My experience getting a COVID-19 PCR swab test in Singapore

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A COVID-19 PCR test is the new boarding pass, and while it's expensive, it's not the ordeal you might imagine.

  • Hong Kong ATB (A Travel Backlog)- Trip Planning
  • Pre-departure COVID-19 Testing in Singapore
  • SATS Premier Lounge, Changi Airport Terminal 3
  • Singapore Airlines A350-900 Economy Class SIN-HKG
  • COVID-19 Testing on Arrival in Hong Kong
  • Gateway Hotel Hong Kong
  • The Langham, Hong Kong
  • Cordis Hotel Hong Kong
  • Pre-departure COVID-19 Testing in Hong Kong
  • Plaza Premium Lounge, Hong Kong Airport
  • Singapore Airlines A350-900 Business Class HKG-SIN

While leisure travel to Hong Kong is possible once again, the cost of entry is a COVID-19 PCR test. 

I get it. No one likes things stuck up their nose. But if you hope to set foot on a plane or cruise ship (or even a nightclub) within the next 12-24 months, you’ll almost certainly have to take a test of some sort. It’s just the way things work now. 

What’s the testing regime for the Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble?

Travelers from Singapore will have to undergo 3-4 COVID-19 PCR tests, depending on their length of stay in Hong Kong: 

  • Test 1: Within 72 hours of departing Singapore for Hong Kong
  • Test 2: Upon arrival at Hong Kong International Airport
  • Test 3: Within 72 hours of departing Hong Kong for Singapore (unless your return flight to Singapore is less than 72 hours after the second test; see below)
  • Test 4: Upon arrival at Singapore Changi Airport (new requirement)

Source: https://www.tourism.gov.hk/travel-bubble/files/FAQ_Eng.pdf

To illustrate:

Arrive HK* Depart HK Test 1 (SG) Test 2 (HK) Test 3 (HK)
22-Nov, 2 p.m 25-Nov, 10 a.m Yes Yes No
22-Nov, 2 p.m 27-Nov, 3 p.m Yes Yes Yes
*Note that the arrival time will be different from the time you provide your sample, and it really boils down to how fast they process people.

Official details of the ATB regime can be found here. 

Getting Approval for a COVID-19 PCR Test in Singapore

This won’t be an issue in the near future, but if you want to take pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test up till 30 November 2020, it’s necessary to seek ICA’s approval first. 

Apply for pre-departure PCR test

Applications must be submitted at least 7 days before departure, and you’ll be asked to provide your airline booking reference number and passport details. 

Approval is not instantaneous; but it’s pretty darn fast in my experience. The official processing time is 3 working days; I submitted my request at 5.46 p.m on Wednesday and received approval at 7.34 a.m on Thursday. 

COVID-19 PCR tests need to be done between 48-72 hours before you fly, which means that even if you’re departing in early December (at least the first two days), you’ll still need to apply for approval. 

Departure date Last day to apply for approval Last day to take PCR test
22 Nov 20 15 Nov 20 20 Nov 20
23 Nov 20 16 Nov 20 21 Nov 20
24 Nov 20 17 Nov 20 22 Nov 20
25 Nov 20 18 Nov 20 23 Nov 20
26 Nov 20 19 Nov 20 24 Nov 20
27 Nov 20 20 Nov 20 25 Nov 20
28 Nov 20 21 Nov 20 26 Nov 20
29 Nov 20 22 Nov 20 27 Nov 20
30 Nov 20 23 Nov 20 28 Nov 20
1 Dec 20 24 Nov 20 29 Nov 20
2 Dec 20 25 Nov 20 30 Nov 20

COVID-19 PCR Test Prices

The MOH used to publish a list of COVID-19 PCR test providers, which included information on how much they charge. Annoyingly, the latest version of the list no longer contains that information, but thanks to some calls and research, here’s an idea of how much you can expect to pay at the major chains. 

⚕️ COVID-19 PCR Test Prices
Chain Price (Nett) Locations
DA Clinic  S$160 Link
Parkway Shenton* S$170 Link
SATA CommHealth S$180 Link
Healthway Medical S$197.95 Link
ProHealth Medical  S$199 Link
Raffles Medical S$199 Link
Fullerton Health S$199.02 Link
AcuMed Medical S$200 Link
Central 24-HR Clinic S$200 Link
HeartlandHealth S$200 Link
My Family Clinic S$200 Link
Northeast Medical  S$200 Link
Q&M Medical  S$200 Link
*aka Shenton Medical Group
Prices accurate as of 19 November and are subject to change; call clinics for latest information. Not all clinics may provide COVID-19 PCR test. 

When getting a price quote, be sure to specify that you’re traveling to Hong Kong; certain countries (e.g China) require a serology test on top of the PCR test, which adds additional cost. 

Unless you live near a DA Clinic, Parkway Shenton is probably the best bet. Its fees are 15% lower than most other providers, and they have 21 locations providing COVID-19 PCR tests across the island. 

Moreover, for this trip I’ll be beta-testing an app called the Digital Health Passport, created by local startup Accredify. This allows for the storage of tamper-proof digital certificates, which enables authorities to instantly authenticate test results. The app also keeps a running list of the preflight documentation required for your particular destination (e.g health declarations, pre-arrival test booking). Parkway Shenton is one of Accredify’s Singapore partners, so doing my test there allows for results to be pushed directly to the app on my phone. 

What’s the swabbing process like?

The things I do for The Milelion

Not as bad as you think. Really.

I suppose I only have a single data point to refer to, and it does depend on the skill of your swabber, but my experience at The Arcade branch of Shenton Medical was fairly uneventful.

A six-inch long swab (like a cotton bud) is inserted into one nostril, swished around a few times for about five seconds, removed, then repeated for the other nostril. It’s more ticklish than painful, and while you may feel like sneezing, the whole thing is over before you know it. Put it another way- if you’ve ever done a nasal scope before, this isn’t anywhere near as bad. All in all, you spend more time doing paperwork than the actual swab.

Results should be available by the following afternoon, and The Arcade branch accepts Paywave (hello 4 mpd with the UOB Preferred Platinum Visa). 

FYI, Parkway Shenton practices the following cut-off timings for COVID-19 PCR tests. You must be present at the clinic at least two hours prior to the cut off timing for your results to arrive in time for departure. 

Flight departure time Cut-off timing
0000-0929 1000 two calendar days before flight
0930-1529 1600 two calendar days before flight
1530-2359 1000 the day before flight

Conclusion

With prices currently hovering around the S$200 mark, COVID-19 PCR tests don’t come cheap in Singapore. The cost will no doubt come down over time, but if this is what stops you from traveling at the moment (imagine the costs multiplied by a family of four), I can’t blame you. 

On the other hand, I don’t think the fear of the test itself should be a barrier to travel. It’s a genuinely painless process, way less painful than an injection, and I was able to resume normal activities immediately afterwards. Close your eyes and think of England.

Next stop: Changi Airport.

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion with the intention of helping people travel better for less and impressing chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Paul

Is this irrecoverable sunk cost if the flight is cancelled, because the ATB is paused following the rise beyond 5 in the daily average of unlinked infections?

Paul

In light of today… oooops 🤦🏻‍♂️

Yang

Not able to claim any insurance?

Ben

When getting a price quote, be sure to specify that you’re traveling to Hong Kong; certain countries (e.g China) require a serology test on top of the PCR test, which adds additional cost.”

Geng Shuang would like a word with the Milelion. Repent and admit that Hong Kong is not a “country”, or be consigned to the annals of history!

Tai

Booked to fly SIN-HKG on Dec 5.

Do I need government permission to take the PCR test or not?

Not clear to me because I will have to book the test in November so unsure if I need the government permission for BOOKING the test or for TAKING the test.

Thanks

Tai

Because there might be no slots anymore on such a short notice. I have zero visibility in the capacity of the clinics. You are assuming there is unlimited capacity.

Tai

Thanks

invisible

The cost will no doubt come down over time

As long as government wants to discourage non-essencial travel (which is the case at this moment), they won’t.

Yang

But ATB is a government sanctioned initiative

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