South Korea VTL: My experience with COVID-19 rules and testing in Seoul

Last Updated:

Visiting Seoul? Here's the rules on mask wearing, vaccination certificates, COVID-19 testing, daily health reporting and more.

If you’re planning a VTL trip to South Korea, you might be wondering what everyday life looks like post-COVID. 

Will your favourite restaurant be open, will your Singapore vaccination certificate be recognised, how do you go about the Day 6/7 and pre-departure tests, what restrictions are there on activities etc. etc…

Here’s my attempt at providing some answers.

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

Self-isolation on Arrival

Aloft Seoul Myeongdong

Before you can head out and explore, you’ll need to get the all-clear from your on-arrival PCR test at Incheon Airport. 

Once the swab is done, travellers must head directly to their accommodation and self-isolate until the result is out. I’ve provided more details in the post below, suffice to say you can take a taxi, private-hire vehicle or AREX train, and results are out within 3 hours or so.

South Korea VTL Arrivals Process at Seoul Incheon: My Experience

There’s been some concern about whether or not hotels will accept travellers from Singapore during the self-isolation period, since a range of responses have been received (some hotels require a negative on-arrival PCR test result, others ask for a “quarantine exemption certificate” which VTL travellers do not receive). 

Health declaration form at Aloft Seoul Myeongdong

The good news is this won’t be an issue at the majority of hotels, since the Korean Tourism Organisation has been hard at work briefing hoteliers about the VTL scheme and what it entails. 

I can’t speak to all hotels, but I had no issues at the Aloft Seoul Myeongdong. At check-in, the staff simply asked to see the PCR sticker on my passport (which confirms you entered Korea under a quarantine-free arrangement).

PCR sticker

Once I received my negative on-arrival result, I went down to the front desk, showed it to them, and was free to move around and use the facilities. 

At subsequent hotels (Sofitel Ambassador Seoul, RYSE), I simply showed the same negative on-arrival PCR test slip at check-in. Not once was I asked to show my Singapore vaccination certificate, but that’s probably because they knew all VTL travellers must be fully vaccinated anyway. 

As for early check-in (necessary for those arriving on SQ608, or any flight that puts you in Seoul before official check-in time), that’s between you and the hotel. The hotel has no obligation to give you a room if you arrive before official check-in time (usually 3 p.m), and it’s your responsibility to ensure you have a room available to self-isolate. 

In other words, make arrangements with them beforehand. If that means paying extra money or flexing your elite status, well, that’s what you have to do. 

Rules on Mask Wearing

Mask wearing in Korea

While Korean law technically only mandates masks for indoor areas, and outdoor areas where 2-metre distancing is not possible, it’s de facto compulsory everywhere. 

I saw people wearing masks not just when walking outside, but even when jogging (how?) and in the (outdoor) jacuzzi. During my whole time there, I never saw a single person removing their mask to walk and eat. So I think it’s safe to say they take the whole mask thing very seriously.

Mask wearing is taken very seriously, even in the pools

Unlike Germany, Korea has no restriction on the type of mask that can be worn. Cloth, surgical, N95 etc. are all equally acceptable. 

From what I can find, there’s no hard and fast rule about when you can remove your mask at restaurants (e.g. when the food comes, or straight away), but since most places already have a pitcher of water at the table, I’d assume you can take it off once you’re seated. 

Recognition of Singapore Vaccination Certificates

COOV app

Koreans use the COOV app for day-to-day life, which stores their vaccination certificate. For check-in, they can show a QR code from their Naver or Kakao app to scan at the entrances to malls, hotels, shops and restaurants.

Entry point to mall
Entry points to hotel

For Singaporeans, it’s slightly different. In theory, Singapore vaccination certificates are interoperable with the COOV system. On arrival in Seoul, a member of the airport staff uses the COOV app to scan your vaccination certificate. 

You can even test it for yourself. Download the COOV app, tap “authenticating other party” at the bottom, and scan the QR code on your Singapore vaccination certificate (the one from Notarise). Your vaccination data will be successfully loaded, with a pop-up message saying “fully vaccinated overseas”. 

However, this firmware update has yet to be rolled out widely, and in all the places I went, my Singapore vaccination certificate simply did not work. Keep in mind I visited during the first week of the VTL, and things could be very different by the time you go. 

❓ Alternative Method

An alternative method of checking in is to dial a toll-free number that’s listed at the entrance. This was intended for Koreans without smartphones, however, and I doubt any foreigner will want to incur roaming charges every time he/she enters a venue. 

For what it’s worth, no one ever asked me to call the number while I was there.

Not that this was ever a problem, however. I just explained to them I was a foreigner, and they directed me to fill out a paper form with my contact tracing information. 

Paper contact tracing form

For those of you who can’t read Korean, the columns are (from left to right)

  1. Date
  2. Visiting Time
  3. Agreement to Personal Information Collection
  4. Residing Area/Neighbourhood
  5. Phone Number

You can provide your hotel name under (4), and Singapore phone number or Korean hotel number under (5). It doesn’t really matter- if there’s one thing this trip showed me, it’s that the art of wayang is universal. No one bothered to check what I wrote, much less verify that I was in fact a foreigner (I mean, I have such Korean features…) In fact, when one scanner rejected my certificate (with an audible chime), the guard just waved me through!

Contact tracing form & COOV scanner

So tl;dr: your Singapore vaccination certificate won’t pose much of an obstacle to day-to-day life. 

COVID-19 testing

Pre-departure testing (PDT)

Public testing centre

Before returning to Singapore, you’ll need to take an ART or PCR test within 2 days of departure. For example, if your flight departs at 12 p.m on 20 November 2021, you can take the swab any time from midnight on 18 November 2021. 

In my opinion, the simplest option is to get it done at Incheon Airport, just before your flight. You can book an appointment for an ART swab using the Safe2Go portal, at a cost of 84,000 KRW (~S$96). If you do the test on weekend/holidays or weekdays before 9 a.m and after 6 p.m, the cost will be 90,000 KRW (~S$103).

You should already be familiar with the location of the test centre, since it’s the same place you visited for the on-arrival swab when you first landed at Incheon Airport. But in case you need a refresher, head down to the arrivals floor (Level 1)…

Head to arrivals floor

…exit via Door #7…

Door #7

…turn right and look for the pedestrian crossing…

…head straight until you encounter a fork in the road.

Fork

Turn left at the fork for the East testing centre. 

East testing centre

Turn right for the West testing centre. 

West testing centre

It really doesn’t matter which one you book, since it’s impossible to predict crowds at any given time. Also, they don’t seem to be very strict about showing up exactly during your booking window, provided there isn’t a crowd (in which case they may prioritise according to slot timing).

I was travelling on SQ607 to Singapore, which departs at 10.30 a.m. I booked my appointment for 8 a.m, did my swab at 8.11 a.m, and got the result at 8.50 a.m. 

Now, the testing centre will tell you to return to collect your results, but I also received them via email at 8.56 a.m. I guess it doesn’t hurt to get a hard copy (though the check-in desk at ICN will accept soft copies as well). 

While testing at Incheon Airport is the most convenient option, it’s certainly not the cheapest. If you’re willing to take time off your Seoul itinerary, you can do an ART swab at 50,000 KRW (~S$57) at H+ Yangji Hospital (located at Gwanak-gu).

However, reports are not sent by email, so you’ll need to revisit the hospital to collect the results. This means two trips, which may or may not be convenient depending where you’re staying.

The report will be in English, so it satisfies all of ICA’s requirements for PDT. 

❓ MFA Website
I’m aware the MFA’s website says that professionally-administered ART COVID-19 tests are only available at Incheon Airport, but I believe this information is outdated. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of people who did their ART swabs elsewhere and checked in without any issues. 

Day 6/7 Testing

If you’re staying in South Korea for eight days or more, you’ll need to do an additional PCR test on Day 6 or 7 of your stay (the day you enter South Korea is considered Day 0). 

Travellers can consider the following options:

There may be cheaper options elsewhere, but I’m assuming you want to combine the Day 6/7 test with your pre-departure test (see below). If so, the two aforementioned facilities provide results certificates in English (required by the ICA)as well as online booking functionality. 

Combining Day 6/7 Testing and PDT

For avoidance of doubt, you can combine the Day 6/7 test and the PDT.

If you intend to use the Day 6/7 test as your PDT, you must get a results certificate in English, as per ICA requirements. 

If you intend to stay in South Korea beyond 2 days from Day 6/7, then there’s no need for the Day 6/7 facility to provide a results certificate in English. This then opens up additional possibilities, and you can visit any of the facilities in the list below.

Places for Day 6/7 PCR testing

What if you test positive?

If you test positive, you’ll be conveyed to a quarantine facility or hospital as needed, and responsible for your own medical expenses. That’s where your travel insurance kicks in, and remember, you need a minimum coverage of 30M KRW (~S$35,000) for COVID-19 related medical treatment. 

From what I understand, home recovery will soon be the default option for COVID-positive patients. 

Daily Health Reporting with Self-check app

Visitors from Singapore will need to fill in a daily health report on the Self-Check mobile app for 14 days or until you leave Korea, whichever is shorter. 

Self-check app reminder at airport

Despite the poor reviews on the app store, I found it fairly straightforward to set up. The OTP came through to my Singapore number without issues, and daily reporting is more of a minor inconvenience than anything else.

Just set a calendar reminder to do it each morning; it won’t take more than 30 seconds.

Daily Self-check declaration

I understand some people have issues setting up the app because they keep running into the message that their passport number does not match the entry list. You can override this; just click OK when it asks if you’d like to proceed.

Otherwise, you can get it set up at Incheon Airport by asking one of the friendly blue jacket clad VTL guides for assistance. 

VTL guide

Post-COVID Life in Seoul

Myeongdong area

South Korea abandoned its 4-tier social distancing system and moved to a “Living with COVID” plan from 1 November 2021. 

This means no more 10 p.m curfew on restaurants, bars and cafes, private gatherings of up to 12 people (10 within the Seoul metropolitan area), the resumption of musicals, concerts and sports events, and no more speed limit on treadmills in gyms (yes, that’s silly, but is it really any more silly than our ban on background music?).

Self-serve buffets have also returned, and the SOP is to wear gloves and a mask when approaching the buffet line. 

Gloves at buffet area

While the restrictions have been loosened, the scars will take a lot longer to heal. 

I visited Myeongdong Shopping Street, and it was nothing like the videos I saw on YouTube. Before COVID, it’d be shoulder to shoulder, with pop-up stalls occupying every inch of real estate along the path. Now there’s only a handful of stalls lining the street- and keep in mind I visited on the weekend. 

Myeongdong Shopping Street
Myeongdong Shopping Street
Myeongdong Shopping Street
Myeongdong Shopping Street
Myeongdong Shopping Street

Likewise, a good number of businesses have closed down, leaving vacant shop fronts in their wake. Only the big international brands like Nike, innisfree, Zara etc. were open. 

Shuttered stores
Shuttered stores
Shuttered stores

Restaurants seemed to be doing slightly better, although it really depends which area you’re talking about. Those which relied heavily on tourist takings will obviously have suffered more, but all the places recommended to me by friends were still there. 

Yuk Tongryeong– must try
화포식당 – solid, but not the best I had
Born and Bred– pricey, but you get what you pay for

I’m not that well-versed with other popular tourist areas in Seoul, so I can’t say for sure whether they’re the same as before. But what’s clear is that arrivals from Singapore alone will be woefully insufficient to jump start Korea’s tourism industry, and things will only get better when a wider reopening of borders happens. 

Conclusion

Post-COVID life in Seoul is certainly a far cry from normal, but for what it’s worth, I still enjoyed my (very short) trip. I think die-hard Korean fans won’t care either way, and may even appreciate the opportunity to visit some famous sites and attractions with lower-than-usual crowds. 

For further resources on the South Korea VTL, refer to the articles below:

Questions about the VTL and/or life in Seoul? Ask below. 

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

Similar Articles

Comments

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
45 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
asprino

Can you combine the post arrival test with the pre departure test if the trip is only 3 day long?

Stefan

Yes, we did so.

Karen

Hi Stefan, Can I check if I understood correctly.
I am arriving on Dec 7 in Seoul. I will be doing PCR at the airport on Dec 7.
I am departing Seoul on Dec 9 for Singapore.
So you managed to use the PCR test on Dec 7 in place of the pre test to Singapore on Dec 9?
I wrote to ICA/Safe Travel but no responses.
Appreciate your help.

Slim

Thank you very much for the full VTL SG KR trip.

Thiara

Hi Aaron! Apart from taking the ARTtest at Incheon, are you aware of other hospitals / clinics that can perform the ART test? The hospital referred to you in your post is fully booked.

Thank you!

Chris

Thought pre sep test need 48hrs before u fly bk …
So doing at airport can meet the timeline ?

Seoulmate

I did my PDT at the incheon airport.. my ART result came out within 45mins despite them telling me it may takes between 1-2hrs.

PCK

Hi Aaron, just to confirm, to book the ART at Incheon for pre-departure to SG, on the Safe2go website, the test to select is the Antigen one right?? Thanks to confirm

Chris

Walk in Shd be acceptable but need to wait longer

Tere.

my suggestion, do at the airport then use that day to tour around incheon city.. the airport arex train has interchange stops with incheon metro line 1 and 2.

Seoulmate

the airport arex train will only resume its operation from 1 Jan 2022… however the regular all stops train is operating as usual.

Sue

Hi! Can you share yr reviews of the hotels you stayed in particular Sofitel Ambassador? Thanks!

Chris

Do we need to pre book the return ART test in airport ?
If my returning plane is 1600hrs what time is safe to conduct the test ?

Pls advice

Mandy

Just did my 7th day test @ Seegene, fuss free and the staff there spoke english. Was done in less than 5 min. Location is near to Dapsimni station too.

Generally no check in required for stores i’ve been to, cafes and restaurants usually require a check in qr code (naver/kakaotalk) but u can just let them know u’re foreigner and they will give u a paper to write on.

Dada

Thanks for the feedback! I will be doing my Day 7 PCR test at Seegene too.

Chris

Any guide how to travel there by train ?

Mandy

Dapsimni station, go out by exit 5 and walk straight. It’s abt 5 min walk.

Kenny

Hi Mandy/Dada, when you book your appt online at Seegene, what did u enter on the date of departure ? Since the web booking system is not designed for day 6/7 test.

Mandy

I just put my intended date of departure, they did ask me to confirm the date when i went but didn’t ask further as i already told them i was there for the 7th day test.

KP Wong

Have you also done the PCR test at seegene for leaving Korea requirement? How long will receive the result?

Dada

I did my PCR swab test at 10am and received the result just before 2pm. They will provide you with the link to download the certificate.

Last edited 4 days ago by Dada
Dada

I’m combining my Day 7 test with PDT. Hence, my departure date is less than 48 hours later. I believe Seegene accepts walk-in as well. Just that the wait may be longer.

Mandy

Yes, i think u can walk in and they will ask u to register or make an appt on the spot via a app or something. Saw the staff directing few ppl who were behind me. There was no q when i reached at 12pm, so don’t think there will be a long wait unless u happen to choose a time which has many reservations.

Johnny

How much did you pay in total? Including the English certification + Passport details + DOB? How long did it take for results to be sent to you? Do you need to go back to collect the document? Thanks.

Last edited 13 days ago by Johnny
Jerm

Hi Mandy, do you need to collect your PCR results physically at Seegene, or did they email you?

Toby

In Seoul now. Took sq600 and got the result at 7.30pm

Not sure if this is share before, if u are required to check in to mall, u can scan the QR code generated in notarise to gain access. U will get the same beep from the machine as everyone else.

Chris

What apps u using to scan their QR code to gain access ?

Mandy

Really? Didn’t think to try that. Thanks for the tip will try it out!

Aloha

How do you scan the QR code in notarise to gain access? Do you mean you scan a hard copy of your notarize cert ?

Su Yen Neo

Thanks for a very informative article Aaron !upon arrival, do you have to give details of the place where you are planning to self-isolate? are you allowed to rent a car to drive to your hotel? our original plan was to rent a car at the airport and drive straight to busan. no tsure now if that is possible. thanks in advance for any in put you may have !

Kim

Does the pre departure test to head back to SG need to be in the MOH list of certified clinics?

Seoulmate

yes

Aloha

Hi. Does anyone know if the tax refund is still available in Korea if I go for medical aesthetics or/and shop for items ?

Seoulmate

Yes, but many shops do not offer direct tax refund during this period.

Tan W

Thank you for the details!

It is possible to give an account of the “return to Singapore” process as well?

Thanks much again!

Seoulmate

pretty straight forward to provide PDT negative test result, and proof of vaccination upon check in at incheon airport. Arrival in Singapore process is almost the same as pre-Covid except the automated clearance will require you to remove your mask for face recognition instead of previously used thumbprint scanning. Luggage collection is next before you head for your PCR test. there will be guidance along the way to the testing center. the queue is somehow dependable on the number of flights arriving within the time frame. my experience at the testing center was faster than waiting for my luggage to… Read more »

Chew Wai Wei

I keep encountering issue with the self-check mobile App. When prompted to update additional information which requires a Korean number, it say phone is incorrect and to try again. Any tips?

Seoulmate

omit ‘8’ and use the format as 02XXXXXXXX

Tine

Hello, this is super useful! Do you happen to know if we can just stay at the airport until the PCR result come out?

Seoulmate

yes, can you remain waiting at B1, but asked not to roam around.

shiyan

Hi Aaron, thank you for the informative article! It has helped me alot in planning. Can I check with you, when you mentioned stay in Korea for 8 days must take the PCR test, does it include the first day of arrival into the 8 days?
For eg. I am going from 1-8 Dec, if day of arrival is 0 which is 1 Dec. then I am in Korea for 7 days, no need the 6/7day test? Can I take ART test for departure instead? Thank you!

Katietravels

We did the VTL this week. I recommend the airport predeparture test. Unless you speak Korean and are willing to call around multiple clinics to find one that is open, the airport one is very efficient and makes more sense. You do have to book 1 day in advance though. Also, the check in line at SG air was way longer than we expected. It took us 45 minutes to get through and we weren’t checking luggage.

CREDIT CARD SIGN UP BONUSES

Advertisment

Featured Deals

Advertisment

Follow us

7,110FansLike
2,641FollowersFollow

RECENT COMMENTS

TAGS