Singapore to begin passportless immigration clearance using QR codes

Estimates suggest waiting times at passport control could be reduced by at least 30%.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor
woman traveling with phone and passport
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Travelers driving through Singapore's land borders will soon be able to clear immigration using a QR code, removing the need to flash their passports.

The QR codes can be generated via the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) mobile app before travelers arrive at the Woodlands or Tuas checkpoints at the border with neighboring Malaysia.

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The QR codes are scanned at the immigration counter, where one code can be generated for all travelers in the same vehicle, according to ICA. The codes are encrypted and can only be retrieved, and decrypted, by the immigration authority. This passport-free option will be available from March 19.

After downloading the MyICA app from either the Google Play Store or Apple's App Store, users must then fill in their passport details in the app to generate a one-time QR code.

Singapore residents can log in via the national digital authentication platform, SingPass, to automatically fill in their passport details when they tap the MyICA icon. They can also use the app's camera feature to scan the MRZ (machine-readable zone) of their passport biodata page.

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Foreign travelers who have previously visited Singapore can use the app's camera feature to do the same. 

First-time visitors to Singapore or those re-entering the country with a different passport from their previous visit will still have to show their physical passports for immigration clearance, ICA said. They can then use the QR code option on subsequent visits.

Travelers in the same vehicle can choose to collectively generate one QR code for immigration clearance, with their passport details stored via the MyICA app on one person's phone. Multiple QR codes can also be created for different traveling groups, where the passport details of up to 10 travelers can be grouped in one QR code and stored under a name, such as "Besties."

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The codes are scanned at QR code scanners located at the arrival and departure car counters at the two checkpoints. ICA officers will then access the data through the QR code and conduct face-to-face checks of travelers.

The immigration authority estimates that the new option will yield time savings of about 20 seconds for cars with four travelers, or one minute for vehicles with 10 travelers.

Waiting time can be reduced by at least 30% if most car travelers choose the QR code option for clearance, ICA said, adding that travelers can still pass through immigration using their physical passports. 

Singapore first announced plans for the passportless QR code option last May, as an extension of its Automated Passenger In-Car Clearance System (APICS) to ease immigration clearance between the country and Malaysia. 

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During live trials at the Woodlands checkpoint between June and October 2022, more than 400 cars and 700 travelers were cleared via APICS, with 94% going through the immigration process without assistance from officers. Contactless biometrics using iris and facial recognition processes immigration clearance via APICS.

Over the recent long holiday weekend from February 8 to 13, more than 2.33 million people crossed Singapore's land checkpoints, clocking an average of about 390,000 travelers daily. This is 35% higher than the daily average in 2023, ICA said, with some cars waiting up to three hours to clear immigration.

On March 8 alone, which is the date that marks the start of the week-long school holidays, 495,000 travelers crossed the two checkpoints. More than 1.8 million people did likewise over the weekend from March 7 to 10, according to ICA. The Woodlands Checkpoint today sees an average 300,000 travelers daily, up from 230,000 in 2000. This number is expected to hit 400,000 by 2050.

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