The Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) arrangement has opened up two-way quarantine-free travel between Singapore and Germany. Here’s some advice for would-be travellers, based on my recent trip there.
After 18 months without travel, I finally made my first overseas trip to Germany under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) arrangement.The VTL allows for two-way quarantine-free travel, with the usual SHN replaced by a series of COVID-19 PCR tests on return to Singapore.
While it wasn’t as seamless as pre-COVID travel, it was still an experience, and any chance to venture abroad in the current climate can’t be taken for granted.
If you’re planning to make the trip too, here are a few pointers to take note of before you go.
1. You can fly there for less than S$1,000
Unlike the proposed Singapore-Hong Kong ATB, which saw a spike in air ticket prices, airfares to Germany have remained very reasonable.
At the time of writing, it’s still possible to purchase ~$970 return-trip Economy Class tickets to either Frankfurt or Munich on Singapore Airlines. For perspective, Economy Class tickets between Singapore and Hong Kong shot up to that level within hours of the ATB’s announcement!
This is probably because Germany does not lend itself to a quick getaway the way Hong Kong does, fewer Singaporeans have family in Germany, and the overall cost of a vacation in Germany is likely to be significantly more expensive than in Hong Kong (not that the latter is a cheap destination to begin with).
There’s more good news for those of you looking to redeem tickets with airline miles. Award space from Singapore to Germany is wide open for redemption in both Economy and Business Class.
It gets slightly trickier on the return leg, where Singapore Airlines is only releasing the more expensive Advantage awards for seats on the VTL flight (remember: the VTL only applies to travel from Germany to Singapore; a VTL flight to Germany doesn’t exist). However, we’re still talking about 212,000 miles for a round-trip Business Class ticket (Saver on the outbound, Advantage on the return) - only a slight premium over the 184,000 miles you would have paid pre-COVID.
2. PCR testing will add more than S$460 to your travel costs
While air tickets may be affordable, PCR testing will add a significant chunk to your travel expenses.
VTL travellers must undergo four COVID-19 PCR swab tests, in lieu of an SHN:
- 48 hours before departing from Germany for Singapore
- On arrival at Singapore Changi Airport
- Day 3 in Singapore
- Day 7 in Singapore
All in all, the four tests will cost upwards of $460. This is almost half the cost of your air ticket! Multiply the cost by a family of four, and you start to see why VTL travel may not be for everyone.
3. Testing positive in Germany will be problematic
While it’s easy to get a COVID-19 test done in Germany, a positive test result can really wreck your holiday plans.
The requirement to do a pre-departure test in Germany presents some unique complications of its own.
If your pre-departure test is positive, the lab will be obligated to inform the local health authorities, who will then issue a self-isolation order. This means you’ll have to stay in your hotel for anywhere between five to 14 days, depending on when your viral load falls low enough to pass a PCR test.
However, there’s a further complication yet to come. The ICA says that anyone with a positive COVID-19 test in the past 21 days may not travel to Singapore. This basically means that you’re stuck in Germany for three weeks, with the associated lodging and food costs.
This likely will not be viable for most people, especially those with jobs that require them to be physically present in office. So there’s definitely an element of Russian Roulette here, and you’ll need to pray hard that your pre-departure test comes back negative.
4. You won’t be able to country-hop
While the EU’s borderless nature allowed Europe holiday goers to cover multiple countries on a single trip in the days before COVID, you’re going to have to reign in those wandering feet this time. To travel on the VTL, your 21-day travel history can only feature Singapore or Germany, or some combination of the two.
If you travel to Austria as part of your Germany trip, for example, you won’t be permitted to travel on the VTL unless you subsequently return to Germany and stay 21 days before coming back to Singapore.
In case you’re wondering how they’d know (since your passport isn’t stamped when you travel within the Schengen Area), all travellers are required to fill out an SG Arrival Card prior to entering Singapore, and there’s a question that explicitly addresses your travel history in the past 21 days. Making a false declaration is a serious offence, and can render you subject to prosecution.
5. Get travel insurance with COVID-19 coverage
If you’re planning a trip to Germany, you’ll definitely want to buy a travel insurance plan that covers COVID-19. While the majority of underwriters still exclude this, a small but growing number of them are starting to integrate it into their coverage.
Allianz, Singlife, AXA, NTUC Income and Sompo will provide coverage for trip cancellations, medical expenses and quarantine allowances arising from a COVID-19 infection. You’ll want to read the policies carefully because underwriters may offer multiple plans, some with COVID-19 coverage and others without.
It’s also important to check if the travel insurance policy requires you to do a pre-departure PCR test before leaving Singapore, even if the country you’re flying to does not. For example, vaccinated Singaporeans do not need a pre-departure PCR test when flying to Germany, but Sompo’s Travel (COVID-19) Insurance policy requires it nonetheless. The rationale is to prove that you did not already have COVID-19 at the point you left Singapore.
6. Your Singapore vaccination certificate will work fine
Germany’s 3G system requires proof of vaccination/recovery/testing to enter many businesses.
Germany currently operates a system known as 3G: geimpft (vaccinated), genesen (recovered) and getestet (tested).
What this means is that individuals will need to show proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19, or a negative test result to enter places such as attractions, restaurants (when seated at indoor dining areas), hotels, theatres, and casinos.
The good news is that your Singapore vaccination certificate will work just fine. Throughout my time in Germany, a paper printout of my HealthHub vaccination certificate was sufficient to gain admission to all these places. You can also show the digital version on your phone.
7. Life in Germany is refreshingly normal
Street performers in Munich
After 18 months of living under Singapore’s COVID-19 restrictions, it was a breath of fresh air to go to Germany - literally.
When you’re outside, there’s no requirement to wear a mask, and few people do. Mask requirements only apply to indoor settings such as shopping malls, hotel lobbies, public transport, and museums. That said, Germany does have stricter mask requirements than Singapore in the sense that cloth masks are not allowed. Only surgical masks, KN95 or N95 masks are permitted.
Restaurants and attractions are operating as per normal, you can drink alcohol any time of the day, there’s music in restaurants and on the streets, and crowds at concerts and football games. You can even enjoy a self-serve buffet, albeit with masks and gloves (a practice I wouldn’t mind becoming permanent, mind!). It’s a promising picture of what life could be like in a country that truly treats COVID as endemic.
With the requirement to undergo multiple COVID-19 swabs and the possibility of getting stranded in Germany, VTL travel won’t be for everyone. In fact, it’s completely not an option for families with children under the age of 12, since they can’t be vaccinated anyway.
But if the travel bug is biting you bad, then a holiday to Germany is the most realistic leisure travel opportunity at the moment. Take adequate precautions, and you might be able to enjoy a taste of life as it was before 2020.
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