Singapore has introduced vaccination-differentiated border measures as part of its reopening plans. Here’s what would-be overseas travellers need to know.
As part of its plan to gradually reopen borders, Singapore has introduced vaccination-differentiated border measures that classify countries and territories into four different categories: Category I is deemed the lowest risk, while Category IV is deemed the highest.
These categories determine testing and Stay-Home Notice (SHN) requirements on return to Singapore, so you’ll definitely want to get well-versed with them should you be planning to head overseas.
Singapore Border Categories
A summary of the entry restrictions, SHN and testing requirements by category can be found below:
||Cat. I||Cat. II||Cat. III||Cat. IV|
|Pre-departure PCR test||✖||✔|
|On-arrival PCR test||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|ART during SHN||✖||✖||✔|
Day 3, 7, 11
Day 3, 7, 11
|Post-SHN PCR test||✖||✔|
Here’s the current classification of countries/territories by category, accurate as of 23 September 2021. Keep in mind this is subject to change, and you should consult the ICA for the most up-to-date list.
|I||Hong Kong, Macau, Mainland China, Taiwan|
|II||Australia, Brunei, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Poland, South Korea, Saudi Arabia|
|III||Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland|
|IV||All other countries/territories|
This won’t be relevant to Singapore Citizens (SCs), Permanent Residents (PRs) and Long Term Passholders (LTPs), but short-term entry into Singapore (e.g. tourism) is currently allowed only for Category I countries.
All SC/PRs, regardless of vaccination status, can return to Singapore without the need for any Entry Approvals. LTPs must seek approval from the authorities before returning.
Pre-departure PCR test
All travellers, regardless of nationality, must undergo a pre-departure PCR test within 48 hours of their flight to Singapore. A negative result will need to be presented at the airport in order to check-in. Only Category I countries/territories are exempt from this rule.
If a positive test result is received, travellers must wait at least 21 days before attempting to enter Singapore again. This is because of ICA’s policy that anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 should only schedule their trip to Singapore 21 days after the first diagnosis.
While this may be an inconvenience for anyone residing overseas and planning to return to Singapore, it’d be an even bigger problem for any would-be holiday goers. Imagine having to pay an additional 21 days of lodging and food costs, not to mention the impact this would have on your job (even if you’re allowed to WFH, the time zone differences could be significant).
So long as this policy remains in place, leisure travel is always going to be a bit of a gamble.
On-arrival PCR test
All travellers, regardless of nationality, must undergo a PCR test on arrival at Changi Airport. This costs S$160, and can be paid for in advance or on arrival in Singapore.
This requirement applies across all categories.
|Category I||No SHN|
|Category II||7-day SHN (home or hotel)|
|Category III||14-day SHN (home or hotel)||14-day SHN (hotel)|
|Category IV||14-day SHN (hotel)|
Travellers from Category I countries/territories are exempt from an SHN. Upon landing in Singapore, they must self-isolate until the result of their on-arrival PCR test is released (officially 24 hours, but in practice can be anywhere from six to 12 hours). If the result is negative, they can leave self-isolation and carry on with activities as normal.
Travellers from Category II countries/territory must do a seven-day SHN, either in a hotel or at their residence. On the seventh day they will do a PCR test, and if the result is negative, they can resume normal activities.
Travellers from Category III countries/territories must do a 14-day SHN. If they are fully-vaccinated (defined as 14 days after completing the full regimen of any vaccine on the WHO’s EUL), they may serve this at their residence or in a hotel. If they are unvaccinated, they must serve this at a hotel. ART swabs will be taken on Days 3, 7 and 11, and a PCR test on Day 14 before normal activities are resumed.
Travellers from Category IV countries/territories must do a 14-day SHN in a hotel, regardless of vaccination status. ART swabs will be taken on Days 3, 7 and 11, and a PCR test on Day 14 before normal activities are resumed.
What are the implications of these categories?
Take non-stop flights
If your 21-day travel history includes multiple countries, the rules of the strictest will apply. For example, if I have travelled to both Canada (Category II) and Denmark (Category III), I will be subject to Category III rules.
Travel history includes any time spent physically in the country. This means that if your flight happens to connect in a higher category country, you will be subject to the rules governing that particular country. You would therefore be advised to book non-stop flights to Singapore where possible, unless the flight happens to connect in a country in a similar or lower category.
You need a plan B
If you’re visiting a Category II, III or IV country, a pre-departure PCR test is required before returning to Singapore. If that test shows a positive result, you will be barred from entering Singapore for 21 days, as mentioned above.
This means that you need a plan B should the worst happen. Travel insurance can help to cover some of the unexpected costs, since it’s likely the local health authority will issue a quarantine order in the event of a positive test. Look out for travel insurance policies that cover COVID-19 related quarantine orders - these tend to pay a flat rate of S$50 to S$100 per day, which can help defray some of the expenses.
Travel insurance plans with COVID-19 coverage include:
- Allianz Travel Insurance
- Singlife Travel Insurance
- AXA SmartTraveller
- EQ CovidSafe
- NTUC Income Travel Insurance
- Sompo Travel (COVID-19) Insurance
The good news is these policies price around the same as any regular travel insurance (i.e. there’s no ‘Covid premium’ to speak of).
While the cost of COVID-19 PCR tests have fallen, they can still add a hefty sum to your overall travel costs.
In some cases, a traveller may be looking at five PCR tests on a round-trip itinerary (before departing Singapore, on arrival in the foreign country, before departing the foreign country, on arrival in Singapore, at the end of SHN in Singapore). Tests can cost anywhere from S$100 to S$200 each. Imagine those costs quadrupled for a family of four!
These costs may not be immediately apparent when you’re planning your vacation budget, but you’ll need to take them into account.
What about the VTL?
The VTL is a special sub-category that currently applies to travellers from Brunei and Germany only.
Fully-vaccinated travellers will not be required to serve an SHN, provided they:
- Take a designated VTL flight back to Singapore
- Take PCR tests on arrival in Singapore, and on Days 3 and 7
Germany and Brunei also happen to fall under Category II. If travellers take non-VTL flights, then Category II rules (i.e. seven-day SHN) will apply to them.
More information on the VTL can be found here.
Singapore’s vaccination-differentiated border measures are hopefully the first step in a broader liberalisation of travel. While we can’t expect things to be completely the way they were prior to March 2020, arrangements such as the VTL provide a much-needed outlet for travel-starved Singaporeans.
If you’re planning to travel, be sure to familiarise yourself with the relevant rules for the country you’re visiting and purchase the right travel insurance for you and your loved ones.
Read these next:
If I Get COVID-19, What Will I Need To Pay?
COVID-19 Tests In Singapore: Its Cost And Where To Go
Travel Insurance Promotions and Discounts (September 2021)
Singapore-Germany VTL: Two-Way Quarantine-Free Travel Starts From 8 September
Singapore-Germany Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL): 7 Things To Know Before You Go