Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Border crossing efficiency

Winner: Hong Kong

One has to to live in Hong Kong for just a short while to realize how efficient the city is. Actually, for a resident with an ID card, they are reminded of that fact every time they leave or come back to Hong Kong; crossing the borders take at most 2 minutes.

The Hong Kong ID card, which every resident must have, has a chip which seemingly has some of your biometrics, such as your thumbprints. There are no documents to fill-up at the customs. You spot the e-Channel booths and go. Each booth has two sets of doors. To open the first set of doors, you just enter your ID card in the outside slot. The system will scan your card and open the doors when approved. Once inside, the doors behind you close and you must apply one of your thumbs to the thumb scanner which will recognize your identity and open the doors to the other side.
The whole procedure takes about 20 seconds. Then, you collect your luggage and just go out through the 'Nothing to Declare" section. No signature required, no paperwork to fill-out or handout unless you do have something to declare.

In Montreal (or anywhere in Canada for that matter), one has to lineup behind tens of people (if you are flying on a 500  passenger A380, you will wait) to show your travel document to the custom officer who will take a minimum of 30 seconds stamping this and that, checking for this or that. If you had the lineup-time, it can be anywhere between 1 minute and an hour. But that is not all, you must have filled the arrival card which, 99% of the time, just states that you are not bringing guns/goods/diseases/plants/etc and that you have nothing to declare. All of this so you can hand it out to another person who just collects those papers.

I can't, for the life of me, understand how we still have such archaic border crossing system in Canada. Why would 99% of the people have to fill and sign the declaration form if 99% have nothing to declare. It makes no sense at all. Sure, Hong Kong is a free port but that doesn't change anything; the system is one of self-declaration either way so why the inefficiencies?
The Hong Kong system provides a faster, more scalable, more pleasant, less intrusive and, most likely, much cheaper system (all the customs agents have to be paid, and my guess would be that you need 10 times less agents in the HK system)