Even though international borders remain closed for the vast majority of Singapore residents, we are receiving regular queries from readers who need to travel for relocation, family or urgent reasons, about how the process works these days and what hurdles need to be jumped along the way.
For an increasing number of people, that means mandatory pre-departure COVID-19 PCR testing imposed by the final destination country.
Just recently this list has grown to include:
- Australia (effective date TBC)
- United Kingdom (from 18th January 2021)
- United States (from 26th January 2021)
If you’re flying to these and many other countries, you’ll have to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result in order to check in for your flight.
The test must typically have been conducted within 72 hours of your scheduled flight departure time, though do check the exact rules for your destination.Pro Tip: With rules regularly changing, be sure to check with your airline or consult government-published requirements to determine whether you’ll need a pre-departure COVID-19 test. Check again a few days before your trip, to ensure the rules have not changed.
Since December 2020, anyone can be tested
Until 30th November 2020, COVID-19 tests were reserved for those with symptoms, or for individuals travelling on reciprocal green lane / travel bubble arrangements, who had to provide flight details and apply for permission to have a test.
From 1st December 2020 that changed, and COVID-19 PCR swab testing is now available to all individuals, including non-travellers, without the need for approval from the Ministry of Health.
This simplifies the process significantly as you can now just approach an approved clinic or hospital and book your test directly with them.
Where can you be tested in Singapore?
At the time of writing, there are 567 approved clinics across Singapore where you can get a COVID-19 pre-departure PCR test.
This continually updated list will not only tell you which clinics are approved, but also their contact number, address and opening hours.
It also summarises the applicable age range for testing, important for those travelling with children as not all clinics are able to provide tests for those aged 0-6 or 7-12, since these categories require specific approval.
There’s also an interactive map available, allowing you to easily see which testing facilities are available in your area, including the ability to zoom down to street level.
Within a 10-minute walk of our own place in East Coast, for example, there are 7 approved testing facilities, so you shouldn’t have to go far from your home or office to take the test.
For urgent or last-minute tests, a handful of clinics offer 24-hour COVID-19 PCR testing, including:
- Raffles Hospital (North Bridge Road)
- Raffles Medical at Changi Airport T3
- Thomson Medical Centre (Thomson Road)
- UNIHEALTH at Jurong East
- UNIHEALTH at Toa Payoh
Must you have an appointment?
Most clinics strongly recommend this, but many will also accept walk-in COVID-19 tests with the caveat that those who have made an appointment will always be prioritised.
Some clinics we spoke to insisted on an appointment, so this is recommended.Fun fact: When we booked our pre-departure test before intending to travel on the Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble in November 2020, we managed to secure a same-day appointment.
What you’ll need to bring
You’ll need your identity card or passport when attending your COVID-19 test appointment, plus a valid payment method (remember some clinics accept cash / NETS only).
Some clinics also require your flight details if you are having a pre-departure PCR test, even to make an appointment, as they want to ensure the test timing will fall within the applicable pre-departure validity window for your destination country.
They may also ask you to bring your flight details along to the appointment itself.
How much does it cost?
Since COVID-19 PCR tests became open to anyone in Singapore who wants one, the price has come down slightly from the ~S$200 cost previously charged at most clinics, but it’s still not cheap!
Also, the testing cost for pre-departure travel (i.e. asymptomatic individuals) is not subsidised, however if you are travelling at the behest of your employer the cost should be reclaimable, or your employer may cover it on your behalf.Note: Government-paid swabs are not allowed to be used for the issuance of pre-departure COVID-19 certificates.
We contacted over 15 major providers, covering 220 of the 560+ clinics in Singapore offering pre-departure COVID-19 PCR tests, to check their effective rates as of 14th January 2020.
The cheapest pre-departure PCR test we found was at any of HeartlandHealth’s 11 clinics, costing S$154.00 including GST. My Family Clinic was the next best option at S$158.00 including GST, with 15 clinics.
Example costs of COVID-19 PCR tests
|Clinic||Locations||Price (inc. GST)|
|PCR Only||PCR + Serology
|My Family Clinic||15||S$158.00||S$198.00|
|Pinnacle Family Clinic||6||S$185.00||S$270.60|
|Faith Medical Group||7||S$185.00
|International Medical Clinic||3||S$199.98||n/a|
|Central 24-HR Clinic||9||S$200.00||S$258.85|
If you’re taking a PCR test for travel to China you will also require a serology test, as priced in the right hand column in the table above (inclusive of the PCR test, since that’s still required too).
This can add S$85 to the cost at some clinics. Luckily there are still some sub-S$200 options for you in this case.
How long do the results take?
Results are usually available within 48 hours. When we took our pre-departure test for the Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble, it took only 24 hours for the results to come through.
The Safe Travel website recommends scheduling your appointment no later than 38 hours before flight departure time.
Travellers who present at the clinic less than 38 hours to the flight may not be able receive the result in time for the flight.Singapore ICA
For example, if you’re taking an Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi departing Singapore at 2am on a Thursday, the latest time to take your test is 12pm (midday) on Tuesday, 38 hours before, to ensure your results are available by 11pm on Tuesday (3 hours before flight departure).
You’ll no doubt want to allow more time than that though, with most countries requiring you to have the test taken a maximum of 72 hours prior to flight departure time. For that 2am Etihad flight on a Thursday, that means any test timing of 2am or later on Monday is valid for check-in.
Some clinics guarantee a 24-hour turnaround time, such as Gleneagles Hospital.
Print your results
While airlines and countries have different requirements for providing evidence of your negative test results, many require this to be printed rather than an SMS or email.
Note that your COVID-19 PCR test result in Singapore will almost always be electronic, with an SMS from the Ministry of Health and an email attachment from the clinic itself.
We therefore recommend printing the test result before you reach the airport to check in for your flight, to avoid any issues.
Some airlines require a test
Even if your destination country doesn’t require a pre-departure COVID-19 test, for example Switzerland (at the time of writing), some airlines require it.
Etihad is one carrier imposing a blanket “no test, no travel” policy, requiring all its passengers to provide a negative pre-departure PCR test conducted within 96 hours of their departure flight, regardless of destination.
Emirates, on the other hand, does not currently require a pre-departure PCR test if you are transiting through Dubai and both your country of origin and destination do not require a pre-departure test either.
For example if you need to travel from Singapore to Geneva in February 2021, a routing that does not currently require testing at either end, you may be tempted by this Etihad Business Class fare of S$3,087 over the Emirates one of S$3,143.
Not only is the Etihad routing quicker, it comes in S$56 cheaper.
That saving will be more than outweighed by the time and cost of the pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test Etihad requires for all passengers. No test is needed flying this routing on Emirates.
What about overseas tests?
If you’re looking at where to obtain a pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test prior to travel from overseas to Singapore or another country, Singapore Airlines is maintaining a helpful list of available pre-departure test facilities in its primary overseas markets.
If you can’t find details you need for your departure country, other airlines are maintaining similar lists on their respective websites. For example, Emirates has this extensive list of recommended pre-departure test locations for those wishing to enter Dubai.
If you’re travelling over the coming months, which some of our readers are for family, medical or relocation reasons, the most complex issue is probably determining whether you’ll actually need a pre-departure COVID-19 test or not!
Requirements are changing regularly and one thing’s for sure – they’re generally becoming stricter than more lenient for the time being, with examples like Australia and the United Kingdom announcing this additional requirement in the last few days.
Even some airlines are requiring a negative pre-departure test, regardless of your origin / destination requirements, so be careful not to unduly add this cost to your trip if it’s not necessary.
Speaking of cost, sadly it does remain high. For a family for four or five it’s a real sting in the tail, but for now there’s not much alternative and hopefully our examples in this article of clinics providing the test from S$154 will help.
Hopefully costs will continue to come down, with future processes potentially including saliva tests perhaps coming online this year.
One thing we can’t complain about in Singapore is the number of options, with nearly 600 facilities island-wide now offering this service, many supporting walk-in and 24-hour testing.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)