Yesterday we got news that Malaysia will be joining Singapore’s list of approved Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) countries, opening up two-way quarantine-free travel for those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from 29th November 2021.
Later it was also confirmed that Finland and Sweden will be added to the VTL from the same date, allowing Singapore-based travellers spending time in Europe to include these countries as part of their trip, without any impact on their VTL status.
It should even be possible to fly non-stop in both directions without quarantine, in the case of Finland at least.
There was also welcome news on the testing front – a relaxation of requirements for those arriving back in Singapore on the VTL from 12th November 2021, with a cheaper ART pre-departure test now accepted and a wider testing window available.
Finland and Sweden
From 29th November 2021 it will be possible to arrive in Singapore with Finland and Sweden as part of your 14-day travel history, and still use the VTL to enter quarantine-free as a resident or a visitor, provided you:
- are fully vaccinated against COVID-19; and
- have spent the last 14 consecutive days exclusively in VTL countries and / or Singapore; and
- travel on a designated VTL flight from any VTL country non-stop to Singapore.
If you are not a Singapore Citizen or Permanent resident, you will also require a Vaccinated Travel Pass (VTP), which you can apply for 7-60 days prior to your intended date of entry.
With Malaysia joining the VTL list on the same day, there will be a total of 16 countries in the ‘VTL Zone’. Stay within it and your recent travel history (14 days) will not affect your ticket to a quarantine-free arrival in Singapore, provided you fly to Changi on a designated VTL flight.
Vaccinated Travel Lanes
- Must have stayed in a 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 any VTL country, with an accepted digital proof of vaccination
- Unvaccinated children aged 12 or under can accompany their parents
- Visitors and Singapore pass holders must apply for a VTP in advance
- Two COVID-19 tests replace quarantine / Stay-Home Notice in Singapore
Latest VTL countries
These new VTL additions will be effective from 29th November 2021, meaning there will be 16 such arrangements in place by late November.
Singapore Vaccinated Travel Lanes
|Already Running||🇦🇺 Australia
|From 15 Nov||🇰🇷 South Korea|
|From 29 Nov||🇫🇮 Finland
The Northern Lights
I have only been to Finland once, to Rovaniemi of all places (home of Santa Claus), but if once is all it takes to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) then let me assure you it’s worth the trip!
Sweden also benefits, but in both countries you’ll have to travel right up to the Arctic Circle in the far north to be in with the best chance to witness this spectacular sight.
Finland calls this region ‘Lapland’, and you’re in for a good chance to experience this spectacle on clear nights between September and April each year.
There are even glass ‘igloo hotels’ for Northern Lights watching from the comfort of your own bed.
Both Norway and Sweden accept fully vaccinated Singapore residents without testing or quarantine on arrival.
Designated VTL flights: Finland
Here’s how Finnair’s VTL flight schedule looks, with three services in the first week quickly ramping up to four from early December.
29th November 2021 – 5th December 2021
* Next day
6th December 2021 – 26th March 2022
* Next day
The likelihood of Singapore Airlines starting nonstop flights to and from Finland is very low, in our opinion, though a fifth-freedom extension is not out of the question.
Designated VTL flights: Sweden
In terms of Sweden, Singapore Airlines permanently axed its Stockholm route in September 2020, formerly served as an extension of the carrier’s Moscow service.
The city was served five times weekly, with the final flight operating to the Swedish capital on 14th March 2020, as COVID-19 restrictions took hold.
Even though Vancouver services are being resurrected after a 12-year gap in service, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Stockholm will also get the same treatment. Russia is not a VTL country, so a reboot of the previous routing won’t work at this stage.
SAS had a joint venture agreement with SIA in the past, so it’s not out of the question that the Scandinavian carrier could establish some Stockholm – Singapore services under codeshare to benefit from VTL and transit traffic.
It does seem unlikely though.
Watch this space, but travellers wishing to return to Singapore or visit quarantine-free from Sweden may need to transit in another VTL country to do so.
That could make Sweden the first VTL country without any VTL designated flights, though to be fair Canada has been part of the programme for some time without one, and will only get a seasonal non-stop service, so this clearly isn’t a deal-breaker.
ART pre-departure tests will be accepted
Excellent news for VTL travellers is that Singapore will relax its rules on test type for those arriving on or after 12th November 2021.
From this date your pre-departure test (PDT) from any VTL country can be an ART test (also called an ‘Antigen’ or ‘Lateral Flow’ test in come countries), or a PCR test.
The test must still be taken at an internationally accredited or recognised laboratory, clinic, or medical facility, with a result certificate in English stating all of the following:
- 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 test result
- The date and time when the COVID-19 test was taken
- The name of the testing institution conducting the COVID-19 test
For obvious reasons, self-administered ART tests are not acceptable.
ART tests are not only significantly cheaper, the results typically land in your inbox within 30 minutes, not the 24 hours it sometimes takes for a PCR result.
Furthermore, many airports have a testing centre in the terminal itself, so in most VTL cities you can maximise enjoyment of your trip and simply arrive at the airport an hour or so earlier than usual to tick this box, before heading to the check-in desk.
At Centogene in Frankfurt, where we did our pre-departure test prior to returning to Singapore on the inaugural VTL flight, a PCR with 24-hour turnaround cost EUR 69 (~S$108), while the 30-minute turnaround ART test our friends took at the same time to return to the UK cost just EUR 29 (~S$45).
For families in particular, this is potentially a significant overall cost saving.
Do note that your on-arrival test (OAT) at Changi Airport will still be a PCR, whether you are a Singapore resident or a visitor.
The Singapore OAT cost is S$160 until 17th November 2021 and S$125 from 18th November 2021.
Here’s how a family of four travelling from Singapore to Germany and back can expect their testing costs to reduce as a result of this simpler ART testing, in combination with the reduction in Changi Airport arrival testing.
* For arrivals from 12th November 2021
^ For arrivals from 18th November 2021
PCR vs. ART costs will vary based on VTL country, but as you can see from this example based on Germany a family of four now stands to save close to S$400 in expenses on a trip like this.
What about Category 2/3 arrivals?
If you’re a Singapore resident returning via the Category 2 or Category 3 lanes (i.e. 7-day or 10-day self-isolation at home), your PDT can also be an ART / Antigen / Lateral Flow provided you’re touching down at Changi on or after 12th November 2021.
Category 2 and Category 3 arrivals are not subject to an OAT, but will have a PCR test at the end of their isolation period, at a cost of S$125.
The testing window has been widened
The ICA has finally widened the testing window for pre-departure testing applicable to VTL travellers in line with those returning from Category 2 and Category 3 countries.
You can now have your PDT (either ART or PCR) conducted within two calendar days of your flight departure time, regardless of actual timing on the departure day itself.
For example, if your VTL flight to Singapore leaves on Thursday 9th December 2021, just deduct two days from the local departure date. You can take your PDT anytime from 7th December 2021 at 00:00 hours onwards in this case, even if your flight departs at 23:55 on 9th December 2021.
You will therefore have at least 48 hours, and in some cases up to 72 hours, to complete the test.
Under the previous ICA wording, your test timing had to be strictly within 48 hours of your flight departure time to be eligible.
Given that an ART test (acceptable for arrivals from 12th November 2021 onwards) generates results within 30 minutes, this significantly eases the burden of pre-departure testing before leaving for Singapore.
You can get an ART test at most European airports on the VTL network in the terminal itself for around EUR 30 – 45, so given the short results turnaround window there’s really no longer any need to go running round the city a day or two before your flight to source a PDT.
For those returning to Singapore on or before 11th November 2021, a pre-departure PCR test is still required but the new testing window outlined above takes immediate effect.
It’s great that Finland and Sweden will be joining the Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme this month, on the same day Malaysia is added to the programme.
For testing the new ART option for arrivals from 12th November, in combination with a more relaxed timing requirement with immediate effect, will help on both the cost and anxiety front for VTL travellers.
Let’s hope for more relaxations as Singapore moves to progressively open its borders.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)