Changi Airport News Travel VTL

Singapore adding South Korea to the VTL list; quarantine-free travel from 15 November

Fully vaccinated Singapore residents will be able to make quarantine-free leisure trips to South Korea from 15th November.

Here's what we know so far.

Last month the Singapore Government hinted at an expansion of its Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme “in the coming weeks”, and true to its word we now have the first country confirmed to be joining the list of two-way quarantine-free options for Singapore residents and tourists.

From 15th November 2021 it will be possible to travel to and from πŸ‡°πŸ‡· South Korea with a PCR testing regime replacing arrival quarantine at both ends of the journey for fully vaccinated travellers, on the basis of a bilateral arrangement reached between the two countries.

Seoul was a popular leisure destination for Singapore residents pre-COVID

South Korea will join πŸ‡§πŸ‡³ Brunei and πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺ Germany, which have been the sole VTL countries since the successful pilot programme kicked off on 8th September 2021.

“Under the VTLs, fully vaccinated travellers will be able to travel between Changi Airport and Incheon International Airport, and be subjected to COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, in lieu of serving quarantine or Stay-Home Notice. There will be no restrictions on the purpose of travel or requirements for a controlled itinerary or sponsorship.”

Singapore Ministry of Transport

This will be a welcome addition for those who didn’t really fancy Germany (or don’t wish to go back again so soon!), though it comes as somewhat of a surprise given that we were predicting additional European countries to make the list before anywhere in Asia-Pacific got a look-in!

Vaccinated Travel Lanes

Here’s a quick reminder of how Singapore’s Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme currently works with Brunei and Germany.

Singapore Vaccinated Travel Lanes

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Key Features

  • Must have stayed in the VTL country/region and/or Singapore for 14 days
  • Travel to Singapore on designated ‘VTL flights’
  • No restrictions on travel purpose or itineraries
  • Must be fully vaccinated in Singapore or your VTL country of origin
  • Children under 12 are not eligible
  • Visitors and Singapore pass holders must apply for a VTP in advance
  • COVID-19 PCR testing replaces quarantine / Stay-Home Notice in Singapore

As you may recall, the travel history requirement for remaining in Singapore and/or VTL countries was recently reduced from 21 days to 14 days.

So far there aren’t too many details regarding how the above process may differ for travel to and from South Korea, which currently isn’t allowing Singapore residents to enter for leisure purposes.

To support the VTLs, Singapore and South Korea have also reached an agreement on the mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccination certificates, which will take effect from Nov 15.

Channel News Asia

South Korea is currently banded in Singapore’s Category 2 entry requirements, meaning a 7-day SHN period at your place of residence is required for residents returning.

Category 2
SHN Requirement

Regardless of vaccination status


7-days SHN at home or self-sourced hotel / serviced apartment (from this list).

You can occupy your home with other household members who do not share the same travel history as you and/or are not serving SHN with you, provided they are fully vaccinated. Most Category 2 arrivals therefore won’t need to consider a hotel stay.

Category 2
Testing Requirements
(travellers aged 3 or above)

  • Pre-departure test within 48 hours of departure (PCR)
  • On-arrival test at Changi Airport (PCR, S$160)
  • Day 7 test (PCR, S$125)

A quarantine-free arrival via the VTL is not only an improvement on these SHN requirements, it will open up all-purpose travel from South Korea for the first time in 20 months.

The news comes as Singapore’s minster for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong announced earlier today that the USA would be added to the country’s VTL list with quarantine-free travel “certainly by the end of the year”.

VTL designated flights

Update: Here are the designated flights on Singapore Airlines from Seoul to Singapore for this VTL arrangement.

You can travel from Singapore to South Korea on any flight.

Fellow Star Alliance carrier Asiana operates three times weekly Airbus A330 service on the route (Tue, Wed, Fri), while low-cost subsidiary Scoot flies three times per week via Taipei, though transits there are not currently permitted, so these flights only serve Singapore – Taiwan and South Korea – Taiwan traffic.

Finally Korean Air operates between the two cities four days per week using Boeing 777-300ERs.

We are awaiting details of any other designated flight arrangements for VTL travellers to and from South Korea, which should be operated by Korean Air and Asiana.

KrisFlyer redemptions

These are the KrisFlyer miles redemption rates for flights between Singapore and Seoul on SIA flights.

KrisFlyer Redemption Rates
  SIN  ⇆  ICN
Saver
(one way)
SIN  ⇆  ICN
Advantage
(one way)
Economy 25,000
45,000
Premium Economy 34,500
n/a
Business 47,000
70,000

The likely testing regime

While we are still awaiting confirmation of how this will work in the South Korea case, based on the VTL for travel from Germany to Singapore there will be at least four COVID-19 tests required.

South Korea will also impose at least one additional PCR test, 72 hours before departing Singapore, further adding to the cost.

Post-arrival testing in Korea is yet to be confirmed.

Singapore – South Korea
Vaccinated Travel Lane
COVID-19 Testing 

Test Cost
Singapore pre-departure* S$125 – S$200
S. Korea pre-departure ~S$200
Singapore arrival S$160
Total S$485 – S$560

* Within 72h of departure

This very high cost per traveller will remain a deterrent for many, especially families, who will be forking out significant additional testing expenses in addition to flight and hotel costs.

See our recent guide for the cheapest pre-departure PCR tests in Singapore, which range from S$125 to a very steep S$200 last time we checked!

Note that the full details of the testing regime for this VTL have yet to be formally announced.

Should you book now?

No is our advice!

Until we know for sure from the official announcements which designated flights will be operated under this VTL, it’s not possible to tell whether you would be making an eligible booking at this early stage.

Based on media reports, any SIA flight from 15th November 2021 should be ok, but we would still hold off until this is made official.

When the VTL with Germany was launched, additional designated flights were added in some cases, with unique flight numbers.

Hold off until we get final confirmation of the process from the various government departments and airlines in due course.

When it comes to hotels of course, it might not be a bad idea at all to lock in some refundable rates now if you can see any good deals.

Andaz Seoul Gangnam. (Photo: Hyatt)

Our VTL experience

We travelled over to Frankfurt last month and flew back via the inaugural Germany – Singapore VTL flight on 7th September 2021. Here’s a step-by-step summary of our experience, which may help you decide whether to give it a try yourself, once the South Korea scheme is up and running.

1: Getting a pre-departure COVID-19 test

READ THE ARTICLE

2: The departure airport process

READ THE ARTICLE

3: The Changi Airport arrival process

READ THE ARTICLE

4: Day 3 and Day 7 swab tests

READ THE ARTICLE

1: Getting a pre-departure COVID-19 test

READ THE ARTICLE

2: The departure airport process

READ THE ARTICLE

3: The Changi Airport arrival process

READ THE ARTICLE

4: Day 3 and Day 7 swab tests

READ THE ARTICLE

There should be more to come

If Germany and South Korea still don’t do it for you, there should be more VTL countries in store soon.

More VTLs are expected to be on the way, as Singapore looks to open up its borders and restore the Changi air hub to its former glory.

Straits Times

Hopefully by Christmas there will be a decent list of options to consider, also allowing more overseas tourists to visit the Lion City, as Singapore slowly reopens its borders to the world.


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Summary

Scant details on this latest VTL addition so far, but it’s safe to say this one came out of left field slightly!

We were definitely expecting a further expansion of European countries to the scheme before anywhere in Asia-Pacific came up.

South Korea is popular with many Singapore residents, and hopefully the same is true in reverse, so this is a great VTL addition to have from mid-November and quite a contrast from Germany!

Stay tuned as we get more details.

(Cover Photo: Yu Kato)

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