BTS (Back to Seoul): South Korea VTL Trip Planning

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The South Korea VTL kicks off next week, and it's undoubtedly the most complex of all the VTL arrangements so far. Here's my plan.

Back in October, I ran a poll asking Milelion readers which VTL destination they most wanted to read about. 

The winner, by a landslide, was South Korea.

Even though my personal preferences lie elsewhere, like Elon Musk I am nothing if not bound to the results of a social media poll. And so begins the least imaginatively-named trip report I’ve ever penned: BTS (Back to Seoul)*.

*Also considered: SQuid Game, Crash Landing on -Gu, Para-siteseeing

🇰🇷 BTS (Back to Seoul)
🇸🇬 Singapore- South Korea VTL 🇰🇷

Recap: Korea VTL requirements

✈️ Summary: South Korea VTL
To South Korea 🇰🇷
  • 14 day travel history: Singapore and South Korea only
  • Purchase travel insurance with min. 30M KRW (~S$35K) coverage (short-term visitors only)
  • Apply for K-ETA (foreigners only)
  • Fully vaccinated with any vaccine in the WHO EUL (exemption for children aged 5 and below)
  • Take pre-departure PCR test 72h before flight
  • Take non-stop flight to South Korea
  • Take PCR test on arrival in South Korea (pre-booking required)
  • Take PCR test on Day 6 or 7 in South Korea (if stay ≥8 days)
To Singapore 🇸🇬
  • 14 day travel history: Singapore, South Korea, or any Category I/ VTL country
  • Purchase travel insurance with min. S$30K coverage (short-term visitors only)
  • Apply for VTP (short-term visitors and long-term pass holders only)
  • Fully vaccinated with any vaccine in the WHO EUL (exemption for children aged 12 and below)
  • Take pre-departure ART/PCR 2 days before flight
  • Take designated VTL flight to Singapore
  • Take PCR test on arrival in Singapore (pre-booking required)
VTL FAQs
Summary: SG-ROK VTL

Flights

✈ BTS (Back to Seoul): Flights
To Seoul To Singapore
SQ600
18 Nov 2021 (Thu)
Depart: 0805
Arrive: 1530
SQ607
21 Nov 2021 (Sun)
Depart: 1030
Arrive: 1615

As much as I’d have wanted to be on the first flight to Seoul, I only returned to Singapore from Germany on 3 November. As per the rules, I need to wait at least 14 days before going to Seoul, and since I was uncertain how the days were counted, picked 18 November just to be safe. 

I wasn’t able to find Business Class award space on the outbound leg, but what the heck. It’s a daytime, 6-hour flight. I’ll survive. Besides, I’m sure it’d be useful to review the post-COVID Economy Class experience (Seoul is outside the 3.5 hour radius for the new Economy Class meal concepts, FYI)

Singapore Airlines B787-10 Economy Class
Singapore Airlines B787-10 Economy Class

What’s more, the aircraft seems rather empty at the back. I’ve given myself a whole lot of social distancing; perhaps I can even find three empty seats for a ghetto Business Class experience. 

On the return leg I’ve bitten the bullet and paid Business Advantage rates, which believe me, I’m not happy about. Advantage awards from Seoul (70,000 miles) cost ~50% more than Savers (47,000 miles). For comparison, Advantage awards from Europe (120,000 miles) are a much more modest 30% premium over Saver (92,000 miles). 

Singapore Airlines B787-10 Business Class
Singapore Airlines B787-10 Business Class

But at least I’ll have a new review to show for it. While I have reviewed Singapore Airlines’ B787-10 Business Class seat before, it was on a short flight to Bali. Flying from Seoul should provide a much better environment for field testing. 

Hotels

🏨 BTS (Back to Seoul): Hotels
Night Hotel Cost
1 Aloft Myeongdong Seoul 66,000 KRW
(~S$76)
Less 20% with Marriott gift cards
2 Sofitel Ambassador Seoul 292,500 KRW
(~S$335)
3 Ryse Seoul 198,000 KRW
(~S$227)
Less 20% with Marriott gift cards

For my three nights in Seoul, I’ll be reviewing three hotels across three price points.

Aloft Seoul Myeongdong

SQ600 lands at 3.30 p.m, and according to the Safe2Go timeline (see below), my on-arrival PCR test will only be out by 8 a.m the next day. That means I’m basically stuck in the hotel for the first night, and I’m going budget with the Aloft Seoul Myeongdong (be sure to choose a hotel that offers room service- you’ll need it for dinner on the first night; some hotels let you order food delivery and others won’t).

How budget? I found what I believe to be an incredible room-only rate of 66,000 KRW (~S$76), and I’m paying with Marriott gift cards purchased at a 20% discount during last May’s sale. The nett cost is about S$61 a night– beat that, Hotel 81. 

I’ve been told that Myeongdong is the place to be, and if all goes well I’ll be able to explore the neighbourhood the following morning. 

⚠️ Make sure the hotel will take you!

Not all hotels in Seoul will accept guests who have been overseas in the past 14 days, so you should definitely contact them and ask about this.

In my case I was told I could check-in and isolate in my room while awaiting the results of my on-arrival PCR test. Once a negative result is received, I can leave the room and use the hotel facilities.

I was also told to present a “quarantine exemption document” at check-in. Don’t panic; this is intended for those entering Korea for humanitarian reasons, and does not apply to VTL travellers.  Instead, you’ll receive a sticker on your passport that shows you’re entering under a quarantine-free arrangement. 

Hotels are being briefed progressively on VTL requirements, so hopefully they’ll get more familar with the rules as time goes by

Sofitel Ambassador Prestige Suite

On the second night it’s time to upgrade to something swankier, in the form of the recently-opened Sofitel Ambassador Seoul. This Songpa property started operations in September 2021, and it’s reasonably close to Gangnam by public transport.

It helps that a friend who’s staying at the same time offered one of his suite upgrade nights, which means I’m paying ~292,500 KRW (~S$335) for a Prestige Suite, complete with breakfast and club lounge privileges (the pour in the lounge is a Baron Rothschild brut champagne, which doesn’t hurt). 

Ryse Creator Room

On the final night I’m heading to the Hongdae district to stay at RYSE, an Autograph Collection Hotel under Marriott. 

A room-only rate costs 198,000 KRW (~S$227) per night, and again I’ll be using my Marriott gift cards to lower the nett cost to ~S$182 per night (in my experience, Marriott uses very fair rates when converting gift card balances from USD to the local currency). I can add on breakfast for 22,000 KRW (~S$25) at the front desk, and it’s cheaper than booking a breakfast-inclusive rate since there’s only one of me. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint the type of hotel Ryse is trying to be (which is probably why Marriott lumped it under its catch-all Autograph Collection brand), but “hipster” would probably be a good summary. This 274-room hotel markets itself as a hub for “creative originals”, featuring in-room art installations, Tartine Bakery coffee, and a rooftop whiskey bar. 

Lounges

SilverKris Lounge

Even though I’m flying out of Singapore in Economy Class, I’ll be able to access the Business Class section of the temporary SilverKris Lounge thanks to my newly-minted KrisFlyer Elite Gold status.

I’ve already reviewed this facility, so I won’t be writing another report (unless some kind soul can guest me into the First Class section on the morning of the 18th).

Asiana Business Lounge Incheon | Photo: World Traveller 73

Singapore Airlines has a SilverKris Lounge in Seoul, but it’s closed until further notice. In the meantime, eligible customers are directed to the Asiana Business Lounge (which is also accessible through Priority Pass). I visited this facility more than five years ago, and figure it’s time for an updated review. 

Travel Insurance

Travellers from Singapore to South Korea are required to purchase travel insurance with a minimum coverage of 30,000,000 KRW (~S$34,000) for COVID-19-related medical treatment and hospitalisation costs.

Provider COVID-19 Medical Expense Coverage
Policy Wording
  • Basic: S$50K
  • Standard: S$100K
  • Supreme: S$250K
Policy Wording
  • S$350,000
Policy Wording
  • Bronze: S$1M
  • Silver: S$1M
  • Platinum: Unlimited
Policy Wording
  • Lite: S$10K
  • Plus: S$15K
  • Prestige: S$20K
Policy Wording
  • Essential: S$75K
  • Comprehensive: S$150K
Policy Wording
  • Classic: S$50K
  • Premier: S$100K
  • Platinum: S$200K
Policy Wording
  • Basic: S$50K
  • Supreme: S$200K
Policy Wording
  • Classic: S$25K
  • Elite: S$150K
Policy Wording
  • S$150K
Policy Wording
  • Essential: S$100K
  • Superior: S$200K

With the exception of Aviva, all policies will meet this threshold.

So of course, I bought an annual policy with Aviva before the Korea VTL was announced. This meant I had to buy a second policy, and since I’m covered once already, I was looking for the cheapest possible plan that met the requirements.

FYI: You can’t claim reimbursement for the same expense on two different plans, but coverage stacks for events like death and permanent disability. For example, I wouldn’t be able to claim my overseas COVID-19 treatment on Plan A and B, but if I died overseas, my next-of-kin could claim the death benefit from both Plan A and B.

I ended up buying TravellerShield Plus by Chubb, taking advantage of the 60% discount that DBS was running for 11.11 (the discount is now 55%). This cost me just S$24.80 for a four-day trip, which I think is a steal. 

COVID-19 Testing Plan

Here’s the overall testing regime required for the South Korea VTL. 

⚕️ South Korea VTL Testing Regime
Location Remarks Price
🇸🇬 Singapore 72h before departure
(PCR)
From S$107
🇰🇷 South Korea On arrival
(PCR)
~S$200
🇰🇷 South Korea 6/7 days after arrival^
(PCR)
~S$150-$200
🇰🇷 South Korea 2 days before departure
(ART/PCR)
~S$75
🇸🇬 Singapore On arrival at Changi
(PCR)
S$125*
  Total From S$507
*S$125 from 18 Nov 2021; S$160 prior
^Day of arrival is Day 0

I bought my pre-departure test via Klook, using a 11.11 coupon to reduce the price to S$119.

The on-arrival PCR test at Incheon will cost 174,000 KRW (~S$200), and must be booked via the Safe2Go portal before departing Singapore. The timetable is somewhat not ideal for people like me on SQ600, since you basically lose the first day waiting for the results. I’m hoping it’s a case of underpromise and overdeliver, but we’ll see. 

Test Time Result
0700-0800 hrs Same day by 1100 hrs
0800-1000 hrs Same day by 1300 hrs
1000-1145 hrs Same day by 1500 hrs
1300-1400 hrs Same day by 1700 hrs
1400-1500 hrs Same day by 1800 hrs
1500-1800 hrs Next day by 0800 hrs

Since I’m only in Seoul for four days, I don’t require the Day 6/7 PCR test. For those who do, you can refer to this list of local testing centres. Expect to pay ~S$150-200. 

Singapore recently announced that ART results will be valid valid pre-departure tests for travel to Singapore, so I’ve booked mine at 0800 hours at Incheon, 2.5 hours before my flight departs. ART swabs at Incheon cost 84,000 KRW (~S$96); there may be cheaper options elsewhere in Seoul, which I’ll try to explore if I can. 

❓ Combining Day 6/7 test with pre-departure test
If your timelines match up, you will be able to use the Day 6/7 PCR test as your pre-departure test for Singapore. You need to make sure the results slip you get for the Day 6/7 PCR test is in English, and features your full name, date of test, and passport number or date of birth.

And finally, there’s the PCR test on arrival at Changi Airport, the cost of which will be reduced to S$125 from 18 November 2021. 

All in all, I’m looking at a total of four tests (3x PCR and 1x ART ), which will add more than S$500 to travel expenses. That’s annoying, but part and parcel of the travel experience now.

COVID regulations in Seoul

I originally intended to come up with two posts about COVID-19 measures in South Korea:

  • one post on the various rules and restrictions (example)
  • one post on my firsthand experience with them (example)

However, I’ve struggled to figure out the rules and restrictions from desktop research alone. 

For example, the Korean Ministry of Health’s website provides a Social Distancing Plan which lays out the various restrictions on group sizes, operating hours for restaurants and shops, hotel occupancy and more. However, I can’t match the information here with what I’m reading in the press, which says:

  • The 10 p.m curfew on restaurants and cafes has been lifted
  • Sports events can host spectators at 50% capacity
  • Up to 100 people can attend musicals or concerts
  • Gyms no longer have to limit treadmill speeds (yes, they did that, although is it really any more silly than our ban on background music?)
  • Private gatherings in Seoul can be up to 10 people

I don’t find these measures under Level 3 or 4 restrictions, so I don’t know whether they’ve abandoned this system altogether or whether there’s some new “band descriptors” I’m unaware of.

In any case, the best way to get answers will be to experience it firsthand, so look out for more details soon.

Odds and ends

A few other logistical matters which didn’t fit into any of the other sections:

  • For SIM cards, I paid S$9.90 for an ICC 5 day 5GB package. I cannot definitively say this is the cheapest option, but I’ve had nothing but good experiences with ICC so far
  • For transport from the airport, I’ll either take a taxi on the day itself, or look out for the designated bus/train mentioned in the Korean Embassy’s VTL page. There’s no further information about the designated bus/train schedule or cost at the moment
  • Be sure to download and register an account on the Self-Check Mobile App before flying. If it asks you for a local contact number, provide the one for the hotel you’re staying at
  • Download and print the vaccination certificate from Notarise, since this features a machine-readable QR code. The COOV app is not available for visitors to Korea, but I understand that businesses should be able to scan Singapore certificates to verify vaccination status

Conclusion

Apart from a brief visit for a business trip back in 2016, Seoul is pretty much unchartered territory for me. But it’s always fun to explore, and any country that has a love affair with beef is fine by me. 

Final call for Korea VTL questions/things to investigate while on the ground!

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion with the intention of helping people travel better for less and impressing chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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sl00001

love the BTS acronym

bent

The Mondrian Seoul in Itaewon (Accor) looks like a newly opened hip hotel that encompasses an integrated shopping mall too.

Dan

It’s very hip and nicely designed with some good restaurants. But the most hip part is it’s outdoor swimming pool which I think it’s closed (too cold). Shopping mall is actually not v exciting and nothing around the area. But if u take cabs, not too bad as the hotel is quite central.

chloe

Did you face any difficult registering for the self-check mobile app? the one where we have to enter our health status everyday

Mike Yip

I still couldn’t get the passport to be authenticated. Somehow the app could not recognize the passport photo that I took…. you must be more handsome than me.

Ben

Hi Aaron, when you entered you passport number, did you get a message saying “Your passport number does not match the entry list”? I was getting it and on my profile page in the app, it still shows a red “fail” status above my passport number :O

Tere.

may i ask how to override it? the page got no button to click except the field for ppt or number. did u proceed to click ok even though the msg ‘..your passport number does not match….wld u like to proceed like this…’

Tere.

icic. ok. was hesitating whether to click ok or not, whether got implication.. haha. thanks.

Jose

Hi Aaron, after I clicked ok, my status on the summary page shows ‘Fail’ in red even with the passport and HP no. I’ve authenticated the HP no several times. Does yours reflect something different?

Vanessa

Did you have to enter a Korea number? Are u using iOS or Samsung? I keep getting stuck at the step where I had to enter a Korean number. I’m using iOS btw 😒

David C.

I am also having problem authenticating my passport number, it keeps saying “Your passport number does not match the entry list”.

Miskey

I’m curious to know if we’re allowed to step away for a moment to collect simcard at the pickup booth or even go for a toilet break before stepping outside to take the on-arrival PCR test?

Ling

I would like to know if we can loiter around the airport then head over to check in as we would be arrive at 9am and check in would be at 3pm which would be the same time as when the estimated time of results would come out.

Masshiro

So if can wait at the B1 designated area for the PCR result and you’re tested negative. Theoretically can take normal train into Seoul right? Thanks.

Lily

I read somewhere that there is a holding area at B1 where you can wait till your result is out. No loitering is allowed. There is even designated washrooms for this group of people.

Seoulmate

There is a document on the Incheon testing center website that gives you guidelines on what to do while waiting for your test results. Although it was primarily for people leaving the country, it states that there is a designated place within the airport that you can go to wait for your results.
https://www.airport.kr/ap_cnt/en/svc/covid19/medica2/medica2.do

asprino

What if you (unluckily) tested positive on arrival? You will be sent to another facility or can stay at the hotel for the isolation period?

Kim

will be sent to Pyongyang to quarantine

Mr Ri

after the quarantine, you can crash landing back to south korea in a parachute

ken k

the asiana lounge is really bad food-wise, bad lounges get really witty reviews from u so i’m looking fwd! ;P

Last edited 24 days ago by ken k
Sss

Currently in Seoul now, for the covid regulations: All the bands are now scrapped and replaced with something straightforward – no restrictions on opening hours for all venues other than entertainment outlets (ie clubs). Bars, cafes, gym, sauna can all operate 24h – up to 8/10 (can’t remember) for Seoul/Gyeonggi/Incheon and 10/12 for rest of korea for dine in, maximum of 4 non-vax personnel – gym, swimming pool etc open only for vaxxed people – recently attended a baseball event which was full, so I believe the attendance cap is lifted to In summary, if u r vaxxed, everything is… Read more »

Wilson

Thanks for the info!
Do you have any information about how their “safe-entry” works for international travellers? Say, to be granted entry to shopping malls and restaurants? Do we have to scan our Notarise QR codes to gain entry?

Sss

Currently, there are 2 process: one for contact tracing and one for checking of vaccination. There is no requirement to be vaxxed for shopping mall and restaurants, just gyms and saunas etc. for checking of vaccination, COOV or the equivalent should be ok. Probably what is more confusing is the contact tracing part – which is needed at all venues. Currently, there are 3 ways to do it, a QR in Naver/Kakao apps, calling a number or writing your contact details down on a piece of paper. I’m pretty sure most vtl travellers will be doing the last one –… Read more »

Wilson

Thanks a lot! That’s very helpful!

Vicky

Hello! May I know how you book your pre-departure ART test please? Thanks!

Richard

“SQuid Game, Crash Landing on -Gu, Para-siteseeing” – on the wit :DD

Richard

*oh the wit

Vanessa

Has anyone managed to self check successfully on the kcda app? What happens if we can’t do it? Do you know if we need to get it working before we can board the flight to korea?

Cornelia

Hi Aaron, I’m confused- I bought the Aviva Plus travel insurance too- doesn’t the medical costs coverage under 4.a say $2,000,000? They said that fully vaccinated travelers will be eligible to claim?

Cornelia Chee

Ahhhh….thank you so much. Managed to get it cancelled as it was within the 14d free look period. Gamsa hamnida!

Vev

Random question but if we booked a two-way flight to Seoul with SQ but can’t make it for our departure flight, are we able to book a separate one-way flight but still board our flight back from Seoul with SQ?

Ozair Sarwar

You should check out airalo. Its a telecom startup that offers cheap roaming plans via e-sims (no physical sims required, downloads and e-sim into your phone). Travelling to korea for 9 days and they have a 15GB plan for 45 days for 28 usd

Zach

It looks good but it doesnt come with phone number so we cant use it for contact tracing in Korea..

Ning

Hi all, hope this will be of help. I will be staying at four point Sheraton Seoul station and had the same question of whether they allow me to check in while waiting for my pcr result.

I checked with KTO, who helped to check with the hotel. My hotel allow me to check in (while waiting for my pcr result) if I present the following two documents (1) Singapore negative pcr result (2) vaccination certificate.

HY Lim

Hi Aaron,

My traveling period Is from 17-24 Nov. given that 24 Nov is Day 7, can I replace the testing with the ART test in airport?

Thanks.

zoop

Thank you for working on the series of Korea posts – they’ve been my go-to reference for summaries of what to prepare! Safe travels Aaron!

Ernest

Would like to clarify on this topic – the counting of days, and the requirement of 6/7 day PCR test: the Q&A on Visitkorea (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/upload/eng_content/20211104_enu.pdf) Q3 mentions “(6~7 days after arrival) Travelers staying in Korea for longer than 8 days must receive a PCR COVID-19 Test 6 to 7 days – after arrival at a designated medical facility (self-pay)” However in Q5 it says “For those staying for 8 or more days, make a reservation and receive an additional PCR COVID-19 Test 6 to 7 days after arrival at a designated medical facility” which is contradictory (staying 8 or more… Read more »

jane

Hope you enjoy your trip! Can the day 6/7 PCR be the pre-departure PCR if I’m departing on my day 8 in Korea?

Seoulmate

Does anyone know where to complete the COVID 19 test pre-questionnaire. Got a reminder from Safe2Go Pass but there’s no link.

Tere.

arrived seoul on 15th. go thru the immigration etc, no much fuss as long u have prepared whatever documents, test etc that are required. no worry cos there will be guiding along the way. after the formality, u be chaperoned to proceed to on arrival pcr testing centres, east n west. from there is own time own target at the pcr test ctr. no one to chaperone further. finished the test n r good to go. i think they have special arrangement for transport. i tried taking airport normal taxi queue n the driver ask me check with taxi information… Read more »

masshiro

Thank you very useful info. May I know if there is any chance to get a local sim at the airport before providing them with the requested local contact number?

Tere.

airport do sell sim but i think more exp than seoul. u can give your hotel contact number no problem.

Dada

Could you share with us how much time did you take to clear all the necessary “check points” in Incheon airport (i.e. from disembarking the plane to completing your PCR test)?

Tere.

about 1.5 to 2 hrs. touchdown ard 830am(earlier by 20min). by the time finish the test ard 1015am. but also depend on the crowd and queue at immigration.

toby

thanks for the live update. enjoy your trip!

Vivian

Hi all, (1) check if anyone knows how to book the PDT (ART) via Safe2Go pass after booking the On-Arrival Test. After I booked the On-Arrival Test, can’t seem to book the PDT (ART) at Incheon Airport, (2) Any recommendation on how to book D-6/D-7 PCR test in Korea? Or do we need to be in country, call the clinics to book? Thank you!!

Ben

Create a new travel itinerary for the ICN to SIN leg and you should be able to register for the ART.

Dan

Wow, you are staying in Aloft Myeongdong. My home for the last 4 months and counting. Enjoy your stay!

Yx

Do Singaporeans need to apply for quarantine exemption certificate? Note that there is no VTL from Sg to Korea, only from Korea back to Sg.

Vivi

+1

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