You may have just excitedly bought airline tickets to South Korea or to Australia online once the announcement came up on them as new Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL).
Then the reality sinks in slowly. You realise that there are more logistics and planning required this time to execute a trip out, instead of just throwing the items you want to bring into your luggage two hours before the flight like in the year 2019.
It may feel like Mission Impossible right now, but fret not O’ brave one, we have broken down the steps and checks required for you to watch out for to make your trip enjoyable and hassle-free.
For those who are not as adventurous and are waiting on the sidelines to see if the pandemic situation will improve (or if you are hoping for cheaper air fares) this article will also help you sort out the necessary tasks you need to do to make it work.
Last week, national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) said it witnessed strong demand in the premium cabin on VTL flights, including that from business travel.
The airline company stated that new VTL ticket bookings for the next three departure months have hit about 140,000 thus far. That’s quite a fair bit of planes taking off from Changi Airport, if we recall that just months ago most flights were still grounded.
Currently, SIA has 21 cities on the VTL network, and it has seen a seven-time increase in bookings for VTL flights since the announcements of the VTLs with various countries were made.
Which countries qualify for VTLs
So what are VTLs? VTLs allow for quarantine-free travel to Singapore.
This is a list of the VTL countries/regions that are available as of Nov 16, 2021:
- [Active VTL Countries/Regions] Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States
- [For entry into Singapore from Nov 28, 2021, 2359hrs, Singapore time] Finland, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sweden
- [For entry into Singapore from Dec 5, 2021, 2359hrs, Singapore time] Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates
To be eligible for quarantine-free travel under the VTL, travellers must be fully vaccinated with the World Health Organisation Emergency Use Listing Vaccines. The list includes the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, which are the recommended vaccines in Singapore.
All Singaporeans, Permanent Residents, and unvaccinated children aged 12 and below in the current calendar year do not need to make any applications to travel under the VTL.
However, you will need to present an acceptable proof of vaccination for verification at check-in and arrival immigration. You are strongly encouraged to self-verify your vaccination certificate prior to your trip by referring to the guide here.
In Singapore, you can obtain your proof of vaccination from the TraceTogether app or on HealthHub. The Singapore Vaccination HealthCerts are issued via the Notarise portal.
For travellers coming to Singapore, they will need to hold an accepted proof of vaccination, which are vaccination certificates depending on the traveller’s locality.
What are the travel documents I need to prepare?
Under the VTL, vaccination is an important safeguard for quarantine-free entry into and out of Singapore without compromising public health. Singapore requires digitally verifiable proof of vaccination to guard against forgery.
Travellers must carry along an electronic or physical copy of the travel documents applicable to them, and be prepared to present them to airline staff and immigration officers.
At check-in and arrival immigration, as proof of vaccination, travellers may present either a vaccination status on the TraceTogether app or HealthHub app or a vaccination certificate(s) issued by the Singapore Ministry of Health in English.
The electronic or physical vaccination certificate(s) should be in English and clearly state information such as the traveller’s name, personal information, name of vaccine used, and date of vaccination.
A traveller is considered fully vaccinated if he or she has had the last vaccine dose at least two weeks before arrival in or departure from Singapore.
Short-term visitors and long-term pass holders who need to apply for the Vaccinated Travel Pass (VTP) but cannot upload their vaccination certificate can apply to the Safe Travel Office with either of the above documents attached for verification.
All digital vaccination certificates issued in most of the VTL countries can be verified, with more than 14 countries having a national system for such certificates to be issued.
In the case of Canada, it does not have a national system but has recently developed a standardised proof of vaccination in the SHC format that is “secure and verifiable”.
Special mention: Air travel to Malaysia
The VTL arrangement with Malaysia is being finalised as the scheme will roll out on November 28th, 2359hrs, Singapore time.
At the start, six VTL flights will service the Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport route.
According to SIA’s website, it noted that the VTL flight schedule will not be available until then.
Its service centre and call centre staff will not be able to assist with bookings at present and will provide updates in due course.
Special mention: Air travel from the US
Singapore currently accepts vaccination certificates that are issued in the predominant Smart Health Card (SHC) format by “trusted issuers” in the US on the CommonTrust Network or Vaccination Credential Initiative.
The US does not have a national system or a standardised proof of vaccination. The country instead has “multiple issuers”, including individual states, pharmacies, and supermarkets.
The SHC contains a person’s clinical information, including vaccination history, and comes with a QR code that needs to be uploaded on the VTL application portal before arrival.
While more states are rolling out the SHC, travellers who are coming to Singapore can provide their digital vaccination record retrieved through their state’s or local health authority’s public health database.
They can also use their physical vaccination record and a letter signed by their vaccination provider to attest to their vaccination status. The letter should contain the traveller’s details and details about the vaccination.
Singaporeans and Permanent Residents do not need to apply for the VTP and can show either of the above documents for verification at the airlines’ check-in counter pre-departure and on arrival in Singapore.
What do I need to do before flying out?
All travellers, except those aged two years old and below in the calendar year (i.e. in the year 2021, those who are born in or after 2019), must undergo a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or Antigen Rapid Test (ART) within two days before departure for Singapore.
For example, if the pre-departure test is taken on December 1st, 2021, it will be valid for departures up to December 3rd, 2021.
The pre-departure Covid-19 test must be taken at an internationally accredited or recognised laboratory, clinic, or medical facility. The test result certificate must be in English and state details such as traveller’s name, personal information, date of test, and name of testing institution.
The tests must be undertaken at a clinic or a registered provider. You must get a physical copy of a negative result.
Travellers are responsible for making their own appointments with the testing institutions to take their pre-departure Covid-19 test. They must also bear the cost of their pre-departure Covid-19 test.
The airline will refuse boarding for travellers who are unable to produce a valid pre-departure Covid-19 test result certificate during check-in at the departure airport.
For some VTL countries/regions, you may have to apply for a visa-free entry. For example, for South Korea, it is required to apply for a visa-free entry via the Korea Electronic Travel Authorisation (K-ETA) website, at least 24 hours before your flight. It costs 10,000 won (S$11.50) per person.
Can I self-administer an ART as a pre-departure test?
Self-administered tests (e.g. self-testing using an ART kit) cannot be used as a pre-departure test. You can find a list of locations where you can take your pre-departure test here.
Is it compulsory to buy Covid-19 travel insurance?
For most VTL countries, travellers will also need to buy travel insurance with a minimum coverage for Covid-19 related medical expenses, and carry a hard copy of the insurance policy.
For example, for South Korea, the insurance has to have a minimum coverage of 30 million won (S$34,000).
For visitors to Singapore, it is mandatory to have Covid-19 travel insurance coverage with a minimum coverage of S$30,000.
“This is to ensure that short-term visitors will be able to bear the full cost of medical treatment, tests and isolation imposed on them for public health reasons, should they be suspected of being infected with Covid-19, or require medical treatment for Covid-19 while in Singapore,” said the Immigrations & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on its website.
Countries that do not mandate a Covid-19 travel insurance include Germany. While not compulsory, travellers are still encouraged to secure a comprehensive travel insurance policy that covers Covid-19-related costs to prevent a bill shock if you ever catch the virus overseas.
At least seven insurers in Singapore, including Aviva and Axa, offer travel insurance with Covid-19 coverage.
Policies should cover contingencies such as if your trip is cancelled, postponed or cut short. Other useful coverage includes medical expenses incurred overseas and quarantine allowances.
The insurance can go up to S$150 or more, depending on the age and health situation of the buyer, the coverage, and the number of travel days. Travellers need to talk to the insurer for a quote.
I am fully vaccinated but I had Covid-19 before and have recovered. Can I travel?
Travellers can write to the Safe Travel Office using the enquiry form and provide your proof of vaccination and recovery certificate.
If you have an EU Digital Covid Certificate (EU DCC) issued by any VTL country/region showing the final dose in the series (i.e. “1/1” or “2/2”), you will fulfill the vaccination requirement under the VTL.
Short-term visitors and long-term pass holders can apply for a Vaccinated Travel Pass (VTP) here and upload the QR code found on their EU DCC of vaccination on the VTP application portal.
What do I need to bring along to the airport?
When checking in at the departure airport, travellers must present the following to the airline staff:
- a vaccination status on the TraceTogether app, HealthHub app or an accepted proof of vaccination in English.
- A valid pre-departure Covid-10 PCR or ART test result certificate.
Travellers must carry along an electronic or physical copy of the documents applicable to them, and be prepared to present them to airline staff and immigration officers.
Unvaccinated travellers who are 12 and below in this calendar year can travel to Singapore via the VTL if accompanied by a fully vaccinated VTL traveller.
Travel from Singapore to these countries can be on a non-VTL flight (except for flights into Australia, which have specific requirements).
Meanwhile, travel from these countries to Singapore must be on designated VTL flights. Travel to multiple VTL countries within the same trip is allowed.
What do I do once I arrive in the overseas country?
Once you land at the VTL country/region, you will proceed to the quarantine section where you will submit your vaccine certificate, negative PCR test result and a health condition report (to be issued by your airline and filled on board the flight).
You will then go to the Immigration section to submit a travel record declaration form (also done during flight). There you will get your passport stamped, and get your vaccination certificate QR code scanned for verification.
From there, you will go to the Covid-19 test centre where you will submit your VTL pass, take a PCR test, and install a quarantine app (if applicable) for self-monitoring of Covid-19 symptoms.
Finally, you can take a transport to your accommodation and stay there until you receive a negative test result the next day, either via cell phone text message or e-mail.
Congrats, you made it. You will now be able to roam freely.
Some countries require PCR testing again on the sixth or seventh day, so to avoid that, it might be better to plan shorter trips.
What should I do if I develop Covid-19 related symptoms during my stay?
You can ask a close contact to help to purchase an ART kit from convenience stores first and do a self-swab test to reduce panic.
If the test result is positive, look for the steps required to take in the country. For example, in the UK, a traveller has to arrange for a Covid-19 swab test online or call 119.
Most countries under the VTL require a Covid-19 infected person to self-isolate for 10 days.
The traveller would also have to pay for the extended length of stay at most places.
Some countries do allow close contacts to continue on with their itinerary if the test result returns negative, but some do require close contacts to also be quarantined.
In South Korea, close contacts of the infected person would have to isolate themselves for 14 days from the last time they were exposed to the patient, while in Spain, the rule is for 10 days of isolation for close contacts.
What should I do when returning to Singapore?
Within 48 hours of your departure, you must take a PCR test at approved centres recognised by Singapore’s Ministry of Health and get a physical copy of a negative result.
Book and pre-pay your On-Arrival Covid-19 PCR test to be done at Changi Airport.
On the day of the return flight, travellers are advised to arrive early at the overseas airport as there may be a longer check-in or waiting time due to Covid-19 regulations.
You will need to prepare the following to check-in: valid travel documents, Covid-19 vaccination proof and negative Covid-19 test result taken within 48 hours before departure.
Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents should only arrive in Singapore on a designated VTL flight in order not to serve a Stay-Home Notice (SHN).
You will undergo a Covid-19 PCR test on-arrival at Changi Airport.
Upon the completion of your on-arrival Covid-19 PCR test, you must commute directly to your declared self-isolation accommodation, or back home for most people.
You must then self-isolate there until you are notified of a negative PCR test result which will usually be provided in 12 hours.
You can go about your activities after receiving the negative test results.
Other rules I need to know
Some countries enforce strict mask wearing, while others only require it in certain situations, so be ready to do your research on the country first, in case you get fined or warned by overseas safe distancing ambassadors.
For example, mask wearing is mandatory wherever you go in South Korea. If caught without a mask, you can be fined up to 100,000 won (S$115).
Some countries may require the recording of visitor entry into malls, restaurants, cafes, and shops, so be prepared to have to provide your details.
Similar to Singapore, there may be curbs or limitations at some facilities like gyms, clubs, and saunas. There might also be curfews for nightlife activities, so you’ll have to do your research before heading out to avoid getting bummed.
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Featured Image Credit: The Culture Trip, Planetware