The Registered Traveller Service is a service that the UK border offers. It allows e-gates access for passport holders that are originally ineligible for e-gates at UK airports during arrival immigration, as long as you’re entering with a visa, or have entered the country 4 times in the past 24 months. This is especially valuable for frequent flyers using Heathrow Airport, which isn’t currently offering a fast track service, and has queues that can easily reach upwards of 30 minutes.
Unfortunately as a Hong Kong resident applying for a job, my switch from a Student visa to a British National Overseas visa invalidated my Registered Traveller Service membership…less than two weeks after I was approved for the scheme, and having never had the chance to use it.
I still recommend the Registered Traveller Service for anyone who’s eligible, though would advise you not to make the same mistakes that I did…
Eligibility and Application for the Registered Traveller Service
The Registered Traveller Service is available for passengers of the following nationalities:
- Costa Rica
- Hong Kong SAR
- Macao SAR
- Papua New Guinea
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Vatican City State
You either need to have been through the border four times in the past 24 months (and be a standard visitor or be in transit – you can’t be on an ineligible visa), or own one of the following visas:
- a Tier 1, 2 or 5 visa holder
- a student with a Tier 4 visa
- a UK visa or permit holder in one of the following categories: Indefinite leave to remain, Naturalisation, UK Ancestry, Family member or spouse/partner, Intra company transfer, Intra-company graduate trainee
- a member of a diplomatic mission in the UK
Keep in mind that if you’ve got a passport from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea or the United States, you can already use the e-Gates without applying for this service.
This service costs £70 to be a part of, including a £50 membership fee and a £20 application fee. The membership lasts a year, starting from the day you submit your application. The £20 application fee will not be refunded if you are unsuccessful for the scheme.
Successfully Enrolling Myself for the Registered Traveller Service
I applied for the Registered Traveller Service through the gov.uk website, which involved having to provide details of my passport and BRP (biometric residence permit), as well as taking a few pictures of myself on the Immigration: ID Check app. I applied for the service on the 24th of December, and less than 24 hours later received an email for provisional acceptance. Now, you have to enter the country “normally” (through the general queue) once in order to be manually approved by an immigration officer.
As luck would have it, I was landing at London City Airport in less than two weeks after I received my provisional acceptance email. There was zero queue at London City Airport, the Border Force officer was friendly, and he reminded me that sometimes the gates could be a bit temperamental, though he’d manually approved me on the system.
There are many reasons to prefer London City Airport to Heathrow
I didn’t actually get an email within 48 hours to confirm my membership, and had to poke them by email. After scanning my passport and an entry stamp into the UK, I received an email confirming my membership on the 17th of January, less than a month after I applied, which would get me through the e-gates into the country within the next year.
Or so I thought…
Successfully Wasting £70 with the Registered Traveller Service
I got my first job offer to work in the UK in mid-January (which wasn’t the offer I’ve ended up accepting), and this was a job that didn’t sponsor visas, meaning that I’d require a work permit. Luckily, as a Hong Kong resident, I could do this using a British National Overseas visa. This visa cost a lot more than £70, though effectively allowed me unlimited stay and a right to live and work in the UK, so the cost was unavoidable.
Once my visa came through, I sent the Registered Traveller Service my updated visa details. I received a reply the next day saying that my membership had been cancelled, since I was on a visa ineligible for the service. Whoops…
I’ve got lots of travel planned over summer, though all of my legs to London land and depart from Heathrow Airport. I’m looking forward to using Heathrow Airport just that little bit less each time…
Time to hate Heathrow again…
To clarify, I totally understand that British National Overseas visa holders need additional verifications at the border (apparently as a BNO visa holder I don’t even need a biometric residence permit, since my details are automatically logged into the system), and with so many changes to British National Overseas visa eligibility as of late, it doesn’t make sense to automate entry into the UK border at the moment. I’m also not looking for a refund, since I did have an active membership for a period of time (albeit never using it), and the RTS explicitly states that they won’t refund if you switch to an ineligible visa during your membership.
I just figured the unfortunate timing (where I held an active RTS membership for less than two weeks) would make for you guys’ amusement, and there are also a couple of things to learn from here.
Conclusion: Things To Learn From
I was accepted for a Registered Traveller Service (RTS) membership with the UK Border Force, only to have it revoked two weeks later, as I’d switched from an eligible Student visa to an ineligible British National Overseas visa.
My case was a matter of unfortunate timing (especially since I didn’t know what would happen with job offers and visas when I applied for the scheme, and only knew I had a fair bit of travel coming up), though I personally wouldn’t recommend applying for the RTS if you’re looking at changing your UK entry rights within the next year, whether you’re applying for a visa or switching to another one – unless you know exactly which visa you’ll be switching to (and of course, it’s eligible). Despite this debacle, I’d still recommend the RTS if you’re a frequent visitor to the UK (for work, family or leisure reasons), or if you’re a frequent flyer who holds an eligible visa.
The real kicker was that the firm I’m now lined up to work for does sponsor Tier 2 Skilled Worker visas (I won’t name them), so I could’ve easily stayed on the Registered Traveller scheme…
Do you hold a Registered Traveller Service (RTS) membership? Is it worth it for you?