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What is Automated Passport Control (APC)?

Updated: Oct 10, 2022  | Tags: APC, Airport Security, ESTA Eligibility

In their ongoing efforts to better manage the increasing numbers of travelers at U.S. airports, CBP and airport authorities collaborated a few years ago to launch the APC (Automated Passport Control) program. This innovative technology aims to expedite the traveler inspection process by providing Automated Passport Control (APC) self-service kiosks where passengers can submit their biographic information and customs declaration electronically. Since the program was introduced in May 2013 it has helped to bring about a 20% to 40% reduction in waiting times.

The purpose of the Automated Passport Control (APC) Kiosks

The main objective of the APC system is to boost the productivity of CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officers by shifting a number of the necessary but routine data collection functions to passengers at a time when they would otherwise be standing in long queues waiting to be served. Since the lines at the APC kiosks are typically significantly shorter, travelers can be processed faster and be on their way sooner.

Apart from that, by reducing the workload of CBP officers, the APC kiosks are able to free them up for other duties. These kiosks are not complicated to use, they don’t require the payment of any membership fees, and there is no preregistration involved in the process. Another benefit is that the user does not have to complete a declaration form since all the necessary questions are covered by the kiosk’s electronic system.

What does Automated Passport Control involve?

APC or Automated Passport Control is a program run by the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) government agency. It aims to speed up the entry process for the following groups of people:

  • Citizens of the United States
  • Legal permanent residents of the United States
  • Participants of eligible Visa Waiver Programs such as ESTA
  • Citizens of Canada
  • Certain specific travelers who hold a U.S. visa

APC does this by automating the process through Custom and Border Protection’s primary inspection area. Travelers are able to use self-service kiosks where they submit biographic data and reply to questions.

Please take note of the following: There are no costs involved. APC also does not require you to join any program and neither does it require pre-registration. As far as the handling of personal information/data is concerned, it adheres to very high standards of protection. Travelers who use APC enjoy reduced waiting times, faster processing, and less congestion.

How does Automated Passport Control work?

Wherever the APC system has been employed, eligible passengers can go straight to the APC kiosks in the airport’s passport control area instead of having to fill out a printed customs declaration form. Once at the kiosk, the traveler will be asked to take his photograph, scan his or her passport, and answer a couple of questions related to CBP in order to verify their flight and biographic information.

As soon as a passenger has completed this process, they will be issued with a receipt. He or she can then take the receipt together with their passport to a CBP officer for the final stage of the inspection before being given the go-ahead to enter the United States.

The APC kiosks allow a group of individuals who reside at the same address to be processed at the same time.

At which airports are eligible travelers able to use the APC system?

The following U.S. airports currently feature APC kiosks. More are expected to be added in the future:

  • Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ)
  • Edmonton International Airport (YEG)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)
  • Ontario International Airport (ONT)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
  • St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE)
  • Stewart International Airport (SWF)
  • T.F. Green International Airport (PVD)
  • Vancouver Seaport (YHC)

How does a traveler use the APC kiosk?

To get started, an eligible traveler has to activate the screen and choose their type of travel document. The next step is to scan this document and select a reason why they are traveling to the United States. After that. they have to take their fingerprints and a photo of themselves and answer a couple of declaration questions. The system then transmits this information to CBP where a standard risk assessment is carried out. Once that has been done, the machine will print a receipt.

As soon as a traveler is finished at the APC kiosk, he or she should take their travel document, printed receipt, and boarding pass (where applicable) to a CBP officer who will verify everything before giving final clearance.

Who qualifies to use the Automated Passport Control system?

Citizens and legal permanent residents of the United States, citizens of Canada, participants of an eligible VWP (Visa Waiver Program), and travelers who enter the U.S. with a D, C1/D, or B1/B2 visa are allowed to use APC kiosks.

Are holders of a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident Card, U.S. Border Crossing Card, U.S. Visa, and VWP (Visa Waiver Program) Travelers - including ESTA Passport Holders who have earlier entered the United States under this system - allowed to use APC?

Yes, these travelers are allowed to use APC and will pass via a similar APC kiosk procedure as set out above. They will, however, have to go through a somewhat different fingerprint and photo capture process. It has to be noted at this stage that ESTA visitors are only allowed to remain in the United States for 90 days or less.

Are travelers who use the APC kiosk still required to fill out a customs declaration form?

No, that is not necessary. A traveler will be able to electronically answer these questions during his or her visit to the APC kiosk. Afterward, this information will be verbally verified by a CBP officer. If you have already completed a CBP declaration form and the CBP officer informs you that this is no longer needed, ask the officer to shred the form.

Will I be able to answer the questions at the APC kiosk in my language?

The following languages are currently available at APC kiosks: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Korean, Chinese (simplified/traditional), German, and Japanese.

What are the preconditions for completing a transaction at an APC kiosk?

Below is a list of the preconditions required for successful processing at an APC kiosk:

  • The traveler should have a machine-readable, valid U.S., Canadian, or Visa Waiver Program eligible passport, U.S. Border Crossing Card (U.S. BCC), U.S. Visa, or U.S. LPR card.
  • If a traveler has a Canadian passport it should not expire within the next 180 days.
  • Visa Waiver Program passports’ expiry date should not be within the next 90 days.
  • It is not necessary to have a written declaration card.
  • The green attract light must be switched on
  • The kiosk has to display a welcome screen

More APC kiosk Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Does the APC system use secure and safe technology?

A. Yes. No personal data is stored by the APC system. Travelers’ answers to the declaration questions and their travel document info are sent between the kiosk and the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) through a secure system that uses high-level encryption protocols similar to the way it is done when information is submitted by a CBP officer from one of the booths.

Q. Why does my photo have to be taken?

A. A traveler’s photo has to be taken to enable the DVO (Document Verification Officer) to confirm that the declaration receipt is for the same individual who used the APC kiosk and that the photo on the receipt and the travel document match. In the case of Visa Waiver Program travelers who hold a valid ESTA and who are re-entering the United States, the photo is necessary to keep the U.S. Visit program that is monitored by the CBP up to date.

Q. Can an APC kiosk process a passport of which the expiry date has been temporarily extended?

A. No, that will not be possible. Travelers with such a temporary extension will have to be processed by a CBP officer at one of the booths.

Q. Will an expired LPR card or one that has been extended for a certain period still work at one of the APC kiosks?

A. No, that is not possible. When the MRZ (machine-readable zone) of the LPR card is scanned, the machine cannot read the content within the string. In this case, and also in the case of expired cards, the kiosk will request the user to go to a CBP booth.

Q. Are kiosks able to process damaged travel documents?

A. Generally speaking it should be possible to process damaged travel documents, provided that the two lines of code that appear at the bottom of the main page remain readable.

Q. What should I do if my travel document is not scanning correctly?

A. Try scanning it again, or go to a different kiosk. If the issue persists, do the following:

  • Insert the travel document face down, with the MRZ side first.
  • Push it right to the back of the scanner while holding it flat.
  • If there is still a problem, try pushing the travel document as far as possible toward the left corner.