Cutting red tape and achieving considerable saving in time were the reasons behind behind introducing the Apec Business Travel Card, a document in the size of a credit card that allows business travellers from Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) member states to travel freely within Apec. Although acquiring the card is a lengthy process (all Apec countries need to approve the application), the benefits are big.
There are 21 economies currently participating in the scheme: Australia, Brunei, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Canada, Russia and the US are currently transitional members of the scheme, which allows cardholders from all participating economies to use fast track immigration lanes, but still need to have regular visas.
Business travellers say the card is great to streamline and accelerate border procedures, which saves time. “I travel frequently to Australia, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong,” says Somchai Khunprasert, a jewellery trader for Bangkok-based Panda Group. “The card gives a high degree of flexibility, and I’m happy to be able to avoid the hassle of applying for singular visas.”
However, the application process can differ from country to country. As the card is meant to benefit so-called low-risk travellers, they are cross-checked against immigration databases in each member state. “Around two months after my application, I got a call that 12 countries have given clearance and was asked if I want to take it as it is or wait for more approvals,” says Khunprasert. “As most of the approvals were from Asian countries I’m visiting frequently and I didn’t need outstanding approvals from Mexico or Russia, it was good for me.”
It, however, also depends on the country where one applies. While it is easy in Hong Kong to prove one’s business status, or in Singapore where the card can be obtained with a Citigold Private Client account from Citibank, it can be more difficult in Australia, where applicants have to be high-level executives of a company that at least generates an annual export value of A$5 million (about Dh17 million).
“The card is attracting passionate business attention,” David Dodwell, Executive Director of the Hong Kong-Apec Trade Policy Group, wrote in his blog on the group’s homepage, adding that the Apec’s China chairman has come up with the idea of new cards, including an Emergency Response Worker Card, an International Worker Travel Card, an Overseas Student Travel Card or even an Apec International Tourist Card. ■