Cutting Connection Times in Australia With SmartGate

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The last thing you want after a 15-hour flight across the Pacific is to have to sit around in another airport all day and wait for a connecting flight. Unfortunately, that can often be the case in a destination like Australia where there are only a certain number of flights to various destinations throughout the day, and cutting a connection too close can mean missing your flight altogether and not being able to get to your final point for days. Luckily, as TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen found out on his recent trip down under, being able to use Australia’s SmartGate Immigrations kiosks were a huge timesaver and make tighter connections possible.

Smartgate works a lot like Global Entry.
SmartGate works a lot like Global Entry.

I love Global Entry because as a frequent international traveler it saves me hours of time by avoiding huge lines at my home airport of LAX when going through return customs and immigration, and I can simply check in at the immigrations kiosks, print out my declarations form, jet through the dedicated customs line and leave the airport. Not only that, but if you’re a United Premier 1K, or have the Amex Platinum, Business Platinum or Mercedes-Benz Platinum, each cardholder gets their $100 application fee refunded.

Aside from the Global Entry benefits themselves, being a member also gets you a Trusted Traveler number that you can use to register for TSA PreCheck, and it also gets you into Australia a little faster.

Coming back from Iceland, I was able to avoid these long immigration lines at JFK thanks to Global Entry.
No more standing in immigrations lines like this one!

In November 2012, Australia announced that it would begin letting US citizens with Global Entry (and NEXUS and Sentri as well) to use its SmartGate system – which is a lot like Global Entry – on a trial basis, though that has since been extended and it looks like it’s here to stay. That means, instead of getting in the “Purple” line for non-Australian citizens, US Trusted Travelers can head directly to the line of kiosks, print out a ticket, hand it over with your customs forms and be on your way. Now, you don’t get your checked bags any quicker, but if you’re traveling light with just carry on, you can literally be out of the airport in under 5 minutes.

Like with Global Entry, you simply walk up to a kiosk and scan your passport information page in the reader. You answer a couple of questions about whether you’ve been exposed to contagious diseases or are carrying quarantine contraband, and then it prints out a little ticket. You then take that ticket to one of the SmartGates themselves, which are like big photo booths.

You put your ticket in the machine, it takes your picture to match your facial features to its biometrics information file for you, and then if you pass, it lets you through and you take your ticket. What’s interesting is that the picture you take at the SmarGgate must match your passport photos, so if you’re smirking or smiling in your photo, try to make the same face. Haircuts shouldn’t matter.

Then you can either collect your checked luggage or if you didn’t check anything, you can go right to the Customs line (there’s not a special one) and hand over your SmartGate ticket and a completed Customs Declarations form to the Customs agent. Note: even though you use SmartGate, unlike with Global Entry where you fill in your customs form at the kiosk, you must still complete a paper one by hand when entering Australia.

I landed in Melbourne on Tuesday morning and my heart sank when I saw the huge line snaking through the Duty Free shop and almost back into the terminal for customs and immigration, but I just walked a ways past that into the immigration hall itself and saw the SmartGate kiosks so I walked up to one and followed the steps, zipped through the quick customs line and I was out of the international terminal and into the domestic one and checked into my next flight within 5 minutes flat. It was every bit as good as Global Entry and it meant that if I had had a really tight connection, there would have been no issues. As it was, I had a few hours to kill, so I headed to the domestic Qantas business class lounge to catch up on emails, but better hanging out there than sitting in line!

For more information and instructions from the US government, check out this page.

SmartGate is currently available at the following airports in Australia:

Adelaide
Brisbane
Cairns
Darwin
Gold Coast
Melbourne
Perth
Sydney

Have any of you used SmartgGte? How was your experience?

For more information on Global Entry, its benefits, and how you can get it for free, check out these posts:

Amex Platinum Global Entry Fee Reimbursement and Points Accrual
Global Entry FAQ And Ways To Get It For Free
My Experience Getting Refunded for Global Entry Using My Amex Platinum Card
Top 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Global Entry
My Father’s Day Present – An Additional Amex Platinum Card For Dad
Getting Around the Global Entry Appointment Backlog
Global Entry Rocks My World
Global Entry Fee Now Waived for Amex Platinum Card Members

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