As we draw towards the end of 2020, I think it’s safe to say that travel plans this year haven’t exactly played out the way we envisioned.
I have personally cancelled more than half a dozen trips to places like London, Sydney, Dubai, Koh Samui and Bangkok, and I’m quite certain I am not the only one.
Let’s just rip off the band-aid and come to terms with the facts: 2020 is a writeoff for travel. Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung said as much in a ministerial statement on 6 October:
“I need to manage expectations here. For members who are hoping that I am about to announce some air travel resumption and possible December holiday destinations, I am sorry I will disappoint you.”
This means the earliest we can hope to ‘leisure travel bubbles’ forming is the first quarter of 2021, and while there have been promising developments so far, all it takes is a spike in cases to put us back at square one.
For leisure travel to be truly possible, restrictions need to be lifted on both sides. This means:
- No quarantine upon arrival in the overseas country
- No quarantine upon return to the home country
This situation does not currently exist. While Singapore has lifted restrictions on travel to certain countries, those countries have yet to reciprocate. Similarly, some countries have lifted restrictions on Singapore, but Singapore has yet to reciprocate.
There are several different scenarios currently in play.
All Singapore restrictions lifted
In view of the improving COVID-19 situation, Singapore has unilaterally lifted travel restrictions to:
- Australia (excluding Victoria State)
- New Zealand
Singapore citizens and permanent residents returning from these countries will undergo a COVID-19 test upon arrival, in lieu of a 7-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN). This is provided they have spent the last 14 days in these countries.
However, these countries have yet to reciprocate, and Singapore residents will either be denied entry or be subject to a lengthy quarantine upon arrival.
All foreign restrictions lifted
The following countries are among those which do not currently impose any quarantine restrictions on travelers arriving from Singapore:
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
Serbia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America do not currently require travellers from Singapore to self-isolate upon entry, or present a negative COVID-19 test result.
Egypt, Croatia, Maldives and the United Arab Emirates however, require tourists to present a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival. This in itself poses a problem as Singapore’s current COVID-19 testing regime does not allow for ‘voluntary tests’.
In other words, you can’t just walk into a clinic and request to do a COVID-19 test. You’ll be required to present an approval letter from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, which only approves testing for the following reasons:
- Travel related to attending essential business-related work, or taking up employment overseas
- Ship crew sign-on for foreign-going ships
- For repatriation of Chinese or Indian nationals with live or cancelled work permits and S-Passes returning to China, or Tamil Nadu or West Bengal States of India
- For travel related to long-term education, compassionate reasons, or otherwise
Do note that leisure travel is not one of the approved reasons. However, it is possible this may change in the near future, as the Ministry of Health recently announced that it has plans to ‘liberalise COVID-19 testing’.
Although the restrictions may have been lifted on the other end, Singapore’s restrictions remain firmly in place. This means that any returning Singaporeans will be:
- Required to pay the full cost of their 14 day SHN upon return to Singapore ($2,000) as well as COVID-19 testing ($200)
- Required to pay the unsubsidised rates for treatment should they develop COVID-19 within 14 days of returning to Singapore
- Unable to claim the cost of COVID-19 treatment from their insurance plans
This makes traveling a foolhardy exercise, and highly inadvisable.
Update (20 October 2020): An updated MOH advisory now states that citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders who travelled out of Singapore on or after March 27 will now be able to access government subsidies and insurance coverage for treatment if they are found to be infected with COVID-19 upon return.
Green lane arrangements
Singapore currently has green lane arrangements with the following countries:
These arrangements are created to facilitate essential business and official travel. Tourism is not a permitted activity, and therefore these will be of little relevance to leisure travelers (like you and I).
Reduced SHN requirements
Singapore has reduced the SHN requirements for those returning from:
- Hong Kong
- Mainland China
- Malaysia (excluding Sabah)
Travellers returning from these countries will serve a reduced SHN of 7 days (which can be done at their own place of residence) instead of the usual 14 days in a dedicated SHN facility. They will still be required to do a COVID-19 test at the end of 7 days.
While this reduces the ‘opportunity cost’ of travel, it is still not advisable because you will be responsible for the full cost of treatment should you test positive.
Border restrictions and flight schedules are constantly changing during the COVID-19 pandemic, but here’s a safe general rule to adopt:
Do not travel overseas until the government gives the official green light.
While some countries will accept Singaporean travellers without so much as a COVID-19 test, there will still be onerous liabilities imposed upon return — in particular, the requirement to pay the full cost of your treatment should the worst happen. That just doesn’t make it worthwhile in my books (and not to mention irresponsible).
If it’s any encouragement, the government’s lifting of travel restrictions to Australia, Brunei, New Zealand and Vietnam strongly suggests that the first leisure travel bubbles we see will be with these countries, assuming their governments reciprocate.
It may be too late for 2020, but 2021 may bring better days.
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Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) Guide For Essential Travellers To Malaysia and Brunei
2020 Agoda Credit Card Promotions To Book Your Holiday Or Staycation With
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Singapore Public Holidays & School Holidays 2021
By Aaron Wong
Aaron started The MileLion to help people travel better for less and impress “chiobu”. He was 50% successful. This is his story.