Singapore recently announced some major updates to its border control measures, allowing Category III travellers to serve their SHN at home, reducing the testing requirement on arrival, and upgrading more than a dozen countries including Malaysia and Indonesia.
While these are no doubt exciting developments, there was something else that caught my eye. Buried in the footnotes of MOH’s press release was this little gem (emphasis mine):
|* 14-day travel history does not include the time spent in countries/ regions whereby traveller transits enroute to Singapore. It does include the time spent in Singapore by traveller before embarking on the overseas travel (if any). This does not apply for travellers under the Vaccinated Travel Lane. For the travel history requirements under the Vaccinated Travel Lane, please check the SafeTravel website for details.|
I almost thought this was a typo, but the ICA’s website states it clearly in black and white (emphasis mine):
|If you have visited or transited in multiple countries in the past 14 days before arriving in Singapore, note that:|
(2) [For Travellers arriving from 26 Oct, 2359h] The most stringent category out of all the countries/regions you have visited (excluding transit) will apply. For example, a traveller who had travel history to both Category (I) and (II) countries/regions before departure, but transited in a Category (IV) country/region on the way to Singapore, will be subject to Category (II) measures; and
(3) A pre-departure COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction test is not required if you have remained in a Category (I) country for at least 14 consecutive days before departure.
There you have it. From 27 October 2021, transiting in a given country will not add that country to your 14-day travel history.
That’s a very big development, which gives Singaporeans more flight options when travelling in and out of Singapore.
|⚠️ This doesn’t apply to the VTL!|
|This does not apply to travellers entering Singapore under the VTL scheme. You will still need to take designated VTL flights back to Singapore, and your 14-day travel history (inclusive of transits) can only consist of VTL countries and/or Singapore. Passengers who take non-VTL flights will be subject to the prevailing border restrictions depending on their 14-day history.|
More options for flying
Under the current system, travellers need to be very careful about how they travel to and from Singapore, because a transit in the wrong country could result in a longer-than-expected SHN on return.
To illustrate, suppose John takes a 7-day trip to the UK, a Category II country. He flies from Singapore to London and back via Doha on Qatar Airways. On arrival in Singapore, he will be subject to Category III restrictions because of the transit in Qatar. It doesn’t matter that he technically didn’t enter Qatar at all; he was physically there, and that’s all that counts.
But from 27 October 2021 onwards, transits don’t have any impact on your travel history. John would be able to enter Singapore under Category II restrictions, regardless of whether he flew Emirates, Etihad, or Qatar Airways to London.
This is great news for anyone who jumped on one of the cheap Etihad fare deals we saw in September (return Business Class to Europe from S$1,391). Heck, it could even be useful to those who bought the firesale Turkish Airlines fares (return Business Class to Europe from S$1,411), should the destination you booked get upgraded to Category I while Turkey remains in Category II.
All in all, it means a lot more freedom in choosing carriers.
How is transit defined?
ICA’s website does not specifically define “transit,” but a natural reading of the word would mean you don’t legally enter the country. So if you flew with Qatar Airways and had a 3-hour layover in Doha, you’re fine. Of course, if you entered Qatar to do a Doha City Tour, that ceases to be a transit.
Outside of airports, it seems like there could be other grey areas. Suppose you take a train between two Category II countries, but the route passes through a Category III country. You stay on the train the whole time, and only disembark once you’re at your destination.
I see nothing wrong with this either. In fact, Changi Airport’s FAQs suggest that this is fine in the context of the much stricter VTL scheme, so how much less non-VTL travel?
4. If I pass through a non VTL country/region at any point of my trip, am I still eligible to board a VTL flight? For example, If I take a train or drive from Italy to Germany, while passing through Switzerland, which is a non-VTL country.
You will be eligible to take a VTL flight to Singapore if you fulfil the following criteria:
What about driving? That’s where I’m less certain. If you’re driving between two Category II countries and pass through a Category III country without ever getting out of your car, I don’t see how that’s any different from flying.
And yet it seems the level of autonomy that drivers have compared to plane or train passengers might be an issue. I’ll just say I don’t know, and if this is really important to you, you’re best off asking ICA.
From 27 October 2021, Singapore will no longer consider transit countries when assessing a traveller’s 14-day travel history. Once again, this does not apply to the VTL scheme, so you’ll still have to pick designated VTL flights when coming back to Singapore
But those flying to non-VTL countries will enjoy much more freedom in terms of choosing outbound and inbound flights, and if another ME3 fare deal comes up, I may well jump on it.