Why The UK’s Registered Traveller Program Is Worth It

As you may know from some of my previous posts, I hold an Australian passport. I am a UK resident as a result of having an ancestry working visa.

I enter the UK every 2-3 weeks when returning from trips away.

In the 2 years I’ve been living in London I would estimate I have entered the UK at least 40 times.

Because of my Australian passport, I had to complete a landing card each time and line up at the non-EU passports immigration line, which usually moves at a snail’s pace, because there are people arriving from every corner of the globe. Many of them seemed to get absolutely grilled with a long series of questions by immigration officers.

What is the Registered Traveller Program?

After a few times lining up for 30+ minutes on a Sunday night at 9pm after arriving from a weekend away, I decided to invest in the UK’s Registered Traveller Program. This is a paid service, costing £70 and lasting 12 months.

It offers the following benefits (taken from their website):

The Registered Traveller service can help you get through the UK border faster.

If you’re a Registered Traveller member, you can use either of the following at some airports and train stations:

  • UK and EU passport entry lanes
  • ePassport gates – if your passport has a ‘chip’
  • You also won’t need to fill in a landing card.

You’ll still need to carry your visa or biometric residence permit, if you have one.

The eligibility requirements are as follows:

You must be 18 or older and have either:

  • a UK visa or entry clearance
  • visited the UK at least 4 times in the last 24 months

You must also have an eligible passport.

The e-gates are significantly quicker than the other queues – even at peak times where there are several hundred people in the immigration hall, I’ve never waited more than 5 minutes to get through the e-gates, and it’s usually less than 2 minutes.

If I’m saving, say 25 minutes, 20 times a year, that’s eight whole hours each year I haven’t been spending in an immigration queue.

That’s an entire day’s work.

Immediately after Easter a month ago I had to renew my passport because I was running out of pages due to the amount of travel I had been doing. I don’t receive a UK stamp when I enter via e-gates, but I do receive a stamp for each other country I visit, so it filled up quickly.

I landed at Heathrow Terminal 5 on Monday evening on British Airways following a long weekend away in Munich (which is a FABULOUS city, by the way). Being the end of a bank holiday weekend, the immigration hall was fairly busy.

I went straight to the e-gates and it wasn’t until I walked up to the reader and pulled my new passport out of my pocket that I realised my Registered Traveller was linked to my old passport number and probably wouldn’t work.

Sure enough, the machine said ‘seek assistance.’

They have a special few desks for those people where the e-gate doesn’t work (and it seemed to be about 10% of passengers – those e-gates seemed mighty buggy that day!).

I went to the nearby immigration desk, handed over my passport, residents permit and registered traveller ID card. This card comes in handy if the staff working the lines see your Australian passport in the e-gates queue and bark at you.

The conversation went as follows:

‘I’ve just realised my Registered Traveller number is linked to my old passport and I’ve just renewed my passport’

‘Well you’re not a Registered Traveller anymore’

‘Okay, here is all my documentation. Can I enter the country?’

‘I need to see your Registered Traveller number that is on our system’

‘It’s on the back of my Registered Traveller ID card’

‘That’s not the number we have’

‘What is the number?’

‘It’s your old passport number’

‘Okay, that’s ‘XXXXXX’

‘No I need to see the old passport’

‘I don’t have it with me –- its been cancelled’

‘Then I can’t help you –- you’ll have to join the normal line’

She sent me over to a ‘normal’ immigration officer, I explained the situation, and he also scolded me for thinking I was a Registered Traveller when I was no longer one.

He said I would need to complete a landing card but he didn’t have any at his desk although ‘normally he would.’ He then said I would need to go to the back of the non-EU line, find a landing card, complete it, and join the normal queue.

So I did.

The queue took 40 minutes.

After the time saving, the next best thing about Registered Traveller that I had forgotten about, was the fact that you don’t have to speak to anyone at immigration when you enter the UK. It is wonderful to be able to breeze straight through without being grilled about where I had been and what I had been doing even though I live here.

Bottom line

Of course this is my own fault for not updating my Registered Traveller as soon as I got my new passport.

This morning I updated my passport number online at a cost of £20, and should be able to use the e-gates again in about a week.

Monday night’s experience reminded me just how valuable the service is if you are very regularly entering the UK on a non-EU chip passport. You are paying for the convenience and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are entering the UK at least five times per year because it isn’t cheap.

For me it’s worth its weight in gold for the time saved, empty passport pages, and the lack of questions from immigration officials.

If you would like to sign up you can do so here (there’s no referral benefit to me or anyone else!).

Have you signed up for Registered Traveller?

Comments

  1. Compared to GE the prices are a complete scam. And the fact that immigration is now pay to play is a complete farce.

  2. @keitherson The farce is that Her Majesty’s Australian subjects are required to use the “normal” line.

  3. Since it’s not mentioned, here is the eligibility requirements:

    “To apply for Registered Traveller membership, you must be 18 or older and have either:

    a UK visa or entry clearance
    visited the UK at least 4 times in the last 24 months

    You must also have an eligible passport.”

  4. Bureaucracy is always annoying to deal with but the English penchant for passive aggressive attitudes really adds a new layer to the experience. I don’t envy you having to enter the UK ~20 times a year.

  5. @ David – with Registered Traveller I don’t speak to anyone at the airport when I land and go straight through an e-gate. Its just as easy/efficient as an Australian airport.

  6. I use this and have had quite the difficulty getting new passports to match up with the Registered Traveller Program. You have to renew with the program as well… and in my case, they charged me for the renewal and then cut me off when my original membership expired rather than letting it run for a full new year. So, I effectively ended up paying twice for one year. I’m not happy with them right now. I fly back and forth from Denmark/UK/US frequently so the stamps really add up.

  7. @ David

    If you can go through the EU lanes it’s the simplest process imaginable. You just put your passport on the scanner. Line your face to be in the square on the screen and BAM, you’re done. Unless you have a beard irl but not in your passport photo. I don’t tend to travel at “peak” times too often and so the longest I’ve have had to wait is two minutes as there aren’t many people on a 321.

  8. I’m not sure it’s worth it for a leisure traveler. 70 quid buys a lot of tim tams.

  9. @ Mitch – I’m a leisure traveller. Just every few weeks. Eight hours of my life is worth more than 70 pounds to me.

  10. I am a US Citizen but work for a UK company so go to London about 6 times a year. I have registered traveller and it works great, but I never got a card. They just put a sticker on the back of my passport. Am I supposed to have one?

  11. @ Corey – you are supposed to carry it with you as you enter the e-gtes queue to show your eligibility but I just keep my Australian passport out of sight and walk straight into that line – I avoid speaking to anyone unless absolutely necessary.

    I wouldn’t worry if you don’t carry it with you.

  12. Oh to bring back the IRIS system (scrapped in 2012 if I remember correctly) …quicker, more efficient, and all without removing your hat/glasses, or having to even take a passport out of your bag.

    The E-gates are slower, not helped by the fact that all the image matches between chip data and camera image are checked manually by an officer anyway.
    Kind of defeats the point…

  13. I travel to LHR maybe once or twice a year (but not enough for 4 in 24 months), so I don’t qualify for this. :’-( But, IME, I’ve never had to wait more than 5 minutes in T2 passport control. I flew into T3 recently, and had a 1 hour wait! I wonder if my T2 experiences are typical or if I’ve just been lucky. Either way, I think I’ll stick to *A for LHR arrivals…

  14. I live in the US but am a UK citizen. My wife is an EU citizen from a different country. Am I correct that there is no advantage to us in this program, since we’d be using the EU entry lanes anyway?

  15. How does this differ from Global Entry? I am headed back to the U.K. in a few months. Should I get both?

  16. I’m a UK Registered Traveler but live in the US with just enough travel specifically via LHR to make this worthwhile. But when I travel with my partner who isn’t a registered traveler (despite my persistent nagging), I end up in the “Everyone Else” queue with him and it’s abysmal. So keep in mind that there’s no “Oh (s)he is with me…” line jumping. I’ve seen it happen a couple of times and the response from the immigration officers is less kind than the passive aggression James experienced.

  17. @ Spencer – Registered Traveller is for entry to the UK while I thought Global Entry was for entry to the USA only? You can apply for both if eligible but each is only useful for entering one country.

  18. @ BUA – if you both have European chip passports, you can both use the e-gates anyway so wouldn’t need Registered Traveller.

  19. LHR is the only airport I’ve waited more than 15 minutes to get through immigration, where is took 90 freaking minutes. Most places believe it or not (Venice, Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, etc) take thirty seconds. A few US airports such as Miami, Atlanta and New York take longer but there’s also Detroit that is a breeze. I don’t know what makes LHR lines so long yes there’s more flights but there should also be more officials and ATL is a busier airport as well and doesn’t have the lines.

  20. @ US Citizan – putting this as politically correctly as possible, in my experience LHR has many flights arriving from countries where immigration officers wish to ask a lot more questions of incoming passengers.

  21. Hi James

    You are most probably aware of the rules, bit if you want to apply for ILTR at the end of your ancestral visa’s validity, there are strict limits on yhe number of days you are allowed out of the country.

    In the past it used to be a maximum of 90 days in the previous 5 years. They then changed it to 90 days each of the previous 5 years. Not sure what the current rules are but might be worth checking out.

  22. I fly to London once every 4 or 5 months. I was at LHR in March and waited in the queue 90 minutes to clear. It was on an overnight flight from IAD, and I landed with half a dozen other transatlantic flights. I was in Blighty for 48 hours. And I was thinking about Registered Traveler program the entire time in the queue.

  23. This article makes me sad James. As an american citizen I travel all the time out of Heathrow (live in Cambridge). Not eligible for this as my daughter is only 3 and I travel with her constantly.

    Wish they would change the age policy for kids.
    Corey

  24. @ James

    “the next best thing about Registered Traveller … was the fact that you don’t have to speak to anyone at immigration when you enter the UK.”

    Absolutely right. I celebrated the day the e-gates arrived and I never again had to speak to one of those polyester-clad jobsworths. Though I did complain a while back that they had about 50 gates, but only 10 were operational and a huge queue was building up. “Staff changeover”, the minion said. It’s got better recently – rarely more than one person in front of you, usually a line of empty gates.

    @ US Citizen

    You are joking, mate. Your country’s immigration “system” is consistently one of the least efficient I encounter, usually with long, snaking lines. The only places I’ve ever waited longer were on one occasion in Buenos Aires (they were having a very bad day – 2 hours to clear both immigration and customs), and the very first time I went to Havana (the record: 3 hours to reach immigration. Things have improved since then).

    For balance … I always find Dutch immigration to be nice. And the guys who do it all seem to have open to them alternate careers as models. Which is nice.

  25. @James
    Oh Darn!
    I thought my Global Entry was a “get out of customs jail free” card everywhere.

  26. I’ve given up using the e gates with my passport as it never works, I think it must be the tiny crease on the photo page whereas my tatty old passport never failed. The normal EU line seems to be quiet as they try to bully everyone into the Egate lines

  27. I love it, and frankly I don’t care what it costs; it’s worth every penny. Being able to breeze through UK immigration without having to interact with anyone is well worth 70 quid!

  28. One thing to note: While the application requirement is 4 entries in 24 months, there is no such requirement for renewing. You just have to pay the GBP50 renewal fee.

  29. Amazing that the UK authorities make it so hard for Aussies and yet all the riffraff from every shithole across the earth breezes through the EU lanes.

  30. Totally agree. Absolutely worth it and get it if you can.
    I am a UK resident but my passport doesn’t qualify for the registered travellers program. It always amazes me how long the Non-EU line is and how much Immigration officers can ask (over and over again) despite already having that information in the system. Which I don’t mind, but just makes the whole process a lot slower. About three weeks ago I was arriving from BCN and I might have taken about half an hour to clear immigration, whilst my friend cleared in less than five minutes in the EU normal line. He wasn’t very happy about it.

  31. LHR can be a complete nightmare on arrival. I make sure to use the lavatory before arriving at immigration. But sometimes it works: a couple of months ago, arriving from Stockholm in terminal 7 ( aka the Queen’s Terminal ) just 2 people in the entire hall . Through in 10 seconds and onto the tube and in central London 50 minutes after touchdown. Miracle.
    But it’s usually so bad that this scheme sounds ok, albeit a bit pricey.

  32. I visit 6 or 7 times a year and it has been worth it. My old passport stopped reading in the gates properly last year and I was told the chip had gone. New passport works fine but the first time I had to queue in the non-EU line even though I had registered it.

  33. I have bad news for you. The first time you get a new passport you cannot use the e-gates they have to see it and stamp it once. From then on you will be ok for the lifetime of the passport.
    I have both Canadian and South African passports.
    Very useful. SA often has no visas where Canadian does and vice versa.

  34. It is so worth it. A few teething issues when it started but haven’t had any issues since. In an Australian and I was on the pilot scheme. Last couple of trips ice needed wheelchair service but much rather have used registered traveller channels.

  35. I suppose the EU line will be defunct when the horrors of Brexit kicks in. Well let’s hope so! Maybe they could re-purpose it for Commonwealth Citizens? I am heartily sick of being of a Commonwealth country and having to queue up with the zillions of poor and bedraggled from every obscure corner of the globe, who are held up with 20 questions, minimum. Roll on the Republic of Australia….

  36. I used to work for a london firm flying from the US into T5 at the early morning rush. even biz class BA fast pass has a line (after an hour wait once i quickly signed up)
    i signed up for this as a leisure traveller now and the quick gates are lovely to breeze thru LHR. when i first signed up I used normal lanes and was given a card and told to use gates now. money worth it to avoid immigration lines, queries and stresses

  37. @Corey Sacken, according to https://www.gov.uk/registered-traveller/add-children you can add children. It looks like you won’t be able to use the gates, but the UK/EU lanes should be shorter than the other passports lanes, right?

    @Paolo, the Queen’s Terminal is Terminal 2. As I mentioned upthread, I’ve only seen short queues there as well. Perhaps that’s typical for T2?

  38. I have a similar passport status to James – what I would call “second class status” ie rich Commonwealth country with no visa needed for tourism entry but can still be subject to questions. (Still a step above the “third-class” people from poor countries though.) My record time waiting was 1 hour 40 min so this programme was a godsend.

    Bizarrely, until recently, even people with ILTR had to go through the slow queue, which I don’t believe happens anywhere else. Imagine a green card holder being asked “how long do you plan to stay in the country”. “Uh… I have indefinite leave to remain?”

    Btw James if you apply for ILTR you will have to provide a list of all the places you have travelled to in the past few years. Bet that will be fun!

  39. @Spencer – The only place outside the US where Global Entry works is at US pre-clearance facilities outside the US, like Abu Dhabi and Montreal. GE membership also qualifies you for Privium, for entry to the Netherlands. I have GE, UK Registred Traveller, and NEXUS in Canada. They’re fantastic.

  40. Can vouch for this too, as an Aussie expat resident in the UK. The lines for the normal passport control can be brutal. When using the e-gates the longest I’ve waited would be literally five minutes, if that!

  41. @Charles – I think you’ll find most of the people in the EU lanes are from…….. the EU. Not “all around the world”…

    While it’s my favourite country on the planet by far, the levels of casual racism in Australia are particularly unpleasant. Though coming from a country that didn’t legally recognise the native population as being human until 1967, I guess that’s not much of a shock!

  42. @Tennen

    Shorter than the non eu yes but is there a priority lane for either/uk lanes? The priority non-EU lane is what I use with one world sapphire

  43. I recently obtained British Citizenship, and am extremely happy I no longer have to use the non-EU line and never have to fill in a landing card again. I used to route my flights back from the continent via LCY when possible as the non-EU line was quite efficient there.

    The worst example I had last year was travelling through LGW with my brother. He was landing as a tourist on an Aussie passport. Was asked how long he was staying and where as his landing card showed a private address – so he pointed at me and said, “his place”, was welcomed in, passport stamped, and waved through. I was at the counter next to his, handed over my Aussie passport and biometric card with my indefinite leave to remain (ILR) status – ie I had permission to live and work in Britain for the rest of my life if I so chose. So I’m questioned about how long I’ve been away, where I’ve been, what I was doing there, what I do for work, where I lived, whether I rented or owned there, why I chose to live in the UK, and when I was going to apply for citizenship (I already had, and was waiting for Home Office’s efficient 3 month wait before processing the application). I then had my thumbprints scanned, the passport stamped and a handwritten note as to my biocard’s number above the stamp.

    Needless to say that my brother just laughed at me, and questioned why I didn’t just enter as a tourist as it appeared easier than being a permanent resident.

    When the registered traveller programme came in a few years back, it was pretty much only for Heathrow and Gatwick, and only by invitation. As it has now expanded to nearly all of the larger English and Scottish airports, along with the Eurostar border crossings in Belgium and France, and is available to most regular travellers, I think it’s a great investment.

  44. I am also Australian and absolutely love my Regd Traveller. Was at Lille last week and got an absolute grilling as no e-gates were available. Will never understand why we get such a hostile time at the border when we are clearly living legally in the country and contributing. It’s completely inconsistent with the warm treatment we get from almost all British people.

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