Australia-NZ Immigration Simplification Can’t Come Soon Enough

Australia-NZ Immigration Simplification Can’t Come Soon Enough

Customs and immigration formalities are a necessary evil, but sorting them before you land is always a better option. So I’m really hoping that a trial to simplify Australia-New Zealand travel gets taken up fast.

Picture by Phillip Capper

It’s the moment every Aussie traveller dreads. You’ve been flying for 14 hours or so to the US, but the worst is yet to come: the immigration and customs hall at LAX. You elbow past everyone in sight to get towards the front of the queue, but no matter how speedy you’ve been and how many grannies you’ve barelled, you still face an interminable wait for your chance to get fingerprinted, photographed and quizzed by a surly customs person.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If you fly into the US from Canada, you still have to do the immigration palaver, but you go through all that in Canada itself. After clearing Canadian formalities, you deal with an entirely separate group of US officials, and are cleared for entry to the US. That means when you land Stateside, you can pretty much get off the plane. That arrangement suits the US, which is filled with airports that don’t have proper inbound passenger processing facilities, but also makes life easier for passengers.

A similar system is in place on the Eurostar between London and Paris; you clear both countries before you board the train. There’s a potential downside to this kind of system if you don’t arrive at the airport (or station) until the last minute. If you’re like me, however, and routinely show up for these kinds of things hours early because you’ve allowed for potential disasters on the way, then getting immigration out of the way is as good a means of passing the time as anything else.

Last year, we reported on a system introduced by Garuda which offered advance visa processing before hitting Indonesia. That felt like a step in the right direction, but a new trial running between Australia and New Zealand has even more potential.

Under a newly-announced trial, passengers travelling from Auckland to the Gold Coast who have a passport suitable for use with the SmartGate kiosk system can process their passport at a New Zealand kiosk and skip having to do the same thing when they land in Australia. Instead of feeding in their passport again, they can progress directly to the gate where photography happens.

That’s not quite as efficient as actually getting to step straight through on landing in Australia, but given our strict customs regulations that was always unlikely. The scheme will likely be extended to other cities once the trial finishes in July next year. We know that nearly half of Australian travellers now use SmartGate, so it’s great to see the technology being deployed more effectively.

Minister For Home Affairs

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman has spotted Jacki Weaver and Molly Meldrum more than once while lurking in the LAX queue, but is far too shy to say hello. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • You know what this Aussie traveller dreads – flying into the US from Canada! Having to go through US customs whilst still in Canada has so many downsides compared to the benefits. Can you imagine going back through both sets of customs people if your plane is delayed/cancelled and you have to stay the night. I had the experience of being stuck in the US terminal and wanting to do some shopping, only to find I could not get access to where the good shopping was – in the other international terminal! Let’s hope any system Australia & New Zealand put in place is nothing like what the US has forced upon passengers coming in from Canada.

  • I used to wish we could move to America when I was a kid, but now I’m so glad we didn’t! Sure we have some issues, but compared to the US, Australia is the promised land! It’s not just because of the crappy way they treat you at the airport either, the whole country is spiralling down the crapper!! #[

  • There’s a similar but little known system when flying from the UK to the US.

    If you’re lucky enough to be going business class you should consider going on BA’s business-class-only flight from London City (so much more convenient and stress free than LHR) to JFK. It stops in Shannon, Ireland, to refuel, and all the US immigration stuff is done then, in Ireland, where it’s quiet, easy, and stress-free. The stop doesn’t add too much time when you consider time saved at the other end.

  • I used the smartgate check in system at Auckland last time I flew back. (June, 2011) There is a kiosk near the Qantas Lounge upstairs from the main hall. It will print out your ticker to use in the place where it takes your photo. How is that any diffrent to what is being described in this article? I landed in Melbourne BTW, not the Gold Coast, so I assume it’s for all destinations that have smartgates?

    • I came back from NZ to Coolangatta a few weeks ago and attempted to use the smartgate which was apparantly still in beta as it didnt recognise me nor several others that attempted to use it.

  • Yes half of Australians use smartgate. But most end up in the queue seeking assistance it would seem, judging from my experience. This morning, for example, there was about 30 people queuing for help with smartgate, while there was actually no one going through the gates. Meanwhile, the queues for the more non-smartgate travellers were going quickly. Wasn’t a good morning.

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