Travel VTL

Germany – Singapore VTL Report: Part 1 – Getting a pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test

Our experience of getting a pre-departure PCR test before embarking on the inaugural Germany - Singapore VTL flight.

For Singapore residents, probably the biggest concern about using the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) to visit Germany is the pre-departure PCR test on the way home, to be taken within 48 hours of your designated VTL flight departure from Frankfurt or Munich back to Singapore.

Previously it was one of the major disadvantages of using the VTL compared to the Category 2 lane when returning to Singapore (with 7-days self isolation at home), since the latter did not require a pre-departure test, however this is changing from 9th September and both methods will soon require a pre-departure PCR.

Test positive and you’ll be stuck in Germany for some time, with significant added expense, until you’re able to recover from the virus and finally return home.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Choosing your test timing

If like most of our readers you’re living in Singapore and making a trip to Germany for a holiday, then you’ll want to take your pre-departure PCR test as early as possible during the 48-hour window before returning home.

Why? Well research shows that the average time from exposure (to a level of COVID-19 that will cause infection) through to you producing a positive PCR test is 5 to 8 days (peak 5.61 days), or three to five days for the Delta variant (peak 3.71 days).

While it’s obviously possible for the interval to be as short as one day (and as long as 14 days), generally speaking if you caught COVID in the last couple of days you probably won’t return a positive PCR test.

You can probably see where we’re going with this.

The inconvenience of being stuck in Germany potentially for up to three weeks, if you test positive for COVID-19, is something you’ll want to avoid as a Singapore resident returning home. You can minimise this risk by testing right at the start of the validity window.

Example

Let’s say you are returning on a Wednesday VTL flight from Munich to Singapore (SQ331) at 1.15pm.

You can take your pre-departure PCR test from Monday at 1.15pm (48 hours before).

If you were unlucky and (unknowingly) caught COVID-19 on Saturday or Sunday, a test on Monday afternoon is unlikely to return a positive result. If you decide to test on Tuesday, however, it’s more likely the test will be positive.

Testing as early as possible should increase your odds of testing negative, if you have contracted COVID-19 in recent days. The infection will then likely be picked up at the on-arrival test in Singapore, or at your Day 3 or Day 7 post-arrival tests, a much simpler outcome – since you’re already home.

Important: Do note that we are absolutely not suggesting that anyone should travel on the VTL having been knowingly exposed to COVID-19, or while suspecting that they have the virus, or have symptoms.

We are only suggesting this method to help you minimise the risk of testing positive from an unknown infection, while still in Germany.

You may also wish to postpone your riskiest activities in Germany until after the mandatory pre-departure PCR test is conducted.

For example if you are going to visit a crowded market, or dine in a busy indoor restaurant, do it in your last 48 hours after taking the pre-departure PCR test.

Again we are not endorsing recklessness or rule-breaking here, it just makes sense if you want to be as cautious as possible, and being stuck in Germany would be a significant issue for you.

At Frankfurt Airport, you can get a PCR test with results in 35 minutes, but that’s perhaps the riskiest strategy (not to mention a very expensive one), since it will be more likely to capture any infections picked up over the last 3-4 days than a test taken two days earlier.

Visiting Singapore?

If you’re visiting Singapore as a tourist, it is probably better for you to take the opposite approach.

Given the added complications of testing positive in Singapore itself, you will probably want to leave your pre-departure PCR test as late as possible, in case you have unknowingly contracted the virus in recent days.

Visitors from Germany to Singapore probably want to take a PDT as late as possible before leaving

Taking the test 48 hours before your flight in this case might just miss an infection that then ‘pings’ at the on-arrival test – leading to lots of complication right at the start of your trip!

Taking a test 24 hours before departure with a 12-hour results turnaround might be a better option here. If it returns positive, you can then stay at home.

Which clinics?

When the VTL was first announced, MOH and Singapore Airlines provided two links to approved clinics to have your pre-departure PCR test in Germany.

This wasn’t really accurate as the lists were privately maintained, rather than showing the full suite of options, so Singapore Airlines has removed the links and is now giving a more accurate statement on its VTL guide page.

Germany: Available at all clinics and hospitals. No prior appointment needed.

Singapore Airlines

Effectively you can get a pre-departure PCR test at any approved clinic or provider in Germany, provided it can provide a results certificate in English containing all the following details:

  • Traveller’s name, and at least one other personal identifier such as the date of birth or passport number corresponding exactly with the information in the traveller’s passport used for entry into Singapore.
  • A negative COVID-19 PCR test result.
  • The date and time when the COVID-19 PCR test was taken.
  • The name of the testing institution conducting the COVID-19 PCR test.

If you’re interested in one of the (incomplete) list of providers, you can still access it here, but bear in mind that all other accredited institutions are acceptable, which may give you a much wider range of options depending on your location.

Airport test centres are available at:

There are many options downtown and some hotels even have their own test centres. Check with your hotel concierge, who should be able to advise you on nearby locations. Almost all test centres allow walk-in (no booking required), though some do allow you to book if you prefer.

Our experience

We were staying at the Kempinski Frankfurt, which is an out of town spa hotel close to the airport, so we opted to do the pre-departure PCR test at the Centogene facility in Terminal 1 at Frankfurt Airport.

The COVID-19 testing centre, signposted from the Terminal 1 departures hall. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Unlike the rest of Frankfurt Airport, which has woeful signage in our experience, the route to the testing centre is really clearly marked, even including floor signs.

Floor sign to the Centogene test centre. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

These are the PCR test options Centogene provides, all of which are valid for entry into Singapore.

For most test types, advance booking is not required.

We opted for the 12-hour turnaround test at EUR 89 (~S$142), because we were going out for a final family dinner in Frankfurt that night and wanted to be able to relax knowing we could get home without any problems the next day.

As it turned out the (negative) results were available less than 6 hours after the test was taken. We assume therefore that results from the 24 hour turnaround at EUR 69 might well be available sooner than expected too.

The Centogene facility is located between Terminal 1 and the national long-distance railway station (ICE station), just along the corridor from the entrance to the Sheraton, Marriott and Hilton airport hotels.

It’s accessible via a link bridge one floor above the main check-in hall.

The Centogene centre is just slightly along the corridor from the direct access to the Marriott and Sheraton airport hotels. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

That makes it a good option if you’re flying in from elsewhere in Germany in the day or two before heading home to Singapore, then staying at the airport before your flight home.

Centogene test centre at Frankfurt Airport. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Centogene tips

If you’re going to use Centogene for your pre-departure test out of Frankfurt (they also have a location downtown offering 24-hour results turnaround), here’s some tips about the process.

Note: We’re not recommending Centogene as such, this is simply the provider we used ourselves. Feel free to secure the best deal and/or location to suit your travel plans.

You do not need to take the pre-departure PCR test in your departure city.

You should definitely create an account, register and pre-pay for your required test in advance via Centogene’s’s test portal.

We did this in advance for one of us (we were a party of six all requiring PDTs!), then once we realised we couldn’t book a specific date and time it seemed a pointless exercise to go through compared to simply showing up at the centre.

That was a big mistake – you have to complete the full registration process for everyone in your group before you can even take the tests, then make payment, then move to the test area.

Register and pre-pay online and then you simply show up, scan the QR code and can test almost immediately (within 5 minutes at most times of day).

Here’s another tip with Centogene – you can add additional persons in your group requiring a test to your profile without creating a new account each time.

The staff told us that the trick here is just to add other adults under the “I am the custodian” option. You can then save the appropriate residential address and passport details for all members of your party without creating several accounts.

Do note, however, the primary account holder will then receive all the COVID-19 results notifications by email, so you may need to then distribute them to other members of your party.

If you pick the Centogene centre at the airport, free Wi-Fi is available, which is useful if you need to access travel documents like flight bookings and address details.

Don’t forget to bring your physical passport with you to the testing centre.

The whole process is quick and easy. Once your booking QR code is scanned, you’ll get a card with a reference number and two detachable barcode stickers, then just join the PCR test queue (no queue at all during our visit at 11.30am).

(Photo: MainlyMiles)

The nurses then take your throat swab (which is the approved method for Centogene’s PCR test), put the appropriate stickers in the appropriate places, and you’re good to go.

Note that some PCR tests in Germany take nasal samples, and others take both nasal and throat swabs, based on their individual approvals. We much preferred the throat swab to Singapore’s more usual nose poking!

The whole process is quick and easy, or at least it would have been if we had registered and pre-paid for all six of our group in advance rather than giving up after the first one, on the false assumption that a brand new account would be need to be set up for each individual!

For the other members of our party heading to the UK, their ART test results were available within 30 minutes, while our samples had to be sent to the lab for PCR testing.

By 5pm, our results were also available, so we could head out to dinner in relief!

Singapore health declaration

Before you depart for Singapore (within 72 hours) you must also complete the online health declaration form.

This form has a section to upload your negative PCR test result, though obviously you probably won’t have that until 1-2 days before departure.

It’s not mandatory to complete this section of the form, but if you want to do so you’ll have to upload the QR code from your test result.

We found that uploading the PDF of the result certificate was not sufficient. Instead we had to screenshot the QR code in isolation, save it as an image file (PNG or JPG) and upload only that file, which was then recognised and accepted.

COVID-19 PDT upload section of the Singapore health declaration form

You can also scan the QR code from your mobile phone or a hard copy printout.

Be sure to also remember to register with the Changi concierge and pre-pay for your on-arrival test (S$160) before departure from Germany.

This is not mandatory but will save you time when you reach Singapore.


 

 

Summary

While full vaccination for VTL users is a prerequisite for zero arrival quarantine in Singapore, it’s effectively a ‘belt and braces’ approach with a rigorous testing regime also part of the deal.

The most critical of those for most of our readers living in Singapore and taking a trip to Germany is the pre-departure test on the way home.

Luckily you can do this at any approved clinic or hospital, which gives a wide range of options, and prices are generally lower than in Singapore where S$125-S$200 is the norm.

Many clinics in Germany also offer much faster turnarounds for PCR tests than we are used to in Singapore, from as little as 35 minutes in some cases, though the price for these options is higher.

Overall we found the process straightforward, though if you’re using a Centogene facility (e.g. at Frankfurt Airport or in Frankfurt City) it pays to register everyone in your travelling party on your account and pre-paying before heading to the testing centre, to save a lot of time on the day.

(Cover Photo: MainlyMiles)

13 comments

  1. “For example if you are going to visit a crowded market, or dine in a busy indoor restaurant, do it in your last 48 hours after taking the pre-departure PCR test.

    Again we are not endorsing recklessness or rule-breaking here, it just makes sense if you want to be as cautious as possible, and being stuck in Germany would be a significant issue for you.”

    Yup. Not endorsing but clearly providing suggestions on how to play fast and loose with the spirit of the rules for those inclined to do so, thereby increasing the risk to passengers on the plane if indeed such a type of early undetected infection arises. Shame on you, Andrew.

    1. Grow up, Ben. The rest of the world has moved on from ‘terror of covid’, it’s only the small-minded hermits like you hunkered down in Singapore who still believe they’re at imminent risk of death even though they’re vaccinated.

      1. Typical Westerner response and strawman argument. Did I say anything about the “terror of covid”? It is simply being socially responsible and sensible about it, ensuring one does not unreasonably increase the risk of such undetected infections – especially given the increase in breakthrough ability of infections with Delta and yet insufficient clinical data on how any long Covid could manifest in such breakthrough cases.

        Not surprised we have jokers like B.G. coming out of your ilk.

      2. I am travelling to singapore next week and I find this post very informative on the do’s and don’ts. There is nothing to do with terror as this is how international travel works in Covid endemic times.

        Ian End, I think u r the one who needs to get out of your hermit shell. 🙄

    2. I appreciate Andrew’s review of both the pros, cons and potential risks as well as how to mitigate these risks. He is just listing out the benefits of what an early test could do, it’s up to you really if you want or not want to do it. Also on a side note if you are not so keen on the travelling with covid thing you really shouldn’t be on this site, it’s not for you.

      1. Whether or not I am “on this site” is none of your business nor for you (a fellow ‘on this site-er’) to dictate. After all, if big-minded social butterflies can be here, I’m sure small-minded hermits can too.

        And believe it or not, I am on priority waitlist for F tickets for the VTL as a Solitaire.

  2. Thanks for all the information! We’re on the VTL from MUC today and are getting ready to go to the airport, and more importantly, home!

    Just a quick comment on the 48 hour PCR test rule. We went for our tests on Monday, and planned them for 2pm. Being a bit kancheong, we arrived very early and got our tests taken… Didn’t think of the 48 hour rule! When the results came out, our tests were two minutes early… (1:13pm).

    I called the SQ check in desk at MUC to ask if this would be a problem, and they thankfully said no. According to them, any test two days before (in this case Monday) would be accepted irrespective of the time when it was taken. The guy I spoke to said this is specific to Singapore and it varies by country.

    So you appear to have a bit more leeway here, but honestly I wouldn’t risk it. This was stressful!

    Glad to be going home but I’ll miss the looser restrictions here…

    1. Yes likewise we too will miss the relaxed lifestyle in Europe over the last few days, plus the weather has been great!

      Interestingly what the MUC check in desk told you is exactly how SIA described the test timing requirements on its website when the VTL was first announced, but later updated to match the stricter ICA wording.

      If true then that’s quite a lot more leeway, especially for the 10pm FRA departure.

      Enjoy your flight!

      1. We managed to check in fine, so the information was accurate. I’m not sure I’d want to rely on it as ICA may suddenly start enforcing the 48 hour rule.

        The upload of the test certificate didn’t work at all despite many attempts, so that was a bit useless.

        All in all, flying to Germany was a breeze. Going home feels like an expensive obstacle course. We went to Munich because we had to, but we certainly won’t be traveling like this for fun. If Singapore wants to start attracting tourists they’ll have to stop the onerous requirements. VTL beats doing SHN, but we are still very far from treating covid as endemic as the government claims it wants to do.

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