Ever since the MOH issued an advisory against all non-essential travel on 15 March 2020, Singaporeans who venture overseas have faced a 14-day SHN upon return, at their own expense. This amounted to a de facto ban on leisure travel for all but the most determined of travellers.
But with vaccination rates rising and the thinking shifting to endemic COVID-19, there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel. From September 2021, the Singapore government plans to reopen borders to vaccinated travelers from selected countries, who will either do testing on arrival, or at most a 7-day SHN at home.
No more14-day SHN for vaccinated travelers
Here’s the current SHN regime by country, which applies regardless of vaccination status.
|Arriving From||SHN Duration|
|🇦🇺||Australia||7 days at place of residence|
|🇭🇰||Hong Kong SAR||7 days at place of residence|
|🇲🇴||Macao SAR||7 days at place of residence|
|🌏||All other countries||14 days in SDF*|
|*SDF= SHN Dedicated Facility. Arrivals from Israel and Taiwan may serve the SHN at their place of residence|
With Singapore’s vaccination rate expected to hit 80% in early September, the government is planning to recalibrate measures for arrivals from selected countries, replacing the 14-day SHN in a dedicated facility with a “rigorous testing regime”, or at most a 7-day SHN at home.
Of course, this carrot will only be for those who are fully vaccinated (defined as 14 days after your second dose). Here’s how Lawrence Wong positioned it in parliament:
It will start by setting up travel corridors with countries or regions that have “managed COVID-19 well”, and where the infection is under control.
“So fully vaccinated persons will then be able to travel to these countries or regions without needing to serve the full 14-day stay-home notice in a hotel when they return,” Mr Wong said.
Depending on the risk level of the country they visit, the stay-home notice will be replaced with a “rigorous testing regime” or a seven-day isolation period at home.
This will allow vaccinated people to travel more freely, he said. “Those who are not vaccinated can still travel, but will be subject to the prevailing SHN (stay-home notice) requirements.”
While I’m hoping that more countries will be in the “rigorous testing regime” category rather than the 7-day SHN at home, either way would be a huge leap forward from the current status quo.
Where can vaccinated Singaporeans go?
So where might Singaporeans be traveling to in September? There are two parts of the question to consider:
- Which countries will admit vaccinated Singaporeans without quarantine?
- Which countries will Singapore admit vaccinated travelers from without quarantine?
With regards to the former, Wego has put together a very useful tool that shows at a glance which countries waive quarantine for vaccinated Singaporeans.
This list currently features 128 countries and territories, mostly in the EU. Notable names include France, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Denmark, the Maldives, UK and USA.
However, that’s only half the picture. As mentioned in parliament, the plan is to set up travel corridors with countries and regions that have “managed COVID-19 well”. In a recent interview with The Straits Times, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung suggested the following heuristic:
“Once a place’s (Covid-19) infection rate is going down, vaccinations are going up and you go below, say, two or three infections per 100,000, we should start monitoring those countries seriously.”
Here’s what the figures look like for selected countries popular with Singapore travelers:
|Country||🠗 New Cases Per 100,000||Fully Vaccinated|
|New cases refers to seven-day average. Data as of 25 July 2021 from Bloomberg and NY Times|
Unfortunately, the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant means that only a handful of countries fall below the 2-3 infections per 100,000 threshold. When I last looked at these figures two weeks ago, Switzerland, Italy and France all fell into this range; now they’re considerably higher.
Ultimately it’s a two-way street, and we’ll need to see what criteria the Singapore government sets for “managing COVID-19 well”.
Should you start making plans now?
While there’s considerable excitement about this development (and rightfully so), the past 18 months are a lesson in expectations management. I don’t see anything wrong with making a few speculative bookings, so long as they’re:
- Flexible: Most airlines are offering a waiver of change fees, but you’re unlikely to get a refund unless your flight is cancelled. Award tickets would be the way to go here, since you can usually get your miles back with a small penalty
- Direct: Adding a third-country transit is bound to cause complications, especially if it’s a route with fifth freedom rights (i.e. where passengers from the transit country board)
This isn’t the time to be trying all sorts of tricks with positioning flights, that’s for sure!
You’ll also want to look for a travel insurance plan that incorporates COVID-19 coverage. NTUC Income and Sompo are two such providers, and I’m sure this list will grow once borders reopen. You can also be certain that vaccination will be an essential pre-requisite for COVID-19 claims.
Singapore plans to lift the SHN requirement for vaccinated arrivals from selected countries in September, the first step towards reopening borders. Of course there’s a lot of details to be worked out, such as:
- What happens to those who are aged under 12 or unable to be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons?
- Will transiting in a country with a higher COVID-19 risk require you to serve quarantine on return to Singapore?
- Will Sinovac-inoculated individuals be entitled to the same concessions those vaccinated with Moderna/Pfizer?
We’ll no doubt get more details in August, so until then, sit tight.
Which countries are you betting on for September?