Singapore announced a series of major updates to its border measures yesterday, which take effect from 12 November 2021 onwards. Among the highlights are the acceptance of ART swabs for pre-departure testing, and category upgrades for more than three dozen countries.
But buried among the news is a small but crucial development: the 14-day travel history of VTL travellers can now include Category I countries.
Obscure or not, it’s still important to know.
VTL: 14-day travel history can now include Category I countries
A strange quirk of the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) was the rule regarding 14-day travel history.
To be eligible for VTL travel to Singapore, your 14-day travel history could only include Singapore and/or VTL countries. For example, you might travel from Singapore to Germany (3 days), France (4 days) and the UK (5 days), then return from London to Singapore on a VTL flight with no need for quarantine.
However, you would not be able to travel from Singapore to the USA via Hong Kong, spend 7 days there, then return from San Francisco to Singapore on a VTL flight. You’d be denied boarding for the VTL flight because your 14-day travel history features Hong Kong (Category I, non-VTL).
It’s counterintuitive if you think about it. All the VTL countries currently fall into Category II, which is by definition riskier than Category I. So if it’s safe to travel around in VTL countries and then enter Singapore quarantine-free, why not Category I?
Well, someone has finally recognised the problem, because from 12 November 2021, Category I countries can be part of a VTL traveller’s 14-day travel history.
Now let’s look at some of the implications of this change.
You can transit in a Category I country on the outbound leg…
The inclusion of Category I countries creates additional flight options for Singapore residents, at least on the outbound leg.
|🌎 Category I Countries/Regions|
Simply put, you could transit in a Category I country on the outbound leg of your journey, without any impact on your eligibility to take a VTL flight back to Singapore.
|There are two exceptions to this rule: Australia and South Korea. Both these VTL countries require passengers to take non-stop flights from Singapore in order to qualify for a quarantine exemption on arrival (and South Korea requires that your 14-day travel history only features Singapore/South Korea).|
Within Category I, neither Taiwan nor China allows transit passengers at the moment (and Air Macau doesn’t serve Singapore), so Hong Kong is the most realistic example.
You could travel from Singapore to San Francisco via Hong Kong, spend 7 days in the USA, then return to Singapore on a VTL flight. Your 14-day travel history contains Singapore, Hong Kong (Category I) and the USA (VTL), so all’s good.
By that same token, you could transit in Hong Kong en route to any other VTL country, although it’s somewhat less efficient to fly to Hong Kong and then to Europe (because you’re going the “wrong way”).
|✈️ VTL Countries Served by Cathay Pacific|
…but not on the return leg
You’ll notice how careful I’ve been to emphasise outbound in the previous section.
When returning to Singapore, you will still need to take a VTL flight if you want to enter Singapore under VTL conditions (i.e. no quarantine).
|✈️ VTL flights|
For example, if you fly from San Francisco to Hong Kong to Singapore, you will enter Singapore under Category II conditions, because the USA is part of Category II (remember, the highest category in your 14-day history applies).
If you’re the sort who buys tickets with cash, the new rule is unlikely to have much of an impact on you. Since one-way tickets are so expensive, it’s highly unlikely you’d fly with Cathay Pacific on the outbound leg and Singapore Airlines on the return.
However, it’s a completely different ballgame if you’re redeeming tickets with miles. One-way awards typically price at 50% of a round-trip, so it’d make perfect sense to redeem a one-way ticket with Cathay Pacific on the outbound leg and a one-way ticket with Singapore Airlines on the return.
tl;dr: While your flight options to Singapore are still restricted (because of the need to take a VTL flight), you’ll have a slightly wider range to choose from out of Singapore.
Allowing Category I countries to be part of a VTL traveller’s 14-day travel history is sensible, and frankly should have been considered at the onset. Better to fix it late than never, I suppose.
If you’re headed to the USA or Canada in particular, it’s worth checking if Cathay Pacific has any award space available (just a shame they’ve reintroduced fuel surcharges).