The big problem with the Germany VTL

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Planning to travel on the VTL? That pre-departure test in Germany has the potential to cause a major headache.

Update: From 10 September 2021, Singapore will require travellers from Category II countries to take a PDT, thereby removing a key advantage of non-VTL travel. Read about it here. 

While the upcoming VTL with Germany marks the first quarantine-free travel opportunity for Singapore residents in 18 months, it’s not completely frictionless. Travellers are still required to undergo four PCR tests, in lieu of an SHN.

VTL travellers must undergo a pre-departure PCR test in Germany

Now, I don’t mind the tests per se (especially since Germany has the less-invasive gargle kind). Sure, it adds additional cost, but that’s simply the price of quarantine-free travel.

However, the pre-departure PCR test in Germany has the potential to throw a spanner into the works- a possible deal-breaker that VTL travellers need to be aware of. It’s also reason enough to examine the other alternative: Category II travel. 

Options for returning to Singapore

Singapore residents who travel to Germany have two options for returning to Singapore. They can:

  1. Enter under the VTL
  2. Enter under Category II restrictions

Here’s the differences between the two:

🛂Singapore Border Restriction by Category
 VTL Cat. II
Short-term visitors
Application requiredVTP
(not required for SC/PR)
Details on ICA website
Pre-departure PCR test
48h before depart.
On-arrival PCR test
SHN
7 days at home/hotel
Day 3 PCR test
Day 7 PCR test
Free to Choose Flights?
VTL flights only

Any non-stop flight, or flights with transit in Cat. I/II countries

The main advantage of the VTL is the ability to avoid a SHN on return to Singapore. This is replaced by a pre-departure PCR test before boarding the flight to Singapore, as well as additional tests in Singapore on arrival, Day 3, and Day 7.

⚕️ Testing Regime for VTL
LocationRemarksPrice
🇩🇪 Germany48h before departure
S$110-380*
🇸🇬 SingaporeOn arrival S$160
🇸🇬 SingaporeDay 3 S$94.16
🇸🇬 SingaporeDay 7 S$94.16
*The price is so variable because of the presence of 1-2 hour “express” solutions. The traditional 24h turnaround tests will be at the lower end of the spectrum.

But that pre-departure test poses problems of its own. 

What if you test positive in Germany?

Testing positive for COVID-19 in Germany could be a logistical nightmare

In a separate post, I’ve laid out what happens should your pre-departure PCR test in Germany reflect a positive result.

tl;dr: you’ll be ordered to enter self-isolation for anywhere between 5-14 days, until cleared by a PCR test. Assuming you’re asymptomatic or only have mild symptoms, this will be done in a hotel.

Unlike Singapore, Germany does not have a system of managed quarantine in government facilities. This means you’ll need to pay the cost of additional hotel nights; your travel insurance, if it covers COVID-19, should provide a fixed allowance per day of quarantine. 

Update: From 7 October, the “no return to Singapore if positive test” duration gets cut to 14 days.

Unfortunately, that’s not where it ends. ICA has a further policy which states that individuals should not travel to Singapore if they:

  1. Have symptoms of COVID-19;
  2. Are diagnosed or suspected to have COVID-19 infection in the last 21 days before departing for Singapore; or
  3. Had close contact with any person with COVID-19 in the last 14 days before departing for Singapore

(2) is the issue. Regardless of how long your self-isolation lasts, you’ll need to stay in Germany for at least 21 days from the date of your positive result. I asked ICA if that extended to VTL travellers as well, and received this response:

2             Travellers who test positive on their COVID-19 PCR test should seek appropriate medical care and ensure that they have fully recovered and are non-infectious before travelling to Singapore.

3             Depending on travel history within the last 21 days prior to arrival, all inbound travellers will also be required to take a COVID-19 PCR test within 48 or 72 hours before departure for Singapore. If a PCR test is required to be taken before departure, i.e. a condition for entry into Singapore, travellers must take the test regardless of whether they have recovered from COVID-19.

4             Effective from 7th May, 2359 hours, travellers will be denied boarding by their airline or ferry if they are (a) diagnosed with COVID-19 infection 21 days or less, from the date of travel; and/or (b) tested positive on the pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test.

5              Kindly note that all inbound travellers are required to submit their arrival information, including health declaration, using the SG Arrival Card e-service form at https://eservices.ica.gov.sg/sgarrivalcard/, up to three (3) days before entry into Singapore.

6              Applicants are reminded to take all health, travel and SHN-related declarations seriously, and to submit truthful and accurate information. Firm enforcement action will be taken against those found to have made false declarations

7              Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents should not apply for a VTP to travel to Singapore under the VTL, as they can return to Singapore without the need for entry approval provided they adhere to the VTL requirements. Please click here for more information on the requirements.

8              Thank you.

While it’s annoying I didn’t get a straight yes/no answer, I believe point (4) is the crux: positive test= return to Singapore delayed by 21 days. 

To be fair, this isn’t a Germany-specific restriction. It would equally apply to inbound travellers from any other country. Heck, if the Hong Kong ATB had gone ahead (instead of bursting into a million tiny pieces), it’d apply to bubble travellers too. 

All the same, that’s far from ideal.

The Category II alternative

Update: The information in this section is now out of date. From 10 September 2021, Singapore will require travellers from Category II countries to take a PDT, thereby removing a key advantage of non-VTL travel. Read about it here. 
🛂 Category II Rules
  • 7-day SHN at home/hotel
  • No pre-departure PCR test
  • PCR test on arrival in Singapore
  • PCR test on Day 7

Consider then, the alternative. If travellers return to Singapore on a non-VTL flight, they will enter under Category II rules.

This means a PCR test on arrival, followed by a 7-day SHN which can be served in a hotel or at home. If served at home, the traveller is required to have a dedicated toilet and bedroom; he/she need not have the entire house to him/herself. 

Crucially, there’s no pre-departure PCR test required in Germany. This could very well be a case of “ignorance is bliss”, since the only quarantine scenario takes place in Singapore. I know where I’d rather be quarantined, if push comes to shove. 

Put it another way: the big draw of the VTL isn’t the SHN waiver per se; it’s time. It allows travellers (at least those who can’t WFH) to minimise the leave they need to take, and is minimally disruptive to their regular activities. 

But all that is negated if you end up having to spend an additional 21 days in Germany. It might still be OK if you’re self-employed or can work remotely, but otherwise I imagine most employers wouldn’t be too pleased to hear about it. 

The other advantage of the Category II route is that in addition to non-stop flights, you can also take a flight with a transit in a Category I or II country (since the most restrictive rules apply, you want to avoid anything higher than Category II). For example, you could take a transit flight through Hong Kong and still qualify for a 7-day SHN on return. 

Since vaccination is not required for Category II, it’s an option for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated travellers, including those with children under 12. 

Weighing the two options

So what does this mean for would-be travellers to Germany? Here’s my assessment of the two options. 

VTLCategory II

✔ No SHN in Singapore

✖ 4 PCR tests
✖ VTL flights only
✖ Potential 14 day isolation in Germany
✖ Cannot return to Singapore for 21 days after positive PCR test

✔ More flight options
✔ 2 PCR tests
✔ No risk of extended Germany stay
✔ Available to unvaccinated individuals

✖ 7-day SHN

I think the question boils down to how much of a gambler you are. By taking the VTL, you’re guaranteed no SHN provided your pre-departure test is negative. In return, you accept the possibility of having to stay in Germany for 21 additional days. 

Category II travel has a guaranteed 7-day SHN, but has zero risk of getting stranded in Germany. 

I’ve seen people trying to hedge themselves by saying well, I’ll just take a self-administered ART in Germany and if the result is positive, I’ll come back via Category II. Leaving aside the ethicality of boarding a plane when you know you might be infected, this won’t work for the simple reason of the SG Arrival Card.

All travellers, including Singapore Citizens, Permanent Residents and Long Term Pass Holders, must complete the SG Arrival Card within 3 days prior to date of arrival in Singapore. Inside is a Health Declaration section with the following questions. 

You’re asked point blank if you are diagnosed or suspected to have COVID-19 infection in the past 21 days. Ergo, if you get a positive ART result, you have to disclose it. Making a false declaration on the SG arrival card is a serious offence, and you can be charged under the Infectious Diseases Act. 

And for those thinking: 3 days- great! I’ll submit my arrival card at the 72 hour mark, take my test at the 48 hour mark, and even if I’m positive, my submission will still have been truthful at the time…well, ICA has pre-empted such shenanigans.

So you really need to cross your fingers and hope that pre-departure test turns out to be negative, or your trip to Germany could end up being very expensive indeed. 

All this could be resolved if ICA simply dropped the requirement for a pre-departure test. After all, VTL travelers are already on a dedicated flight with fully vaccinated passengers only, and they need to undergo a PCR test on arrival. While I get there’s some incremental benefit from the pre-departure test (namely, the odds of two false negative PCR tests is smaller than one), this is exactly the sort of thing that could torpedo the VTL. 

Conclusion

None of this changes my VTL plans; I mean, reviewing it is part of my job after all. But until the pre-departure test requirement is removed, or the clause prohibiting return to Singapore for 21 days after a positive test is eased, the risks for most will be too great. 

I’m still hoping that ICA will provide greater clarity or else update its policy in the days to come, but until then, Category II is worth a serious look.

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Jan

greetings from Germany. You are right. That’s because travel will not return until testing for vaccinated travellers will be stopped. For us in Europe it’s fine. When you are vaccinated you don’t Need a Test to travel through Europe. And even in countries where a test is necessary i don’t need one to return home. So for Germans the on arrival tests in singspre are a the game killer. but by the way: if you need easy testing: use centogene at Frankfurt airport. Just go testing (mostly no waiting times at all). And then you get the result as pdf… Read more »

Jeff

Dear Jan,
Think you are based in Germany. If a traveller is tested positive before departure from Munich and needs to be quarantine, which are the hotels and options in Munich? Most places will not accept positive results for stay in. Where are the recognised PCR testing in Munich? Thank you.

D K

The aim of a holiday is to enjoy and relax. At the rate it’s going, nobody is ever going have a peaceful holiday. The fear of contracting covid, health and work related stress etc. No light at the end of the tunnel. Sounds like the “cure” is worse than the disease itself.

bent

Agree with you on this, I think mass leisure travel is still quite a long way off.

hmlee

just stay in sg for the rest of 2021

Ed

Thanks for this excellent analysis Aaron. Based on your article I’ve changed my VTL flight from Munich to a non-VTL flight as the risks of testing positive in Germany far outweighs the benefit of VTL for me. I wonder what the intent of the VTL is – it seems that the SG gov is prioritising German travellers to Singapore (who can just go home if they test positive) and not Singaporeans who risk being stuck in Germany for 21 days. Once again Singaporeans get the short end of the stick.

Last edited 11 months ago by Ed
hmlee

Singapore govt is not encouraging outbound travel. VTL is meant to bring inbound short term tourist

Exactly

Exactly my thoughts. Revenue-driven?

freedom

VTL is not designed for Singapore residents. It is designed to serve oversea business travelers, which risk and costs are covered. Convenience for Singapore residents is more of after thoughts.

Michael

Very fair points. Either add pre-departure test for all, or get rid of them but the current setup looks half-baked.

As it stands; Another pro of the VTL if I may:

Everyone on your Ex-Germany flight is tested and vaccinated. On the Cat II flight – well, fingers crossed.

Safe Travels

Second this. One would definitely feel safer on a VTL flight.

CTY

Erm doesn’t make sense since both vaccinated and unvaccinated can be infected and can transmit covid?

Gong

It’s playing percentages… your odds are better.

cheesecake

The same rule applies to ANY country that requires pre departure COVID tests…

Benjamin Ho

The VTL is primarily for German businesses personnel to travel to Singapore without onerous SHN requirements. For them, being diagnosed with Covid is not a problem (similar to Singaporeans dignosed with Covid before leaving Singapore). For leisure travellers, the Cat II option makes more sense than the VTL.

Freddy

I think the different requirements for pre-departure COVID tests for the two options are a big loophole. It doesn’t make sense at all.

What a loophole

So the strategy is: Buy a self-test kit 48h prior to departure.

If negative: Proceed to PCR test, fly home via VTL, enjoy your life.

If positive: Don’t tweet about it, rebook to a Cat2 flight, fly home, infect your seat neighbors and the crew, get government funded quarantine on Sentosa.

Sorry, but that’s not the way we get more travel options. Hope they fix that.

Last edited 11 months ago by What a loophole
hurdurrr

They should, because this is essentially criminal and very likely will lead to more cases

ZYX

Say you booked VTL flight back to SG and tested positive, can you still travel on that flight and choose for 7 day SHN instead? Or you won’t be able to take the VTL flight?

Freddy

No, you won’t. You need a negative PCR result to board that VTL flight.

Vtl?

Worst scenario imaginable: You get tested positive, unable to fly back and quarantine for X days. Second test is cleared, and you flew back. You got tested positive again and got shoved to SHN for Y days.

And, for all the while you have been asymptomatic…

asprino

The first edition of ATB with HK had no PDT for coming back to SG

Jimmy

Aaron, I think this is not fully true: “Category II travel has a guaranteed 7-day SHN, but has zero risk of getting stranded in Germany. “ Cross referenced to this advisory: “ ICA has a further policy which states that individuals should not travel to Singapore if they: 1) Have symptoms of COVID-19” So if someone is having a cough when he is about to board the flight, he is “advised” not to continue the trip to Singapore… So I guess is not zero risk case for Cat II travel. Looks like the travel is really “take your own risk”… Read more »

Safe Travels

And the person is very likely to take the flight home making a Cat II flight more risky than the VTL flight. Felt that a test should be conducted for all flights back.

anon

as you have quoted, it is “advised”. not “mandated” unlike the VTL

Suzie

from my personal experience, government “advise” during this covid period is to be followed mandatorily.

Bdk

I think point 7 in ICA’s statement is the clearest on why this is so. The VTL was not designed for returning residents, it is designed as a special lane for people to enter Singapore through Germany, hence the PDT protects the Singapore community.

7             Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents should not apply for a VTP to travel to Singapore under the VTL, as they can return to Singapore without the need for entry approval provided they adhere to the VTL requirements. Please click here for more information on the requirements.

cheesecake

Did you question why the arrival PCR test at Changi is equivalent to price gouging when compared to the Day 3 and Day 7 tests?

anon

Its a free market. The changi one probably is a different service provider compared to the other 2..

AGSK

They are all under Raffles Medical. At changi airport, it is throat and less invasive nasal swab. Day 3 and 7 are invasive nasal swabs.

Josh

It doesn’t make sense that Cat II travelers can skip the PDT but serve a 7d SHN, while a Cat I traveler will need the PDT and get quarantined at foreign country.

Shouldn’t PDT be just applicable to both, or Cat II travelers having to serve 21d SHN?

ZYX

Cat II 7D SHN also need to test a few times I think.

Astrid

the singapore government declare covid as endemic still need to test what?

Chris

I just wondering… even if there is no requirement for pre-departure PCR for cat 2, some airlines might insist to have the 48h PCR result?

Vtl?

There’s no predeparture PCR test requirement for Cat I countries also. That’s the strangest double standards.

John Tan

Actually, shouldn’t the comparison be if you are found to have covid in Germany vs if you are found to have covid on arrival here? If so then it won’t be 21 days in Germany vs 7 days here as it would potentially be a much longer time here in a community care facility (assuming that your symptoms are mild both ways).

Then the issue becomes increased cost but potentially increased freedom in Germany vs being locked up in a Pasir Ris Chalet here with a random roommate.

freedom

How about work commitment? SHN in Singapore for 14 days is probably okay to your employer, unlikely for 21 days in Germany.

At least it is still free for now to do SHN in SG.

Lila

It is not free to do SHN.

Jeff

Dear Aaron,
If it is non VTL, does the traveller need to stay 21 days consecutive in Germany OR 21 days in Germany and Singapore?
Thank you for your advise

vic

keen to know the answer to this too. Just emailed ICA on this

Sean

8             Thank you.

Ian End

Have you actually done the quarantine in Singapore? I have and it was utterly miserable. Completely sealed inside for nearly 15 days, cold, disgusting food delivered three times a day with a single ‘one-size-fits-nobody’ menu. It was dreadful. I’d take a ‘quarantine’ in Germany any day of the week.

Lila

I have done the Singapore quarantine twice. I guess it really varies from person to person but both times were just fine and in fact I positively relished the unlimited me-time and the luxury of great airconditioning.

The food was admittedly not a highlight but most people end up using food delivery apps anyway. Also the food is generally mass-market economy rice style so it helps if you are culturally used to that. (I’m not, but still managed not to starve.)

Vtl?

Brilliant analysis Aaron! Would you be able to investigate whether there are any “quarantine”hotels in Munich during your trip? Also, getting the approved type of test? Hope all goes well for your trip.

I regretted booking VTL after learning from your article. I think the predeparture test in Germany is the real deal breaker and being vaccinated doesn’t give any privileges. It feels like buying lotto ticket and pray that you didn’t win.

Rebecca

I have spoken to the embassy and the lady told me the German authority will bring us to the hotel if we are tested positive but not ill enough to go to hospital.

Rebecca Sim

Hi Aaron,

Thansk Aaron. I almost booked the VTL flight till I read your article. I thought max stranded period is 14 days if tested positive. 21 days is too much time away in foreign land on top of the tour itinerary.

Rebecca Sim

Is there a way to feedback to the authority to remove the predeparture covid test? If so who should we write to?

Xoxotravel
Rebecca

Thanks, I have written the feedback to ICA. Hope they heed us to remove the predeparture test. I have not booked yet.

Patricia

Does making the trip short to fit within the incubation period (presumably 7 days) make it a safer bet? So assuming you have not caught the virus in Singapore and you catch it on Day 1 in Germany and leave before Day 7 – are you quite safe in getting a negative test or show any symptoms?

Ric

Just wondering , for the VTL return to SG from Munich , it will arrived at 7:05 am , after PCR test , will be required to self isolation till result is out ( within 24 hrs ) , if were to book hotel for that , will hotel allows to check in that early for people who had no place of their own for self isolation ?

zzz

A reasonable amendment to the VTL is to exempt fully vaccinated SC/PR & immediate familial members who are on the return-leg flight from Germany pre-flight PCR test. This is reasonable as no government should put in reentry policy which could unintentionally strand its residents overseas without living arrangements. October is school holiday time, fully vaccinated teens could be stranded overseas, however small the risks might be. pre-flight PCR test could be (statistically small) inconclusive as well, causing further chaos. VTL should be implemented as to facilitate mutually beneficial and safe without any unintended consequences, particularly for Singapore’s own residents who… Read more »

Sam

They could come back non-VTL and not have to do the pre-flight PCR.

zzz

and miss school due to SHN

freedom

Cat II requires pre-departure test, too, from Sept 10th, for PR and Citizens.

So Cat II for Germany has no advantage.

Pam

That’s what I thought. Was looking through ICA’s website and cat II countries require pre departure testing.

Adrian Wong

Singapore has visa free travel to Europe but only has the VTL with Germany. Guess the relationship is not as strong as others. A pity Croatia is in CAT III, If not, I will visit Croatia so that I can visit Montenegro (CAT IV) but those will cost me a 14 day SHN.

Ian

Has the update changed? was looking at the website and it does suggest that it requires PCR test now?
Can anyone cfm?

https://safetravel.ica.gov.sg/sc-pr/shn-and-swab-summary

Tim Angus

The ICA website says one needs pre departure Covid test for Cat 2 countries like Germany so it’s the same even if you fly on non VTL flight:
https://safetravel.ica.gov.sg/sc-pr/shn-and-swab-summary

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