My Experience Registering For Hong Kong’s E-Channel Immigration

I can’t believe it took me so long to register for this, given how often I travel to Hong Kong. Hong Kong has a Frequent Visitor E-Channel, which allows you to use automated kiosks for immigration, both on arrival and departure. While I’ve never had to wait that long for immigration in Hong Kong, there’s certainly some time to be saved by using these machines.

Yesterday I finally registered for E-Channel immigration, and wanted to report back on my experience.

Who is eligible for Hong Kong’s E-Channel?

There are a few ways for foreigners to be eligible for Hong Kong’s Frequent Visitor E-Channel:

  • If you’ve entered Hong Kong at least three times in the past 12 months
  • If you’re a citizen of Australia, Germany, Singapore, or South Korea, you can register regardless of how often you’ve visited Hong Kong
  • If you have elite status with almost any airline program then you’re eligible, regardless of how often you’ve visited Hong Kong; you’ll need to present your physical membership card

How much does it cost to enroll in Hong Kong’s E-Channel?

There’s no cost to enroll in Hong Kong’s E-Channel.

My experience enrolling in Hong Kong’s E-Channel

The easiest way to enroll in the Hong Kong Frequent Visitor E-Channel is upon arrival at Hong Kong International Airport. Once you pass through immigration (before going to baggage claim), there are two enrollment centers. The enrollment center to the left of the immigration checkpoint is open daily from 7:30AM until 11PM, while the enrollment center to the right of the immigration checkpoint is open daily from 10AM until 6PM.

Since we were arriving in the evening after one of the checkpoints had closed, we went to the enrollment center to the left.

There was a desk there with one immigration officer. She asked if I had been to Hong Kong four times in the past year (I thought the requirement was three times rather than four, though she insisted it was four). However, since I have a German passport I told her that I thought there was no requirement. She confirmed that was the case, and started the enrollment process.

The enrollment process literally took two minutes. She took my picture and my fingerprints, then entered some information into the computer, and then printed out a piece of paper for me to sign.

She then added a sticker on the back of my German passport indicating that I had enrolled. There were no questions, or anything.

The enrollment is valid for as long as your passport is, so that’s another reason I was happy to use my German passport, since my US passport expires in 2019, so it would have only been valid for a bit over a year.

Tiffany wasn’t quite as lucky, unfortunately. She hasn’t been to Hong Kong three times in the past year, and the immigration officer verified that this was the case. Tiffany didn’t have a physical elite card on her, and the electronic version of an elite card wasn’t sufficient to register. So they do actually verify how often you’ve entered Hong Kong, and they also need a physical elite card if that’s the method through which you’re registering.

Bottom line

The process of registering for Hong Kong’s E-Channel immigration couldn’t have been easier, as the entire process took a couple of minutes. I’m lucky to have a German passport, since it meant I could register without having to enter Hong Kong a certain number of times. However, the same is true for anyone with airline elite status. So the next time you arrive in Hong Kong and have a few minutes to spare, you might as well register for Hong Kong’s Frequent Visitor E-Channel.

If you’ve enrolled in Hong Kong’s Frequent Visitor E-Channel, what was your experience like?

Comments

  1. “If you have elite status with almost any airline program then you’re eligible.” – a bit vague, why not be more specific?

  2. No need to worry if your passport expires soon. You can even enter with the expired passport and go back to the enrollment center and transfer the info from the old passport to the new passport. They will peel off the barcode from the old passport and affix a new one on to your new passport. The process takes just a few minutes as well.

  3. HK is the best!

    @Lucky – they didn’t put a barcoded sticker on the back of your passport? Must be a new process if they didn’t.

    Also want to let everyone know that when your passport expires it seems you are able to visit the enrollment center and get the new passport details updated in their system. Just have the old passport and sticker with you. Only took me a few minutes to get it sorted out.

  4. Is there a list online that shows which elite status programs are eligible? Would like to enroll with my Delta platinum status membership card when im in Hong Kong in May. Thanks!

  5. “She hasn’t been to Hong Kong three times in the past year, and the immigration officer verified that this was the case. Tiffany didn’t have a physical elite card on her, and the electronic version of an elite card wasn’t sufficient to register. So they do actually verify how often you’ve entered Hong Kong”

    The way you’ve worded this is that if they hadn’t checked then you would have advised everyone here that no checks were made….

  6. Very similar experience except after my long flight to HKG I was a bit groggy and initially offered my Citi AA credit card rather than my AA EXP card. With that snafu cleared up quickly I was registered and on my way to baggage claim in under 5 mins. Since HKG has immigration checks both entering and leaving, having the ability to pass through with a scan of a bar code and fingerprint makes it fast, simple and free. Same reason I prefer Mobile Passport over Global Entry in the US.

  7. Was able to register a couple of days ago with my AA Gold card, though they put a barcode on the back of my (US) passport, not the sticker you got.

  8. When I got my passport renewed, I brought the old passport and my new passport the next time I went to Hong Kong. They gave me a new sticker for my new passport with no problem.

    I will add that we I originally enrolled, they told me that they consider 3 entries and exits as 3 visits and that you can enroll before entering a 4th time. This seems to be consistent with what they told you.

  9. Is there any reason in the world that anyone would visit hk three times a year. Once in the life is enough.

    Any one want to buy the 500hkd certificate to pei that Cathay gives out

  10. @Debit

    Lucky certainly doesn’t go to Hong Kong for the food anyway. Western options every time, except for curry.

  11. Another option for frequent travelers to APEC countries is the APEC cardhttps://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/apec-faqs

    Benefits are many and it allows you to enter through either the APAC or diplomatic line. And, you can use it entering and exiting. That has been VERY helpful to me, especially in Hong Kong.

    Ben, you need to be careful about when/where you use your German passport. Keep in mind if you enter under your German passport, if you have an “issue” the German Embassy/Consulate is going to be the primary folks to sort it out, not the US.

  12. Tiffanyyyy! I learned a long time ago to keep my physical United *A Gold card with me whenever I travel as many lounges may ask for it. I thought this was common FF travel knowledge. 🙂 🙂 Now another reason to keep a physical card on you for the airlines you are travelling on… you never know when you will need it.

  13. I registered last fall when I went to Hong Kong and they were fine taking my digital United airlines silver card.

  14. Yes anyone from 20+ pacific rim APAC countries from Chile to Canada to Australia can get the ABTC card if they have business travel. There is a fast track lane at HKG plus many other airports with notorious long lines including BKK, PEK, JKT and best of all (for American) CUN, SJD and MEX.

  15. Does this cause you to not get a passport stamp? If so, no way!!!!!

    When re-entering the US, I want speed and will use Global Entry, even if it results in no passport stamp. However, with many (but not all) trips, I am not such in a hurry in a foreign country, that I want a passport stamp.

  16. Lucky is brave! He took pictures of the immigration desks, albeit with no people in it. I would be afraid to do so for fear of being detained. Three cheers for Lucky, one of the world’s finest credit card and points journalist!

  17. I just got approved for this.

    I arrived at Hong Kong airport last month (January 8, 2019) just before 8pm and asked at passport control about registering for the E-channel and was pointed to a small office just down the hall, where there was one person being enrolled. I waited for my turn, which arrived promptly.

    After I provided my passport to the agent, he looked me up in the computer and said that I did not qualify based on the number of yearly visits to HKG. I told him I knew that already and I was there to be considered for E-Channel based on my UA 1K status. He asked for my physical UA 1K card but I did not have it. I told him I had the electronic card on the UA app. Apparently and to my surprise, I was the first applicant to show an electronic membership card as evidence of elite status (at least for this one agent), because he said he was not sure if it was acceptable. He called his supervisor who promptly said that an electronic membership card was good enough. The agent then tried to scan my UA 1K e-card off of my smartphone screen, but it came out totally dark and illegible. So, I told him that it might work better if I first converted the e-card to an image. I did a screen capture and created a JPEG of the electronic card, then I viewed it as an image using Google Photos, adjusted the brightness and contrast and then the size so that it completely filled the small android phone screen. This time the scan was successful and I was approved.

    As @CR just indicated, I got a barcode with just beneath [APC-FVS-x38xxx, followed by text in Chinese characters, then Hong Kong Immigration] affixed on the back of my passport, and not what @Lucky displayed, which looks like evidence of approval and not anything with encoded information about the traveler that can be scanned to cross immigration using E-channel [rather than the bardcoded sticker, the passport itself can also be scanned]

    The application office is conveniently located and remains open relatively late (10-11pm) so it is really a no-brainer: apply if you qualify based on your airline status because otherwise you’ll keep having to contend with the usually long passport control line at HKG when you do not have to!

  18. @Dave – Canada

    Hong Kong doesn’t stamp, you get a little slip of paper with the immigration details which you surrender when you leave.

  19. There are clearly a few differences between my experience and @Lucky’s (or @Tiffany’s).

    One thing we agree on is that the agent that @Lucky saw was wrong: 3 visits/year is the minimum requirement for getting approved for E-channel based on the number of visits to HK.

    We differ on whether an electronic membership card is acceptable as evidence of elite status in a participating FF program, which is another way to get approved for E-channel. In my case, my electronic UA 1K membership card was acceptable. The only potential hitch is that had I not been imaginative my e-card would probably have wound up not being accepted because the quality of the scan would have been unacceptable.

    Maybe because @Lucky qualified based in his German passport, he did not need the barcoded sticker that was affixed to the back of my US passport and can be scanned to be use the E-channel; but so can the passport itself.

  20. I didn’t have my physical ff card with me but successfully enrolled by showing my elite status printed on an airport issued boarding pass for my arriving flight.

  21. @Sam — A good facsimile of both the front and back of the physical card should be acceptable, especially if you also have the electronic card or a boarding pass that can confirm the basic information.

  22. I have not applied for the HK E-channel, but last time exiting HK the lines were quite long and the line attendants directed me and my wife to the e-channel and to my surprise the automatic gates processed us out with no problem. This was with a US and a Finnish passport. They gave also a note saying that the E-channel on arrival won’t work without proper registration.

  23. @lucky it has to be more than three times in one year. It is not by calendar year. It counts from the first time you arrive at HK airport. For example, if you arrive at HK airport on March 1st, then, you need to complete the arrival process three more times by February 28th of next year. I have went through this process myself and confirmed with numerous officers that it has to be at least four times unless you have FF elite status. When I did this a couple of years ago, it did state on the details that it has to be more than three times. If they changed it, then who knows. My mom said she got it in three times a decade ago. It seems that the requirement have changed since.

  24. Use of “Smart Departure” e-Channel
    An eligible visitor can use “Smart Departure” e-Channel at control points in the following locations:
    Hong Kong International Airport
    Lo Wu
    Lok Ma Chau Spur Line
    Hung Hom
    Shenzhen Bay
    Sha Tau Kok
    Man Kam To
    Lok Ma Chau
    Macau Ferry Terminal
    China Ferry Terminal
    Kai Tak Cruise Terminal
    Tuen Mun Ferry Terminal

  25. Do you need to provide any kind of proof of your visits to HK (like the previous slips you get when you enter) or do they check your visits in their immigration system?

  26. I’ve had it since inception and I love it.
    The one thing I advise people to do is look very carefully for the registration area. It is before you walk into baggage claim and can be hard to find.
    I had security let me backtrack in so I could register because I walked right past the desk.

  27. @Stanley — The rule could not be clearer. While it is true that the requirement is over a 12-month period and not over a calendar year, it is not true that 4 visits are required during a 12-month period. Well, here it is straight from the HK government website:

    “e-Channel Service for Frequent Visitors

    Visitors who are holding specified documents or have visited the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region via the Hong Kong International Airport for **no fewer than 3 times in the past 12 months immediately before the enrollment** can enjoy the e-Channel service after successful enrollment.”

    Despite the confusion, there is no way to misinterpret that simple statement.

    Also, @Stanley, unless the rule changed since January 8, 2019, maybe because the scans of e-cards proved to be as poor as was the initial scan of mine, or I was lucky, I am a holder of a HK e-Channel Frequent Visitor immigration pass, which I got it by providing my electronic UA 1K membership card as I related above…unless you think I made it all up, in which case I will be happy to post my barcoded sticker.

  28. @John K

    “Can we use our southwest companion pass membership card for this?”

    Since when does Southwest go anywhere near Hong Kong?!

  29. Have had mine for 1 yr+. Agent required physical elite status (UA 1K) card of which they looked in binder to match samples and verify. My husband just completed his upon arrival in Jan. Same requirement for physical card. Thinking a few posts were lucky!

  30. @ Johk K — Below is the list of all the airlines whose members are eligible. The agent who enrolled me had a document containing color pictures of membership cards issued by the various FF programs. He did go to the page that showed color pictures of UA elite membership cards to see if my e-card was legit.

    “The requirement for getting the e-Channel approved are rather straightforward. Many frequent fliers are eligible based on the airlines status that they have and some airlines don’t even have the status as a requirement (merely being a program member is enough).

    — Air Canada
    — Air China
    — Air France
    — Air New Zealand: Airpoints Silver, Gold, Gold Elite
    — ANA
    — Asiana Airlines
    — British Airways: Executive Club Silver, Gold
    — Cathay Pacific: all Marco Polo members
    — Dragonair
    — China Airlines
    — China Southern
    — Delta
    — Ethiopian
    — Eva Airways
    — Finnair
    — Hainan Airlines
    — Hong Kong Airlines
    — Hong Kong Express
    — Japan Airlines: Mileage Bank Fly On Crystal, Sapphire, Premier, Diamond; JAL Global Club
    — Jet Airways
    — Kingfisher
    — KLM
    — Korean Air: all Morning Calm members
    — Lufthansa: Miles & More Frequent Traveller, Senator, HON Circle
    — 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: MileagePlus Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K
    — Virgin Atlantic: Flying Club Gold

  31. BTW, note that only a limited number of FF programs, like UA MileagePlus, explicitly list elite levels that are eligible, while most other programs do not, meaning that most programs actually let even non-elite members obtain the e-Channel pass.

  32. It is 3 entries/departures. So you can register on your 4th entry (since he enrollment office is after passport control and that counts as an entry.

    In regards to a physical FF card, you can just bring a printout of one. They need it to scan into their records.

    You can enroll in with an APEC card, but it needs to have HKG printed on it as a approved visa free destination. No US card will have the HKG visa designation due to the USs partial participation in the program.

    As a Macau worker who travels to HK for work and pleasure a few times a month, echannel is a life saver to avoid the massive tour group crowds at immigration. And it lets you avoid having to fill out an arrival/departure card each time which is a plus too.

  33. Even though I have only been to HK once Iove it so I will go back much more so I will enroll in this epass which looks pretty easy to do in terms of airline elites though I am also Australian so it will be very easy.

  34. I am a UA Million Miler Gold. My annual renewal membership packet arrived a few weeks ago.

    United is no longer issuing cards. It said to use the card on the mobile app.

  35. @1KBrad — That is strange because I am a UA 1K as well as a 1MM/*G and I did also recently get my renewal membership packet, which contained the physical 1K/1MM/*G card and, new this time in the packet, in addition to the usual luggage tags and drink chits, four stylized drink coasters.

    Having said that, I seldom carry the physical card around, so it is good to hear that UA is encouraging use of the e-card on their mobile app, which is a remarkably faithful facsimile of the real thing…on both sides.

  36. @Jim sez: “It is 3 entries/departures. So you can register on your 4th entry (since he enrollment office is after passport control and that counts as an entry.”

    If the requirement is 3 “visits” in 12 months, and the enrollment office is AFTER passport control, it means that once they let you in on your third “visit” it qualifies, no?! You could be right that they may define a visit as a one entry/departure pair. If so, they need to make things clearer.

  37. Did the E-Channel thing a few years back. However, the computer possibly assigned my fingerprint scan to someone else, as they are NEVER recognised on attempting entry. Bewildered and increasingly frustrated demeanour attracts a supervisor who processes me through then and there, sans fingerprints! Apparently it is not possible to cancel original approval and start again. So, for each entry it’s more of the above, or join the line. Thankfully it is fairly quick, unlike LHR, LAX and JFK.

  38. @DCS

    Interesting that American Airlines is not on your list as I flew DFW to HK last year .

    I have lifetime Gold status and would love to get this ePass

  39. @David

    American is on the list of approved carriers. American Advantage is the program I used when I got my HKG e-channel approval.

  40. @David — It is likely an omission because I could not imagine AA not participating when UA, DL, and other major (even minor) carriers are. I grabbed the first list I found online…

  41. It is after your third visit (i.e. you need that 3rd departure). Also, ferry trips in don’t count towards the “3” requirement (Although departures out via ferry are fine assuming you did go through HK immigration in and didn’t just do the HK airport ferry). You need to enter HK 3 times via HK airport and then have a valid departure for you to be eligible on any future visit. So in essence it needs to be on your 4th trip in (although the 4th trip in could be via ferry and you sign up at the Wan Chai immigration building on that trip.)

    I think the only airline membership without status that gets you access is Mabuhay Miles — I tried a bunch of others and they didn’t work, but I read somewhere that Mabuhay will work without status.

  42. @Jim — You sound so sure, I must believe you. A visit is defined as an in/out pair, and the list of participating airlines I grabbed online is not comprehensive or reflective of programs that allow the e-Channel pass for non-elites.

    With respect to the number of visits, however, it is quite likely moot for most in here since they would come up short on that requirement, but be eligible through a FF program instead.

    A very informative thread that got me to reconsider my positions. Now, are electronic FF membership cards accepted, or was I simply lucky 🙂 ?

  43. @schar — Correct. HK no longer stamps (it used to). You get a tiny slip of paper that you relinquish when you leave.

  44. I have elite status with a qualifying airline. This is a long shot, but can my husband get E-channel because he is traveling with me? Has anyone had experience qualifying with basic membership in Mabuhay Miles as a poster said? I just signed my husband up, but I kind of doubt that they are going to mail physical cards.

  45. @Darlene I believe it should be individual cases. If you qualify based on your FF elite status, you should be fine. Your husband should have elite status himself in order to qualify. I don’t think it works based on couples.

  46. @DCS I hear ya. I guess it must have changed since I did it a couple of years ago. Every time I went to talk to the immigration officer, they kept telling me that it had to be over three HK airport arrivals. I finally got it on my fourth arrival at Hong Kong airport. Oh well, old news since it seems that it has been revised.

  47. @Stanley — It has been established since our earlier exchange that a “visit” is defined as an arrival/departure pair. So, qualifying after three ‘visits’ means that one qualifies on the 4th arrival, ergo, you were right. The language was not clear, but there is credible evidence that one becomes eligible starting with the 4th arrival.

    Cheers!

  48. “1KBrad says:
    February 18, 2018 at 6:06 pm
    I am a UA Million Miler Gold. My annual renewal membership packet arrived a few weeks ago.
    United is no longer issuing cards. It said to use the card on the mobile app.”
    _____________________________________________________________
    I have the same situation – no physical card along with instructions from UA to use the mobile app to view the digital card.

    I wonder if UA would – case-by-case – issue a physical card if it is shown that a physical card is preferred for this Hong Kong’s program.

  49. @dmg — Hmmm… As I indicated, I am also a UA 1MM/*G, but I did get my the physical card. Here is a photo of the renewal packet that clearly shows that I got the card:

    https://goo.gl/nz5KM6

    Could the difference be that I am a 1K through BIS miles, and your Gold status is for being a 1MM? It would be utterly ridiculous if that’s the reason!

  50. DCS – thanks for the response.

    Most of my miles were on * partners but I did maintain the required BIS miles. I will call them tomorrow and see if someone goofed in not including a physical card in my renewal pack.

  51. 2 cents on this
    * if you dont have any other status yet, easiest to join Cathay Marco Polo FFP online and you qualify
    * IIRC you get the paper-slip too when you enter via e-channel, so you have something (for those concerned about the “non-stamping” thing). That has your name, pp number, arrival date, country of passport (in 3-letter code) and “permitted to stay till”-date printed on it. And when exiting via e-channel no need to surrender it, so you keep it forever in case you have to prove to who-knows that you actually were in HK…
    * I also have a barcode and so do all that I know, never seen the fancy sticker Lucky got.
    * one of the more useful places to then use this is at Shenzhen “land border” when crossing from China to HKG by train, MUCH faster than the lines ever so often.
    * I’ve tried to get this issued to me at Shenzhen border, but opening hours were just not good (closed 3x when I passed), and difficult to find. much easier at the airport…
    * watch closely to catch that office, its in the narrow stretch of “land” between the immigration desk and the sliding doors to luggage area. I was 2x denied entry to the office area from luggage area (unlike somebody lucky wrote above).

    enjoy HKG!

  52. This is great! I can use the United Silver status I got from Marriott Plat and enroll to this program next time I’m in HKG.

    Thanks for the airline list, @DCS!

  53. @dmg — I’ve seen other reports of UA 1MM Golds not getting their memberships cards, so it is definitely worth finding out whether it was an oversight or deliberate. Please let us know what you find out!

  54. Thanks Lucky. I had never heard of this but it sounds very useful and easy. And best of all free!
    I’m going to do this next time I go to HK.

  55. The usefulness of this at the Ferry terminals and Shenzhen border crossings can’t be understated. Just remember that Macao itself has their own e-channel, but it’s harder to register for.

  56. Update after visiting the central immigration office today: I think either those of you who were able to enroll with electronic/paper cards were either lucky, or I am spectacularly unlucky, or the policy has changed. I was again laughed at for asking if I could show the e-card, and the paper printout was derided as “unacceptable.” They were quite firm about it.

  57. @ dmodemd — Yeah, I generally do too. I just hadn’t received my Delta credentials yet, and my American ones are expired, but since I was going to be with Ben this entire trip I wasn’t worried about lounge access or anything, so didn’t prioritize it.

  58. @Tiffany — Sorry to hear that you were laughed at even after presenting a paper printout.

    One thing I can say is about UA e-cards is that they like carbon-copies facsimile of the real thing. The agent had compared my 1K e-card to the his hard copy picture of it and they were identical, front and back. However, as I indicated, (a) the agent was not sure whether e-cards were acceptable, suggesting that they were rare, and (b) the first scan of my very realistic e-card came out completely dark; I had to be “ingenious” to get the e-card to give an acceptable scan

    Speculation: They tried accepting e-cards and that created a lot of problems because of too many failed scans, so they stopped accepting them.

    The puzzle is why they would not accept a paper printout of the e-card. Was yours an identical facsimile of the real thing or of the photo in the agent’s book? Was the printout of good quality?

    Just very curious but it seems that I just got lucky, but I do not believe in luck…

  59. Hi all,
    saw this post. we have registered previously and I did not get a barcode or a sticker :/ but have used the echannel before and it works fine .
    But my passport expires later this year. Anyone knows or is sure that we can just update new passport details and do not need to qualify again with at least 3 visits?? 🙂

    Thanks!!

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