No sooner had our inaugural Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) flight from Frankfurt to Singapore departed, it seemed like time to start our descent into Changi Airport. Just as that was happening, the cabin crew made an announcement, now required by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore…
“This is a message for all Vaccinated Travel Lane travellers.
“Passengers entering Singapore under the Vaccinated Travel Lane will be required to undergo on-arrival and post-arrival COVID-19 tests. Failure to undergo the tests may constitute an offence under the Infectious Diseases Act.”Announcement before landing
It’s not the friendliest welcome home (or to Singapore, for visitors), but we all knew it was coming and began to shuffle our documents together again after 13 hours of relative peace from being asked to prove anything to anyone!
We touched down on Changi Airport’s runway 20R at 5.36pm local time, and after just five minutes we docked at Gate B5 in Terminal 3.
An announcement informed us that disembarkation would be conducted row-by-row. This doesn’t appear to apply to First Class and Business Class cabins, presumably because there is more than sufficient social distancing.
After a short goodbye from the crew it was onwards to see how the VTL arrival process works in action.
That would make sense because it’s then the shortest walk into the north immigration hall, practically straight down the escalator, where the process begins.
The first thing we noticed is that all airport staff are wearing a full medical gown, goggles / eye-shields, N95 masks and gloves. From our earlier experiences, this just appears to be common for all staff in the airside (transit) area, and isn’t specific to high or low risk flight origin cities.
None of the passengers on our flight appeared to be wearing more than just a N95 / FFP2 mask.
We all proceeded across the disco carpet, taking in all the various signboards and notices that have sprung up along the way. There were a huge number of staff!
I suspect that many of these were here simply to facilitate the smooth arrival of the first VTL arrival, but it’s certainly more than we are all used to seeing in pre-COVID days.
If you need to purchase Singapore Dollars or SIM cards, or rent mobile phones, you must do so at this point in the transit area prior to clearing arrival immigration. There’s a vendor right at the top of the escalator down to the immigration to assist with this.
Down the escalator and into the arrivals hall. A segregated area appears to the left with socially distanced chairs laid out, not dissimilar to the post-vaccination observation areas, for those vaccinated in Singapore.
These didn’t seem to be in use but I suspect they are waiting areas for passengers who require a rapid swab test on arrival. They aren’t used for VTL passengers.
Given the checks required for each passenger, the e-Gates are currently closed. We were channeled towards waiting immigration staff desks.
The immigration officer needed to see our boarding cards and pre-departure PCR test (completed in Germany within 48 hours of departure).
Germany travellers were also required to show their vaccination certificates. This wasn’t applicable for Singapore residents or pass holders vaccinated here, because the immigration system displays their vaccination status. If you are asked to show it, however, the TraceTogether or HealthHub apps will suffice.
Long-Term Pass holders and Permanent Residents will also be required to show their identity cards at this point – again not required for Singapore passport holders.
One pleasant change is that identity verification is now touch free via facial recognition instead of the old ‘two thumbs’ finger print scanner – good progress!
If you’re a short-term visitor, you’ll also need to show the TraceTogether app at this stage, and activate it as soon as you clear immigration.
The whole clearing process only took 3-5 minutes per passenger. The staff were friendly, well trained and frankly quite curious about our journeys! On completion you are given a green sticker, this is important for the upcoming steps.Pro Tip: You are going to get at least two stickers and they are important to identify you as a VTL passenger at later stages. Stick them somewhere visible and make sure they don’t fall off!
After clearance, the officer reminded me that I would need to take an on-arrival PCR swab test, proceed directly home, self-isolate until a negative result was published (up to 48 hours, but we all know it’s quicker – typically 6 hours) and also take the ‘Day 3’ and ‘Day 7’ post-arrival PCR swab tests.
Just after you’ve cleared immigration, you will receive a rather stern looking email.
This is similar to an SHN notice issued to travellers on arrival, laying our the legal implications of violating the rules. In this case, it’s slightly different and highlights the VTL requirements.
Baggage reclaim and customs
This is probably the most routine part of the arrivals process. The baggage claim hall was deserted when our flight arrived. This is not to say that there were no other arrivals but it appears that baggage claim belts and immigration halls have been segregated based on the arrival country risk level.
There were several officers stationed around the baggage claim belt to ensure safe distancing, but given that our flight was only a third full, this was hardly an issue.
Customs officers almost seemed happy to see an influx of passengers, and we cleared through quickly to be greeted by a large “Welcome to Singapore” banner, plus some representatives from the German Tourism Board.
This part of the process seems slightly confusing, since this would be where you would normally have freedom in the arrivals hall to meet relatives and take your cab. Knowing you still need to take a test, however, meant many travellers were questioning staff on the swab location.
Perhaps this could have been better signposted – but it’s an immediate right turn down to the ‘testing tent’.
On arrival swab testing
After clearing customs and existing into the arrival hall, the barriers and staff guide passengers around to the right. There are two lanes for swab testing and these depend on your sticker colour.
Green indicates the Vaccinated Travel Lane and other colours are for non-VTL arrivals of various origin points.
A short walk takes you past the now-closed Haven by Jet Quay arrivals lounge and out towards the old Terminal 3 coach park. This will be your first taste of freedom as the swabbing centre is a large tented area outside.
It was a little strange that the two queues now combined as you arrive at the payment check point, but you are quickly segregated again, with the subsequent steps in a slightly different location for VTL passengers.Pro Tip: The whole swabbing area is located outside in a tent and is equipped with fans to provide ventilation to the area. It’s worth noting the area is quite warm, especially during the day, so dress appropriately!
The six-step process is outlined on signboards as you progress through the testing facility.
Step 1: Payment check is completed by showing the QR code from your pre-booked on arrival test. This is completed via the Changi Airport Safe Travel Concierge website. Whilst this isn’t mandatory and nobody will mandate that you have completed it prior to this point, it wouldn’t be a very convenient spot to be held up whilst trying to pay.
Step 2: Registration for your swab test is completed at a number of tall desks. There was no queue when I arrived. Again, your QR code is scanned plus your passport details, arrival flight details and health status. You’ll then be given a reel of six stickers containing your personal details and instructed to proceed to the swabbing area.
Step 3/4: There was no queue for the swab so I was ushered straight forward. Swabbing is conducted in a series of white booths. Your details will be checked and you’ll be asked to leave your baggage outside. The swab itself is smaller than the private clinic pre-departure swab tests.
The tester then told me that it would be both oral and nasal. In practice this means a small swab at the back of your throat, followed by a shallow swab from each nostril.
Whilst the process can’t be described as ‘pleasant’, it is far from painful and is also over very quickly.
This type of test is what other front line staff have told us is more commonly in use for their routine testing, a little less invasive than the ‘deep nose poke’ PCR used elsewhere in Singapore.
Step 5: You will be asked to pass your remaining sticker to a final desk for verification before you proceed. The staff here will tell you to proceed back into the terminal building and take private transport straight home to self-isolate until your results are published (within 48 hours, although it’s typical for most passengers will receive them within 12 hours).
At this point, there were SHN passengers alighting buses to their various hotels. None of them looked particularly pleased about the impending isolation and frankly, we don’t blame them!
Step 6: You will now proceed back into the (heavily segregated) arrivals hall. All that you can now access is the taxi stand and the elevators that take you down to Basement 1 for other private vehicle pickups (e.g. Grab, Gojek).Pro Tip: If you are intending to take a Grab or other ride hailing app then book early and select “Terminal 3, Basement 1, Door 1” and take the first elevator you reach after returning to the terminal from the swab centre.
There were significantly fewer available cars than pre-COVID after the arrival of the flight, and the dreaded ‘surge pricing’ quickly kicked in. The prices jumped from $15 to nearly $40 in the space of only 30 minutes, for a journey to the East Coast!
If you intended to drive home – the staff would also allow you access to the carparks in Terminal 3 although it wasn’t clear how you would reach the carparks located in other terminals.
Finally you must proceed directly home or to your approved accommodation via private transport (public transport not permitted) and self-isolate.
You can share accommodation with other travellers on the same itinerary but if you share accommodation with other people who did not travel with you, you must ensure you are isolated from them.
After taking the COVID-19 PCR test, travellers are to immediately take private transportation, taxi, or private hire car from the airport to their declared place of accommodation. They must remain isolated at the place of accommodation until their test result is confirmed to be negative. After being notified of their negative test results, travellers will be allowed to go about their activities in Singapore.ICA
My test result took less than 6 hours to clear (approximately 6pm test, 11.45pm negative result). The result will be emailed to you, but strangely it doesn’t immediately appear in the TraceTogether app.
However, you can access it through the HealthHub app if you’re a Singapore resident.
VTL travellers will have to undergo a COVID-19 PCR test before 3pm local Singapore time on Day 3 and Day 7 after arrival. Day 1 is your arrival day, so for example if that’s Thursday 9th September then Day 3 is Saturday 11th September and Day 7 is Wednesday 15h September.
About 2 hours after arriving home, I received a call from the ICA. The officer wanted to check that I was in the nominated place of isolation (as per the SG Arrival Card submission).
He then explained that further details would be provided via email for the ‘Day 3’ and ‘Day 7’ swab test bookings.
Finally you will be requested to switch on your video call function to show that you are in the place of isolation you have stated.
As per the email received after immigration clearance, instructions will be forwarded from the Safe Travel Office (STO) at the following approximate timings:
Day 3 and Day 7 Booking Test Instructions
| Arrival Immigration Clearance Time (Day 1)
||Email Notification providing details of:|
|00:00 – 05:59
||12:30 on Day 1||07:00 on Day 6
|06:00 – 11:59||18:30 on Day 1|
|12:00 – 17:59||00:30 on Day 2|
|18:00 – 23:59||06:30 on Day 2|
Bookings for your post-arrival Day 3 and Day 7 tests must be made at one of 36 Raffles Medical clinics, none of which open before 8.30am (with the exception of one that opens at 8am), and 22 of which (61%) aren’t approved to swab 12-year-olds – who can be fully vaccinated and therefore travel on the VTL.
Most clinics also close for lunch, which isn’t very helpful for those working office hours.
28 of the clinics have limited operating hours, or don’t open at all, at the weekend or on public holidays, which is quite disappointing and significantly limits your options especially if you are working, with tests having to be taken by 3pm on each specific day.
Unfortunately there is no unique booking link provided in email I received so far (point 3), so we have queried this with the Safe Travel Office. We’ll update this article with their response since the system seems to have fallen down at this (rather critical) point!
Update: The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore has confirmed that there is an issue with the booking links and has provided VTL travellers who arrived on 8th September 2021 a phone number to call instead, for securing their Day 3 and Day 7 test bookings.
It took about 20 minutes for me to get through and make my bookings, due to the call volumes (the poor guy said he had nearly a hundred calls already!), so hopefully the issue with the online booking link gets resolved soon for future arrivals.
Slots were not an issue and I managed to secure my two bookings at a clinic which is walking distance from my place. Note that you don’t need to take the Day 3 and Day 7 tests at the same clinic, if you don’t want to.
Further update: The booking links are now working, which direct you to make your appointment online at your preferred clinic for the specific date applicable to your original arrival (e.g. Day 3 = 10th September for me).
Appointments must be made before 3pm.
If you are leaving Singapore within a week of arriving on the VTL, you won’t necessarily have to undergo any (or both) of the post-arrival PCR tests.
If your time of departure from Singapore is:
- before 1500 hours on the day of test, you will be exempted from taking your scheduled PCR test. Any unutilised charge(s), excluding administrative fees, will be refunded by the designated chain of clinics to the credit card used to pay for the tests.
- on or after 1500 hours on the day of test, you are still required to take their scheduled PCR test on that day. You do not need to wait for the test results to be released before departing Singapore.
Singapore Citizens and Permanent residents do not pre-pay for their Day 3 and Day 7 PCR tests (they pay when taking the tests), but for VTP holders (e.g. short-term visitors and long-term pass holders) the tests must be prepaid and a refund is then processed for unutilised tests if they leave Singapore.
We all knew travel wasn’t going to be like 2019 for some time, and the VTL is no exception.
The arrival process may sound complex but actually it was logical and straightforward. All the staff were patient, friendly and well versed with the procedures, which is a little surprising given that it was the inaugural flight!
Clearly Changi Airport, ICA, CAAS and Singapore Airlines are taking the VTL very seriously and the level of preparation demonstrated for our arrival gives us hope that this arrangement is being considered for expansion to other countries.
It’s exciting to have international travel options back, even despite all these extra costs and procedures, which look to be inevitable for the foreseeable future.
(Cover Photo: MainlyMiles)