Next month Singapore is preparing to relax its border restrictions with a number of countries, potentially including some in Europe and North America, as it enters an ‘endemic COVID’ phase with almost full vaccination among the resident population.
The process of replacing quarantine (SHN) with testing will almost certainly mean a series of swabs on arrival back home, but inevitably for many countries there will also be a requirement for pre-departure COVID-19 PCR testing, before we even leave Singapore.
That makes it a good time to update our analysis from January and May this year on where you can get a pre-departure test in Singapore, including a list of the cheapest providers across the city, with rates now starting at S$125.
These tests are already required for our readers who need to travel for relocation, family or urgent reasons, where mandatory pre-departure COVID-19 PCR testing is imposed by the final destination country, or the operating airline.
If you’re flying to a host of countries, including Australia, the UK and the USA, 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, since it does vary.
Where can you be tested in Singapore?
At the time of writing, there are over 630 approved clinics and hospitals 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.
Within a 10-minute walk of our own place in East Coast, for example, there are seven approved testing facilities, so you shouldn’t have to go far from your home or office to take the test.
For the best flexibility, several clinics offer 24-hour COVID-19 PCR testing, including:
- Farrer Park Hospital
- Gleneagles Hospital
- Mount Elizabeth Hospital
- Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital
- Parkway East Hospital
- Raffles Hospital (North Bridge Road)
- Raffles Medical at Changi Airport T3
- Thomson Medical Centre (Thomson Road)
- UNIHEALTH at Jurong East
- UNIHEALTH at Toa Payoh
New: Express service
This month we’re seeing some providers offer an express service for pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test results, for those travelling urgently and requiring a result at very short notice.
No surprises that this will cost you significantly more than the usual rates. Here are two examples:
These options will be of little interest to most travellers, but they may well be a lifesaver for some (e.g. family emergency).
How much does it normally cost?
Since COVID-19 PCR tests became open to anyone in Singapore who wants one in late 2020, the price has come down significantly at some clinics from the ~S$200 cost previously charged, but it’s still not cheap!
Unfortunately 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 company 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 20 major providers, covering around 210 of the 600+ clinics in Singapore offering pre-departure COVID-19 PCR tests, to check their effective rates as of 13th August 2021.
The cheapest pre-departure PCR test we found was at the Intemedical clinic in Kovan, costing S$125.00 including GST.
Swab Station SG was the next best option at S$128.00, with 2 clinics, followed by SATA CommHealth at S$135.00, with 6 clinics.
Cost of COVID-19 pre-departure PCR tests
|Clinic||Locations||Price (inc. GST)|
|PCR Only||PCR + Serology
|Swab Station SG||2||S$128.00||S$158.00|
|My Family Clinic||16||S$158.00||S$198.00|
|Pinnacle Family Clinic||6||S$185.00||S$270.60|
|Faith Medical Group||8||S$185.00
|International Medical Clinic||3||S$187.00||n/a|
|Central 24-HR Clinic||9||S$200.00||S$258.85|
Interestingly this month we noted that with price cuts at Fullerton Health and International Medical Clinic, only one of our surveyed providers is now charging the full S$200 rate permitted by the Government.
If you’re taking a PCR test for travel to mainland 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 over S$85 to the cost at some clinics. Luckily there are still a number of sub-S$200 options for you in this case.
Note that flights to mainland China require negative results for tests conducted within 48 hours of scheduled flight departure time, not 72 hours.
How the cost has changed
When we first ran this analysis in January 2021, the average cost for a standard pre-departure PCR test (without serology) across the providers we approached was S$180.52, with the cheapest test costing S$154.00.
In May 2021 the average had dropped to S$171.76, around 5% less, with the cheapest test at the time costing S$135.00, 12% less.
In this latest update (August 2021) the average was S$163.36, another 5% drop, with the cheapest test costing S$125.00, nearly 20% less than we were seeing at the start of the year.
While these tests are still expensive, the price is steadily moving in the right direction, and is now more comparable to costs in other countries like Australia and the UK (where S$140-S$150 is typical).
With the cheapest option in Singapore now coming in nearly 40% cheaper than the most expensive ones, it pays to shop around and perhaps even travel a little out of your way to save money.
For a couple, a saving of S$150 (S$75 x 2) by picking the cheapest test option compared to the most expensive one will go a long way towards a hotel stay or dinner bill at your destination!
Some credit card providers and membership schemes in Singapore have negotiated discounted pre-departure PCR test prices at specific clinics for their cardholders and members, as shown in the following table.
Discounted pre-departure tests
(link to discount details)
|Price (inc. GST)|
|PCR Only||PCR + Serology
These aren’t particularly attractive rates, with well over 50 clinics offering sub-S$160 tests without a discount code applied anyway (see first table above).
The exception is the OCBC offer, which opens up all 34 of Healthway Medical’s clinics at S$135, only S$10 more expensive than the best rate in town (at a single clinic). If you’re heading to China, it also beats most of the options city-wide for a PCR + Serology test at S$180 (though there are a handful of cheaper providers).
If you’re pressed for time, you can enjoy the ultimate convenience with a home test by Homage.
This costs S$250 for the first swab, then S$145 per subsequent person in the household who also needs a test at the same time. For individuals it’s a steep price, but for larger families this could be a good option.
While Homage is not listed under the MOH list of approved pre-departure testing clinics, its tests are valid for travel.
For travel to most countries requiring a negative pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test to be presented at check-in, the testing sample must be taken within 72 hours of your scheduled flight departure time.
Some countries impose a shorter 48-hour window for pre-departure testing, while others require the 72-hour window to apply prior to the departure of the final flight on your itinerary (e.g. from the transit point), rather than 72 hours before the first flight.
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 the Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong at 8.40am (SQ882) on Wednesday 8th September, you should take your pre-departure COVID-19 test:
- Earliest: 8.40am on Sunday 5th September
- Latest: 6.40pm on Monday 6th September
This will ensure your results are available by 5.40am on Wednesday 8th September (3 hours before flight departure), though generally you should receive them by the evening of Tuesday 7th September in most cases.
If you’re the kind of person who worries about not having everything in place for your trip and you hate leaving things to the last minute, we’d recommend booking your pre-departure test no later than around 48 hours before your flight departure time.
Ideally that would be on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning in the above example (i.e. don’t leave it till Monday afternoon if you can avoid it).
Our experience – 24 hours turnaround
When we took our pre-departure test for the Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble (Mk1) in November last year at Raffles Medical Changi T3, it took just under 24 hours for the results to come through.
Many clinics are now effectively guaranteeing results “within 24 hours” on their website, with some saying you just need to let them know if you need the results within that window and they will ensure it, so it appears to be the new ‘de facto’ turnaround time.
You must now have your test result notarised
Since 10th March 2021, all clinics offering pre-departure PCR tests must now offer digital results certificates, to reduce fraud and speed up the departure process.
You are then required to digitally authenticate and endorse the digital test certificate via the government’s Notarise website before travel.
You’ll then receive a QR code by email within 15 minutes of uploading your certificate. The QR code will then be used by the authorities to verify the authenticity of your pre-departure test when you travel.
The easiest way to present the QR code will be via your mobile device, though you can also print and carry a hardcopy version if you prefer.
If you have presented your NRIC at the clinic when having your pre-departure test, the Notarise QR code will be automatically uploaded onto your SingPass app.Pro Tip: We’d still recommend having a printed copy of your pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test results with you on your journey, since acceptable formats will differ in some countries.
The Notarise system will also be used to provide certified vaccination certificates for travel in future.
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.
Some airlines require a test
Even if your destination country doesn’t require a pre-departure COVID-19 test, 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 originating in Singapore and merely transiting through Dubai, assuming your final destination country does not require a pre-departure test either.
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.
With overseas travel options hopefully soon on the horizon, there will still inevitably be a need for pre-departure COVID-19 PCR tests before we depart Singapore when heading to some countries. Generally, when it’s require, you’ll need to lock in a test in 2-3 days before departure.
It’s worth shopping around, since we found that the most expensive tests (S$200) now come in 60% more costly than the cheapest (S$125).
A family of four is looking at up to S$300 in savings by locking in one of the better-value clinics prior to their trip compared to the more expensive ones, making even an couple of Grab rides across town to a more distant testing location almost certainly worthwhile!
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.
One thing we can’t complain about in Singapore is the number of options, with over 600 facilities island-wide now offering this service, many supporting walk-in, 24-hour testing and even urgent 6-hour results turnaround.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)