At the best of times, arriving into Singapore’s Changi Airport is fairly efficient with no more than 5-10 minutes waiting in line at immigration.
But the queues and waiting times can sometimes stretch out to double that time, or more.
So here’s a time-saving tip which can see you in a taxi and on the way to your hotel while other passengers on the same flight are still standing in line.
It’s a mouthful know as eIACS, or ‘enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System’. This is Singaporean equivalent of Australia’s automated Smartgate passport system, and it’s open not only to residents of the Red Dot but is also free to Australians who regularly visit Singapore.
The criteria are very modest: you need to have entered and exited Singapore (not simply made an in-transit stop at the airport) at least twice in the previous 24 months, using the same passport, which means that even a once-a-year visitor is elibigle.
There’s an eIACS Enrolment Centre in Changi’s Terminal 3 – it’s just off to your right, immediately after clearing outbound passport control – but this isn’t convenient for everyone.
For starters, the weekday opening hours of 8am to 5pm don’t always suit the arrival time of flights from Australia – nor does its location at T3, if you’ve arrived on a Qantas or British Airways flight at T1.
And let’s face it, sometimes you just want to get out of the airport and check into your hotel.
That’s where you might find it more convenient to register for eIACS at the head office of the country’s Immigration & Checkpoints Authority in downtown Singapore.
It can be much easier to fit a visit to the ICA office into your schedule, and in my experience the process of enrolling took less than 10 minutes.
The ICA building is handily located next to Lavender MRT station, which is on the green East-West line (station EW11), at 10 Kallang Road.
Visit the eIACS website to make an ‘e-Appointment’ – slots are 1 minutes apart between 8am and 5pm weekdays, and 8am to 1pm Saturdays.
Print out your appointment confirmation, along with the two-page eIACS application form – you’ll want to complete this in advance.
(If you’re uncomfortable answering the questions regarding your race and religion, leave them blank and ask the ICA officer during your appointment.)
There’s no need to bring a passport-style photo, as the photo is now taken during your eIACS appointment.
Arrive at the ICA building about 10 minutes ahead of your appointment, bringing with you eIACS application form, passport and the appointment confirmation printout.
Hop a lift to the fourth floor and turn left towards the eIACS enrolment centre.
Scan the barcode on your appointment confirmation page at one of the self-service ticketing kiosks to receive a ticket for the application queue, but don’t worry if the ticket numbers displayed on the large screens are running out of order – there is a system to this (we’re talking about the famously efficient Singapore, after all).
My own experience when visiting the ICA building to receive eIACS approval was that my number was called five minutes prior to my appointment, and the whole process took under five minutes.
The ICA offer will snap your photo with a small camera – don’t worry if you’re having a bad hair day as this picture doesn’t appear in your passport, it’s just for internal records – and also take digital thumb prints.
They’ll then plonk a full-page stamp onto the last blank page of your passport, which is your official IACS authorisation and is valid through to six months before the expiry of your passport, to a maximum of five years.
The next time you visit Singapore you won’t even need to complete an arrival card: just make a beeline for the automated lanes, often signposted as ‘eIACS’ or ‘Singapore residents’ and to the left of the staffed immigration lines. eIACS lanes are also available for travellers departing Changi.
Slide your passport photo page into the eIACS reader and follow the prompts to provide a thumb print – and when the gates open, you’re on your way.