Travel to South Korea is set to be simplified from next week, with the country relaxing its requirement for a pre-departure COVID-19 test from a PCR swab to the cheaper, quicker ART method, becoming one of the latest in the region to do so and reducing trip costs in the process.
The new rules will take effect for arrivals from 23rd May 2022 and will reduce the testing outlay for travellers from Singapore heading quarantine-free to South Korea by an average of around S$70 per person.
That’s not all though. From 1st June 2022 there will be further relaxations:
- On-arrival PCR test can be conducted within three days of entry (currently required on the day of entry)
- Self-swab ART on Day 6/7 of your trip will no longer be required
- Unvaccinated children aged 11 or below can enter with fully vaccinated parents (currently only those aged 5 or below are eligible)
- Booster dose requirement will be scrapped for vaccinated 12-17 year olds
South Korea reopened to fully vaccinated tourists from Singapore on 15th November 2021, under a two-way Vaccinated Travel lane (VTL) arrangement, but has since lifted its border restrictions more widely with fully vaccinated travellers welcomed from all countries without quarantine since 1st April 2022.
New PDT options
For those arriving in South Korea from overseas on or after 23rd May 2022, the new pre-departure COVID-19 testing options are either:
- a PCR test within 2 days of departure; or
- an ART test (clinic only) within 1 day of departure.
For example, if your flight from Singapore to Seoul departs at 8.10am on Wednesday 15th June 2022, you must take your pre-departure test as follows:
- PCR: On or after 0.00am on Monday 13th June 2022
- ART: On or after 0.00am on Tuesday 14th June 2022
The timing applies prior to departure at the first embarkation point in a continuous journey to South Korea (i.e. where you do not leave the airport premises at any transit points).
For most of our readers that means the best option will be to have an ART test within 1 day of the departure time of your non-stop flight from Singapore.
Children under the age of six (by date of birth on the entry date to South Korea) are exempt from pre-departure testing, provided they are accompanied by fully vaccinated adults who submit valid negative PDT results.
Note that if you’re transiting in South Korea on a connecting itinerary without clearing immigration (i.e. with onward boarding pass and any luggage checked through to your final destination), you are exempt from the country’s pre-departure testing requirements. Only the requirements of your final destination (if any) apply.
Allowing travellers the option to take an ART test will significantly reduce costs, with PCR tests in Singapore on average costing around S$107, though there are now a good number of options in the S$78 – S$95 range, based on our latest analysis.
Clinic-based pre-departure ART tests including a certificate for travel, meanwhile, cost around S$34 on average in Singapore, with multiple options in the S$18 – S$30 range.
For families in particular the savings do start to add up, on average at S$73 a head meaning over S$290 for a group of four.
Convenience is another factor, with most providers in Singapore sending through your ART test results within just one hour of being swabbed, meaning South Korea’s one-day pre-departure window for those taking an antigen rapid test should be more than adequate.
Tele-ARTs not allowed
While Singapore now allows travellers to perform a supervised pre-departure self-swab ART test by video call, the requirements for those taking an antigen test to travel to South Korea state that it must be “taken at a hospital or clinic”.
The requirements go on to be even more explicit about remote supervised tests.
This is an unfortunate stance, also taken by the Philippines for those using the antigen method for pre-departure testing.
Test timing confusion
One thing COVID has undoubtedly brought to the travel industry is the endless confusion over the difference between “one day” and “24 hours”, or “two days” and “48 hours”, etc. when it comes to testing requirements!
In its timing examples, it is quite clear that South Korea’s requirement is based on calendar days (i.e. within 24/48 hours of the departure date, not the departure time, as we have outlined above).
Unfortunately the inevitable confusion of simply mentioning a number of hours has filtered down to the likes of IATA Timatic and the airlines, some of whom are quoting an incorrect “24 hours before departure” requirement for those choosing the cheaper pre-departure ART test.
Asiana, on the other hand, is interpreting the one-day requirement correctly.
If you’re flying on SIA, like most of our readers no doubt will be, it may be worth playing it safe and ensuring that if you do opt for the pre-departure ART test you have it conducted within 24 hours of the flight departure time, to avoid any confusion at the check-in desk, until this is inevitably ironed out at a later date!
In order to travel to South Korea quarantine-free, currently travellers aged six and above must be fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine at least 14 full days previously (not including the date of the final dose).
A booster dose is required if the primary vaccination course was completed more than 180 days ago (including the date of the final dose).
Here’s an example.
Quarantine exemption to enter South Korea
(travellers aged 6+)
|Pfizer||1||1 Jan||5 Feb
|Moderna||Booster||30 Jul||30 Jul||No Limit|
This individual would not be allowed to enter South Korea quarantine-free between 21st July and 29th July, due to exceeding 180 days without a booster dose.
On-arrival test relaxed
Currently travellers arriving in South Korea must complete a mandatory PCR test on the day of arrival, either at the airport or at a public health centre close to their accommodation.
From 1st June 2022, international arrivals will still be required to undergo a PCR test, but this can then be conducted within three days of entry into South Korea, improving trip flexibility. There will likely then be no requirement to self-isolate while awaiting the test result, like there is currently.
It will also remove the on-arrival testing requirement if you’re making a shorter trip – i.e. leaving the country within three days of arrival.
Day 6/7 test axed
The self-administered ART test on Day 6/7, for those staying in South Korea for eight days or more, which itself was downgraded from a PCR back in March this year, will also no longer be required for those arriving from 1st June 2022.
This will be replaced with a recommendation for post-arrival self-testing by symptomatic travellers.
(More) unvaccinated children
Another change coming from 1st June 2022 is South Korea’s entry policy for unvaccinated children.
Currently only those aged below six (i.e. aged 0 to 5) on entry are exempt from vaccination requirements to enter South Korea quarantine-free, meaning if you are travelling with children aged six or over they must meet South Korea’s fully vaccinated definition, in order to travel with you.
From 1st June 2022, children aged 0 to 11 will be exempt from vaccination and can travel quarantine-free, provided they are accompanied by parents who are fully vaccinated.
Furthermore, children aged 12-17 on entry will no longer require a booster dose if their full primary vaccination course was completed more than 180 days prior to entry, like they do now.
Do note that despite these relaxations for children, the pre-departure testing exemption will still only apply to those aged five or below, even after 1st June 2022.
Singapore – South Korea trip process
Here’s the latest process for those travelling from Singapore (and other countries) quarantine-free to South Korea.
Eligibility & Process
Singapore South Korea
- Must be fully vaccinated with a WHO vaccine if arriving 15-180 days from the final dose in the primary vaccination series
- Must have also received a WHO vaccine booster dose if arriving 181+ days from the final dose in your primary vaccination series (not applicable to those aged 12-17 arriving from 1 June 2022)
- Unvaccinated children aged 6+ are not eligible (relaxation to those aged 12+ for arrivals from 1 June 2022)
- Apply for an Electronic Travel Authorisation at least 24 hours in advance*
- Take a pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test up to 2 days before departure (or a clinic-based ART test up to 1 day before departure for those arriving from 23rd May 2022)
- Upload proof of vaccination to obtain a Q-code, which must be presented upon arrival
- Take a COVID-19 PCR test on the day of arrival (within 3 days of arrival from 1 June 2022)
- Self-isolate until the on-arrival test result is available (not applicable from 1 June 2022)
- Take a COVID-19 self-ART test on either Day 6 or 7 of your trip, with the arrival day as Day 1, if staying for 8+ days (not applicable from 1 June 2022)
* Not applicable for South Korean citizens or permanent residents
Singapore – South Korea trip testing costs
Here’s how round-trip testing costs from Singapore to South Korea and back look from 23rd May 2022.
Singapore South Korea
|SG pre-departure (clinic ART)||From S$18|
|S. Korea arrival (clinic PCR)||~S$90
|S. Korea Day 6/7 (self-ART)*||~S$5*|
* No longer required for arrivals from 1st June 2022
Travellers can now expect to part with less than S$120 on a round-trip to South Korea, for departures from 23rd May 2022, a far cry from the S$500+ per person we saw when the VTL with Singapore was first established and multiple PCR tests were the norm.
From 1st June 2022 there will only be two COVID-19 tests required on a round-trip from Singapore to South Korea and back.
Other countries still requiring pre-departure testing
While we’ve been happily reporting on the complete removal of pre-departure testing for fully vaccinated (and in some cases even unvaccinated) travellers recently, there are still some popular destinations retaining this requirement.
Here’s a summary of some of those, including South Korea.
Testing before travelling to selected countries
based on fully vaccinated travellers departing from Singapore by air
|Country||Test type||Test timing||Exemptions|
||48h before departure||—|
|Japan||PCR||72h before departure
||Age 5 or below|
|Myanmar||PCR||72h before arrival||Age 5 or below|
|Qatar||PCR||48h before departure
||Age 3 or below
Vaccinated Qataris and residents
|PCR 2 days before departure
ART 1 day before departure
|Age 5 or below|
|Taiwan||PCR||2 days before departure
If your destination requires a pre-departure test, don’t forget to refer to our continually updated list of the cheapest options available in Singapore.
South Korea is making a number of relaxations to testing and eligibility requirements for quarantine-free travel in the coming weeks, which is great news for travellers planning trips or already booked to travel.
- From 23rd May the mandatory pre-departure test can be a clinic ART within one day of departure, as an alternative to the expensive PCR test within two days of departure.
- From 1st June the on-arrival PCR test will only need to be conducted within three days of arrival, increasing flexibility and removing the requirement altogether for shorter trips.
- From 1st June the Day 6/7 self-ART test for those staying in the country for eight days or more will be scrapped.
- From 1st June unvaccinated children aged 0 to 11 will be eligible to travel to South Korea with fully vaccinated parents (currently only those aged 0 to 5 are eligible).
- From 1st June the requirement for a booster dose for children aged 12 to 17 to be considered fully vaccinated, if their primary vaccination course was completed more than 180 days ago, will be removed.
With any luck we’ll also see further concessions soon, like on-arrival testing being changed to the ART method, or done away with completely, as South Korea moves to an endemic COVID strategy.
In the meantime these changes are great news for cost savings and trip simplicity, especially for families.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)