On my trip to Hong Kong last week, one of my “to-do” items was to enroll in Hong Kong’s E-Channel program. This program, which replaces the Frequent Visitor Program, is designed to let you skip what can sometimes be lengthy lines at immigration. For those of you familiar with Global Entry, this is a similar program.

To qualify for enrollment, you need to meet 1 of 2 criteria. One way, is to have completed 3 “Round Trip” visits to Hong Kong in the previous 12 months. By this I mean your passport must have 3 entry and 3 exit stamps from Hong Kong Immigration. The other way is to be an elite member of one of 34 approved Airline Frequent Flyer programs. Here is the list of qualifying airlines (and program minimums in some cases):

Air Canada
Air China
Air France
Air New Zealand: Airpoints Silver, Gold, Gold Elite
Asiana Airlines
British Airways: Executive Club Silver, Gold
Cathay Pacific
China Airlines
China Southern
Eva Airways
Hainan Airlines
Hong Kong Airlines
Hong Kong Express
Japan Airlines
Jet Airways
Korean Air
Lufthansa: All Miles & More Members
Malaysia Airlines: Enrich Silver, Gold and Platinum
Philippine Airlines
Qantas: Gold, Platinum, Platinum One, Chairman’s Lounge
Qatar Airways
Royal Brunei
Singapore Airlines: KrisFlyer Elite Gold and PPS Club
Swiss: All Miles & More members
Thai Airways
United: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, Global Services
Virgin Atlantic: Flying Club Gold

When I first sat down for my enrollment session (no appointment is required) I had stated that this was my 3rd visit at which point the enrollment officer stated that I was not eligible for the program until I completed the visit and could enroll at the beginning of my 4th visit. I had assumed that the beginning of my 3rd visit would qualify me, but actually a 4th visit would be required. You must have 3 “complete” trips in order to apply. However, having familiarized myself with the program prior to leaving for Hong Kong, I asked if my United Frequent Flyer card would suffice in lieu of 3 complete visits, and that was satisfactory to her.

From there the process took 10 minutes. I handed her my passport of which she made a copy of the inside cover that contains your information and photo along with my Frequent Flyer card. 2 signatures on the enrollment forms, 2 digital fingerprints (left and right index fingers) and a quick look into a digital camera and I was finished. At the end of the enrollment the officer affixed a bar code sticker to the back cover of my passport and I was free to go. This was a lot easier than my GOES application and interview that was required for Global Entry!!

PLEASE NOTE that your E-Channel eligibility expires 6 months prior to your passport’s expiration. This was stressed a couple of times by the enrolling officer.

On my departure a few days later I had the opportunity to try the E-Channel program. At first I was actually going to just stay in traditional line so that I can get my Hong Kong exit stamp in my passport, but when I saw that the line was 15-20 people deep and I ONLY had 5 hours before my flight, I chose the E-Channel lane where no one was waiting.

Typical E-Channel Kiosks (photo courtesy of Hong Kong Immigration)

The E-Channel lane is a 2 step process with gates separating each one. First, you scan your bar code sticker at the first station, once completed a swinging gate opens that leads you to step 2. With step 2, you place one of the fingers you had fingerprinted on a reader and after a few seconds the second gate opens signaling your successful “emigration” from Hong Kong.

Closer view of Kiosk - 2 steps are involved: Bar Code scan and Fingerprint Scan (photo courtesy Hong Kong Immigration)

The E-Channel program allows frequent visitors to take advantage of expedited immigration at several locations:

Hong Kong International Airport
Lo Wu
Lok Ma Chau Spur Line
Shenzhen Bay
Macau Ferry Terminal
China Ferry Terminal

For those of you interested in applying for the E-Channel program at the airport, there are 2 enrollment offices. Both offices are IMMEDIATELY past passport control in the immigration hall however each office has different hours. The one located in Hall “A” is open from 10:00a to 6:00p and the one located in Hall “B” is open from 7:30a to 11:00p. When approaching the passport control booths from an arriving flight, Hall “A” is the left bank of booths while Hall “B” is on the right side. This area is large and it’s not immediately obvious that there are 2 banks of passport control booths so don’t worry if you don’t see one of them at first. If you’ve exited into the baggage claim area, you’ve gone too far and will need to go back through the automatic doors (but ask before doing so, since the doors are clearly marked as “DO NOT ENTER”). The enrollment offices are located just a few feet from the doors that open into the baggage claim area so if you missed it, you probably walked right by it!

To learn more about the program, please visit the E-Channel website.