy not listed on the backside of your ABTC. Unlisted countries have not approved your pre-clearance and will require you to present visas and any other relevant travel documents upon arrival and departure.
3. Multiple Entries Permitted
APEC business travel card members are allowed multiple entries within a consecutive 90-day period across all pre-cleared economies — without needing to have a cumbersome and expensive multiple-entry visa.
Compare this perk to regular travelers and tourists who must submit multiple visas to each country they intend to visit in one trip, or apply and pay for a more expensive multiple-entry visa type to begin with.
4. Reduced Travel Logistics
Overall, the combination of express immigration lanes, multiple county entries in one trip, and visa-free travel to pre-cleared countries means simpler overall traveling. Businesses benefit from reduced travel expenses, while individual cardholders receive priority treatment at airport checkpoints plus fewer bureaucratic headaches before and during every single trip.
Frequent APEC Card Q&As
Review the most common questions business travelers have in regards to APEC business travel card ownership, including:
- Related passport requirements
- Application timelines
- ABTC usage limits
For a comprehensive list of APEC country travel card questions and answers, consult your home economy’s dedicated ABTC website as well as the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s own Q&A resources.
1. I’m a Citizen of a Full Participatory Country. Do I Still Need a Passport to Enter Another APEC Country?
Yes, you will always need to present your passport at destination airports alongside your APEC travel card. Passports are a mandatory primary traveler ID required regardless of entering or exiting a full participatory or transitional economy.
It’s a common misunderstanding that APEC business travel cards replace the need for passports. APEC business travel cards are not meant to supplant passports. In no circumstances should business or government travelers attempt to present their current APEC travel card without a valid passport and expect to enter or leave a country lawfully.
Passports and ABTCs must be presented together to confirm the passport numbers listed on both articles. What’s more, cardholders must remember to renew their ABTCs if they renew or replace their passports to keep passport numbers consistent across both documents.
- ABTCs do not replace passports.
- ABTCs do replace visas in the 19 fully participating economies, but only if you’ve been approved for pre-clearance. Countries where you hold pre-clearance status will be listed on the backside of your ABTC.
- ABTCs do not replace visas in the two transitional countries, Canada and the United States.
- ABTC and passport numbers must match at all times.
- All pre-clearance and visa permissions remain at the discretion of individual APEC economies and may be reviewed, suspended, or revoked at any time. In addition, individual APEC countries reserve the right to withhold entry and exit from their borders under contingent legal circumstances even if a cardholder has pre-clearance, as well as bar a cardholder from remaining in the country under similar legal situations, emergencies, or changes in state affairs.
Again, travelers are always encouraged to review the APEC business travel card parameters of destination economies before all travel dates.
2. How Long Does It Take to Get an ABTC?
APEC business travel cards take, on average, two to three months to process but will vary based on the priority status of your home-country citizenship.
New applicants are recommended to submit their application for ABTCs a minimum of six months before impending business travel. Current cardholders renewing their cards should submit reapplication materials at least three months before their card’s expiration date.
The largest factor influencing how long it takes to receive your ABTC will be pre-clearance from full participatory economies. Each economy must review your application and grant its own clearance approval. Only then will you be issued your APEC business travel card with the full list of pre-clearance-granted countries listed on the back.
3. How Long Do APEC Travel Cards Last?
APEC business travel cards last a maximum of five years, beginning at the date of issuance to its listed expiration date. Your exact expiration date will be written on your card.
In a small minority of cases, some APEC economies may allow ABTCs to extend past five years, such as for certain appointed government positions.
4. What Happens If I Lose My ABTC?
Report lost or stolen ABTCs to your home country, similar to reporting a lost or stolen passport. Your home country will then initiate its own process for replacing your ABTC. Card replacement procedures vary country by country, with general requirements available on APEC’s online directory.
Furthermore, it is recommended to report lost ABTCs to local police as soon as the incident occurs.
Cardholders can rest assured that APEC business travel cards cannot be used by strangers since ABTCs must be presented alongside a valid passport. Customs officials cross-reference passport numbers on the card with that inside the physical passport.
5. Who Cannot Use or Apply for an ABTC?
ABTCs can only be used by bona fide, approved businesspersons and senior government officials traveling for business purposes.
Card usage is prohibited for any tourism-related traveling or vacations. This includes “working vacations” where cardholders mix business dealings with vacation activities or extending a stay in an APEC country for the expressed purpose of a vacation.
In addition to tourism restrictions, ABTC cards cannot be used by:
- A cardholder’s spouse, domestic partner, or children
- Cardholder colleagues and coworkers, even senior-ranking ones
Frequent travelers whose occupations fall outside approved business, finance, trades, and government work also cannot use ABTCs. These include professional athletes, international journalists, and artists, all of whom may travel internationally for their work but do not qualify for APEC business travel.
Some APEC participating economies may grant exceptions for cardholder uses for tourist or non-business-related travel based on special circumstances. Such arrangements must be made with the individual APEC country before any traveling.
Is the APEC Business Travel Card Worth It?
Having an APEC business travel card makes sense if you are a bona fide businessperson whose career involves regular travel to participating in Asian-Pacific economies. Travel frequency and duration will be the two largest factors influencing whether an APEC business card makes sense, with most countries recommending a minimum of four to six trips annually to justify its application and continual renewal. However, you and your company will ultimately decide.
Globalization Partners Can Help Your Business Expand to ABTC-Participating Countries
Contact Globalization Partners when you’re considering expanding globally into ABTC-participating countries. We can help:
- Determine the best traveling action plans for you and your employees.
- Review country-specific application steps.
- Lend broader HR, legal, and finance guidance on any global expansion questions you have.