Singapore and Hong Kong have announced that the much-anticipated Air Travel Bubble (ATB) will start (or restart, depending how you view it) on 26 May 2021. This provides for quarantine-free travel to either city for any reason, including leisure.
There’s no doubt a lot of excitement about the prospect of leisure travel for the first time in more than a year, and I’ve already booked my seat on the inaugural flight. I’ll be publishing some trip planning articles in the coming weeks addressing flights, hotels, testing and more, so stay tuned for that.
In the meantime, here’s my attempt at answering some FAQs about the ATB arrangement. As always, refer to official sources for the most up-to-date information:
|Singapore – Hong Kong ATB (ICA)|
|Hong Kong- Singapore ATB (HKTB)|
Is COVID-19 vaccination required?
Hong Kong residents traveling under the ATB must be fully-vaccinated for COVID-19, defined as 14 days after the second vaccine dose. Exceptions apply to those:
- Aged below 16
- Not suitable for COVID-19 vaccination due to medical grounds
- With less than 90 days’ stay in Hong Kong before departure
- Using non-Hong Kong travel documents for departure
However, the vaccination requirement does not apply to Singapore residents. The reason for the discrepancy was addressed by Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s Minister for Transport:
On why travellers from Singapore are not subject to the same requirement, Mr Ong said that this was because Singapore has had “quite a good response” to its vaccination programme which began in January this year.
“As for the Hong Kong side, I suppose they wanted an extra incentive for people to get vaccinated. So they have the additional requirement,” he said.
According to Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker, about 11 per cent of Hong Kong residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far which is less than half the rate in Singapore.
“But most important is not whether you are vaccinated or not. The most important is that your partner city, country or region is a safe place…and in this case, Hong Kong is one that meets that criterion,” said Mr Ong.
Source: Today Online
Do I need to be tested if I’m already vaccinated?
Yes. All travelers, regardless of vaccination status, will still be required to undergo up to four COVID-19 tests. For example, a Singapore resident should expect to do the following:
|#1||Pre-departure in Singapore||S$135-200|
|#2||Post-arrival in Hong Kong||HK$499|
|#3||Pre-departure in Hong Kong*||HK$240-2,000|
|#4||Post-arrival in Singapore||S$160|
|*This test is not required if your return flight from Hong Kong is within 72 hours of your second test|
How do I book my tests?
Pre-departure in Singapore
ATB travelers can visit any MOH-approved COVID-19 PCR test provider listed here. Be sure to click on the “list of clinics approved to conduct PCR Pre-Departure Tests”, because this is a subset of the overall list of approved clinics.
Swab tests must be done within 72 hours before the scheduled time of departure. You will receive your results in the HealthCerts.oa format, which must be digitally endorsed via Notarise.gov.sg before travel.
Prices range from S$135-200, and further discounts may be available to certain credit card members. Refer to this article for all the details.
Post-arrival in Hong Kong
The post-arrival COVID-19 test in Hong Kong must be pre-booked prior to departure from Singapore. Travelers will need to create an account on the Prenetics site and make payment of HK$499 (~S$85), which can be refunded up to 24 hours prior to appointment time.
The booking option is not yet available; I imagine this will be updated shortly.
Pre-departure in Hong Kong
ATB travellers can visit any approved COVID-19 PCR test facility in Hong Kong to do their pre-departure test, within 72 hours of scheduled departure time. This consists of private facilities, as well as community testing centres. The former can cost up to HK$2,000 (~S$340), while the latter cap their price at HK$240 (~S$40).
If your return flight to Singapore is within 72 hours of the COVID-19 PCR test you did upon arrival in Hong Kong, there is no need to take another pre-departure test. Simply present the certificate you were given upon arrival at the check-in counter.
Post-arrival in Singapore
The post-arrival COVID-19 test in Singapore must be pre-booked prior to departure from Hong Kong. Travelers can make bookings through this link, and the cost will be S$160.
Must my child be tested?
Children aged 6 or younger in the current calendar year will be excused from the following tests:
- Pre-departure test in Hong Kong
- Post-arrival test in Singapore
However, they will still be required to do the following tests:
- Pre-departure test in Singapore
- Post-arrival test in Hong Kong
As per the previous ATB arrangement, young children or infants have the option to submit stool samples for testing in Hong Kong.
Do I need to isolate upon arrival?
In Hong Kong
Passengers arriving in Hong Kong must wait until the results of their on-arrival COVID-19 test are released before leaving the airport.
The estimated wait time is approximately 3 to 4 hours, and before you complain, that’s an improvement from the 4 to 6 hours quoted during the first iteration of the ATB.
Unlike passengers who are going into quarantine, your process is slightly different:
- Quarantine: COVID-19 test → Waiting area → Immigration → Luggage Claim → Quarantine
- ATB: COVID-19 test → Immigration → Luggage claim → Waiting area → Freedom
This means you’ll have your check-in bag with you while you wait, although it’s probably best practice to ensure any medication/electronics you need are in your hand-carry bag.
Wi-Fi will be available, but it’s recommended you preload any media content onto your phone/tablet just in case. Bottled water will be made available upon request.
Passengers arriving in Singapore will take an on-arrival COVID-19 test, then immediately proceed to their declared place of accommodation by private transportation, taxi or private hire car. They must remain isolated at the accommodation until their test results are confirmed to be negative.
Singapore citizens, Permanent Residents and Long-Term Pass Holders may self-isolate at their place of residence, while visitors must isolate at a non-residential accommodation like a hotel.
For those self-isolating at their place of residence, there is no requirement to have the whole residence to yourself, even if you have family members who did not travel to Hong Kong. The requirement is that you have an individual room with an attached toilet, and avoid contact with non-traveling family members until the results are released.
So it basically follows the same SOP that would apply to anyone in Singapore who goes to a clinic with respiratory infection symptoms and does a swab test. You come straight home, self-isolate, and only go out when you get the all clear.
What kind of testing is used?
COVID-19 PCR testing in Singapore is currently done via nasal swabbing, where you tilt your head back and think of England. It’s hoped that less-invasive breathalyzer tests will soon become available, but for now, that’s the only option.
Hong Kong, on the other hand, uses saliva specimens to test for COVID-19. Travelers gargle a special liquid, spit into a specimen bag, and submit it for testing.
How much do flights cost?
While ATB ticket prices have skyrocketed for May, it’s still possible to find some moderately-priced options from June onwards. Of course, ticket prices can change dramatically on short notice (I fully expect June prices to rise further due to school holiday bookings), so take the figures below as a rough guide- they’re likely to get out of date fast:
|Lowest prices found for SIN-HKG round-trip||Economy | Business||Economy | Business|
|June 2021||S$481 | S$1,960||S$485 | S$1,558|
|July 2021||S$324 | S$1,568||S$485 | S$1,558|
|August 2021||S$324 | S$1,568||S$485 | S$1,558|
|September 2021||S$324 | S$1,568||S$485 | S$1,558|
Remember to use the flexible dates search feature to browse more prices at one go. I’ve only shown results till September, because Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific stop tagging ATB flights from October.
The ATB will presumably be extended if all goes well, and there’s nothing stopping you from making a booking for, say, December right now. If/when the ATB is extended, you’ll get a notification from Singapore Airlines that your flight has been re-designated as an ATB flight.
Is there award space?
Surprisingly, it’s still possible to find award space on the ATB route, even during the busy June school holiday period.
For Cathay Pacific, your best bet is to search for Premium Economy awards; Economy and Business Class are relatively harder to come by.
For Singapore Airlines, it’s possible to find a smattering of Economy Saver awards in June…
…but Business Class only has Advantage space.
First Class will become available in June, as Singapore Airlines switches to a B777-300ER. However, only Advantage awards are available, and not every day.
Here’s how much awards will cost:
|One-way price from Singapore to Hong Kong||Saver | Advantage|
|Economy||15,000 | 30,000||10,000|
|Premium Economy||24,500 | N/A||18,000|
|Business||30,500 | 50,000||25,000|
|First||40,500 | 73,000||N/A|
KrisFlyer does not impose fuel surcharges on Singapore Airlines flights, but Asia Miles will charge S$29 of fuel surcharges for a round-trip between Singapore and Hong Kong.
Additional taxes of S$86.10 apply regardless of carrier (S$127.10 if you’re flying in Business Class or higher, thanks to a higher Airport construction Fee).
Will the lounge be open?
|In Singapore||SilverKris Lounge||N/A|
|In Hong Kong||Plaza Premium||The Wing|
Singapore Airlines passengers departing from Changi will be able to access the temporary SilverKris Lounge in Terminal 3, which will almost certainly become the permanent KrisFlyer Gold lounge down the road.
The SilverKris Lounge in Hong Kong is not open, but eligible passengers instead get access to the Plaza Premium Lounge.
Cathay Pacific relocated from Changi Terminal 4 to Terminal 1 back in April 2020, which means its (very nice) Singapore lounge is also closed. Unfortunately, there is no alternative arrangement for passengers departing Singapore.
In Hong Kong, all eligible passengers have access to The Wing First Class lounge, the only lounge that Cathay Pacific is operating for now.
Those with lounge membership cards can access:
- SATS Premier Lounge in Terminal 1
- SATS Premier Lounge in Terminal 3
- Hong Kong
- Plaza Premium Lounge near Gate 1
This may become an issue from 1 July 2021, when Plaza Premium withdraws from Priority Pass and LoungeKey. A handful of Plaza Premium lounges will remain in the network, but it’s not clear which ones specifically.
What if I’m on a Long-Term Pass?
The ATB is open to any person, irrespective of his/her citizenship, so long as he/she has remained in Singapore and/or Hong Kong in the past 14 consecutive days prior to departure.
This includes Long-Term Pass (LTP) holders, but they have an additional step to do: apply for re-entry approval.
Your company’s HR department or CorpPass admin will handle the application, which can be done prior to leaving Singapore.
It’s important to emphasize the “prior” bit, because you certainly wouldn’t fly out of Singapore not knowing if you’ll be let back in. Applications can be made up to 30 days prior to the intended date of return, and there is no need to fill out the SHN details section for ATB travelers.
Applications submitted on weekdays before 12 p.m will get the outcome the same day, while those after 12 p.m or on weekends/public holidays will get the outcome the next working day. Once approval is received, be sure to print a copy and bring it on your trip. This will be required to check-in for the return flight, and will need to be shown at Singapore immigration.
I can’t comment on the success rate of these applications, but most of the data points I saw from the last ATB stated that approval was fairly straightforward. I suppose it boils down to how friendly and on-the-ball your HR department is.
What happens if the ATB gets suspended?
The ATB will be suspended for at least 14 days if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases (excluding dormitory resident cases in Singapore) is more than five in either Singapore or Hong Kong.
The suspension will take effect after two days (including the day on which the criteria was met) for a two-week period. That’s presumably the window for travelers on both sides of the bubble to make arrangements to return home early (remember- there’s no change fees for either SQ or CX).
The ATB can resume on the next day when the following two criteria have been met:
- the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong and Singapore does not exceed five on the last day of the 14-day suspension period or any subsequent day; and
- after criterion (i) is met, subsequently there are three consecutive days where the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases does not exceed three in Hong Kong and Singapore, and the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked local COVID-19 cases on the last day of the three consecutive days does not exceed five in both places.
Will insurance cover my trip?
The CAAS has said that travelers who contract COVID-19 will need to bear the full cost of any medical treatment, subject to prevailing medical and healthcare policies.
There are two possible scenarios that can happen:
- You test positive for COVID-19 after returning to Singapore, in which case your regular medical insurance kicks in
- You test positive for COVID-19 while in Hong Kong, in which case your travel insurance provides coverage
Let’s look at options for the latter.
Singapore Airlines passengers can opt to purchase the airline’s travel insurance (underwritten by AIG), which includes coverage for COVID-19 related medical expenses and emergency evacuation. This is provided the passenger is traveling under a pre-agreed official agreement like the ATB.
The policy covers up to S$350,000 of medical expenses and evacuation, and provides a daily allowance of up to S$200 (S$100 for Hong Kong specifically) should you test positive for COVID-19 while overseas and be placed into mandatory quarantine.
Alternatively, Cathay Pacific provides all passengers with free COVID-19 coverage (underwritten by AXA), provided their travel dates are on or before 31 May 2021. This has the potential to be further extended, so keep an eye out.
Overseas medical expenses are covered up to US$200,000, while evacuation is covered at actual cost. An overseas quarantine allowance of US$100 per day is also payable.
Alternatively, travelers can opt for third-party insurance policies from the following underwriters, which explicitly cover COVID-19:
You’ll want to read the policy wording of each carefully for coverage and exclusions.
For most Singaporeans, this will be the first real opportunity for leisure travel in more than a year, and the lack of a vaccination requirement makes it all the more accessible (although, seriously, get vaccinated as soon as you can).
There’s just under a month to go till the inaugural ATB flight, so fingers crossed it gets off the ground this time.