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How do DHS and CBP use APIS?

Updated: Aug 25, 2023  | Tags: Border Security, ESTA Requirements

APIS is the Advance Passenger Information System, a pre-departure requirement allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to review passenger’s information. Passenger data undergoes security checks before they are allowed to board their flights entering or leaving the U.S. APIS is also used for commercial shipping or sailing to or from the U.S.

APIS, together with Passenger Name Record (PNR) data, will allow the DHS to identify and prevent terrorist threats and allow them to coordinate with foreign authorities and carriers to prevent persons of interest from boarding.

How do DHS and CBP use APIS?
How do DHS and CBP use APIS?

What is APIS?

APIS is an electronic system for exchanging data that is being increasingly used by countries around the world. APIS is a computer-based system that collects biographical data from passengers traveling internationally via air or sea before their arrival or departure. Airlines and sea carriers are required to collect this information and transmit it to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The data collected typically includes:

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Date of birth
  • Citizenship
  • Passport information
  • Itinerary details

The United States and most EU countries now require carriers to submit information about their passengers before departure. This system has been introduced to improve security and is known as APIS.

Your carrier will inform you about the details you need to provide. This is done either when booking or when checking in. If you are not sure about the requirements, contact your carrier and they will be able to answer any questions.

You should not confuse providing your details for APIS with applying for ESTA or a visa. You still have to meet the entry requirements for the United States or any other country you plan to visit, as well as passport control rules and customs regulations.

The APIS Final Rule was published in 2005 and established the current requirements. APIS requirements are widely recognized by international air carriers and shipping lines. In the first year after it came into effect, Customs and Border Protection processed nearly 100 million passengers entering the U.S. by air.

Why APIS is Important?

Enhanced Security Measures

Before the flight or voyage departs, CBP officers review the submitted APIS data to assess potential risks. The data undergoes various checks against watchlists, criminal databases, and other security parameters to identify high-risk individuals who may require further investigation.

Facilitation of Legitimate Travel

APIS not only screens for potential threats but also expedites the entry of legitimate travelers. Pre-screening allows customs and border agents to focus their efforts more precisely, making the entry process quicker and smoother for law-abiding citizens and visitors.

Inter-Agency Coordination

The DHS can share APIS data with other federal agencies for national security, law enforcement, immigration, or other public safety purposes. This enables a holistic approach to border control and threat assessment.


Real-Time Risk Assessment

The DHS employs APIS for real-time evaluation of passengers. By comparing passenger data against various databases, DHS can make immediate decisions about the level of scrutiny required for each individual.

Data Analytics and Predictive Modeling

Sophisticated algorithms analyze the APIS data to predict behavioral patterns and identify anomalies. These can include sudden changes in travel patterns, payment methods, or the frequency of trips, which may warrant further investigation.

Terrorist Tracking

APIS is crucial in the identification and tracking of individuals on terrorist watchlists. By receiving data ahead of time, DHS can take proactive measures to either deny boarding or prepare for an arrest upon arrival.

Immigration Enforcement

APIS also assists DHS in immigration enforcement. It helps identify individuals who have overstayed their visas or are otherwise in violation of immigration laws.


Entry and Exit Verification

CBP uses APIS to verify the entry and exit records of travelers, ensuring they comply with the duration of stay permitted under their visa or ESTA authorization.

Customs Declarations

APIS is integrated with other systems that process customs declarations, making it easier for CBP agents to verify the information declared by incoming travelers.

Interception of Illicit Goods

APIS data can indicate whether a traveler is more likely to be carrying contraband or illicit goods, allowing CBP agents to target their inspections more effectively.

International Collaboration

CBP shares certain APIS data with foreign authorities for flights departing from or arriving in those countries, aiding in international security efforts.

How does APIS transmit data?

Carriers can transmit APIS information pre-departure using one of the two following methods:

  • The APIS Quick Query mode, by which carriers can transmit each passenger’s data in real time as they check in before boarding.
  • APIS Batch transmission. This can be interactive or non-interactive and requires carriers to transmit all the data from the passenger manifest 30 minutes before departure.

Whichever method is chosen, a passenger will not be permitted to board until he or she has been given clearance by CBP.

For ships leaving foreign ports bound for the United States, the rules regarding transmitting data from the crew and passenger arrival manifest remain unchanged. They are currently required to transmit this information during a period of 96 to 24 hours before arrival. APIS data must now be transmitted 1 hour before departing the U.S.

Why was APIS implemented?

Before 9/11, air carriers voluntarily sent advance passenger data to USCIS, now part of CBP. APIS first came into effect in 2001 under ATSA, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act and the 2002 Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act. Post the 9/11 Commission, the U.S. Congress ordered under the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) that DHS should require advance data on all international travelers whether by air or sea.

What are the data protection and privacy practices of APIS?

CBP and commercial carriers have identified the best practices and have ensured proper communication between the CBP and the carriers. This meets the current standards of privacy and data protection.

While APIS is an invaluable tool for national security, it does raise privacy concerns. The DHS and CBP are subject to stringent regulations on data retention, usage, and sharing to mitigate the risks of misuse. Nonetheless, questions about the scope of data collection and the potential for false positives remain.

What does APIS mean for travelers before traveling?

If you are traveling to a foreign country, your airline might ask you to submit your passenger information prior to your departure. In most cases, you will be able to submit your personal details online. This is separate from getting a visa or other clearance from immigration authorities. Find out what the requirements are before you depart for your trip.

How is my information registered with APIS?

If traveling to the United States, your carrier will request you to provide the information from the photo (top) page of your passport, or if traveling in Europe, your national ID card.

The information required will include your full name, date of birth, nationality, gender, travel document type (identity card or passport), number of identity card or passport and the country where your travel document was issued.

Your details will be taken either by an automated passport reader during check-in or when you make your booking. You will not be allowed to travel if you do not provide APIS with your details within the specified time period.

The Future of APIS

As technology evolves, APIS is likely to become more sophisticated. Developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence could lead to even more accurate predictive models, and biometric verification methods like facial recognition are already being tested for integration with APIS.

Applying for an ESTA before traveling to the U.S.

If you are a citizen of a country that is a member of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you can register your information with the U.S. government online with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

DHS recommends registering with ESTA no later than 72 hours before your time of travel. You can submit your information at any time before your planned trip.

If citizens of VWP countries have failed to obtain an approved ESTA before traveling, they will not be permitted to board their flights.