In an unexpected (but welcome) turn of events, South Korea has announced that the VTL arrangement with Singapore will continue uninterrupted, despite the country’s decision to impose a 10-day quarantine on international arrivals due to the Omicron variant.
This means that travellers from Singapore will continue to enjoy quarantine-free access to South Korea, provided their 14-day travel history consists of only Singapore and/or South Korea.
VTL arrangement to continue
Yesterday, the South Korean authorities announced that all international arrivals would be subject to a 10-day quarantine from 0000 hours on 3 December 2021 to 2359 hours on 16 December 2021, in an attempt to curb the importation of Omicron cases.
South Korean citizens and foreigners on long-term stay would be allowed to quarantine at home, while foreigners on short-term stay would be quarantined at a temporary facility designated by the government. The country also announced plans to put its “living with COVID-19” transition on hold while it evaluates the risk of the Omicron variant.
It seemed almost certain this would affect the VTL arrangement with Singapore as well. After all, an MFA announcement on the initial VTL stated that “fully vaccinated travellers entering the ROK from Singapore will be subject to the same COVID-19 protocols as fully vaccinated ROK nationals, such as quarantine exemption and prevailing social distancing guidelines”, and if Korean nationals entering from elsewhere would be subject to quarantine, surely there couldn’t be special treatment for Singapore?
In fact, at one point the Korean embassy in Singapore updated its VTL page with the following notice.
But almost as soon as the page was updated, it reverted to the original version. Those who rang up the embassy were told to wait for an official announcement; even Singapore Airlines seemed to be in the dark as to what was going on.
Now the Korean embassy has posted the following notice on its website, which means it’s business as usual.
Korea-Singapore Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL)
[Update on 02 Dec 2021]: VTL travel arrangement would proceed without change at the moment.
Eligibility and arrivals procedure in Korea
With confirmation that travellers from Singapore can continue visiting Korea quarantine-free, here’s a reminder of the eligibility criteria.
|✈️ Summary: South Korea VTL
|To South Korea 🇰🇷|
- On arrival at Seoul Incheon Airport, you’ll go through a roughly 1-2 hour process that involves document verification, immigration, and swabbing. For a full, step-by-step report of the arrivals process, refer to the article below.
Tightened measures for VTL travel to Singapore
Even though quarantine-free travel to Korea is still on the cards, do note that Singapore will be tightening its border measures and VTL testing regime from 3 December 2021.
|VTL Testing Regime|
|Current||From 3 Dec 2021|
|Pre-departure test||ART/PCR within 2 days||ART/PCR within 2 days|
From 3 December 2021, air travellers arriving on the VTL scheme will need to undergo supervised, self-administered ART swabs at a Quick Test Centre on Days 3 and 7 of their arrival (the day you enter Singapore is Day 1).
These must be done by 2130 hours (Singapore time) on the relevant days, and instructions will be emailed to travellers on arrival in Singapore.
There is no need to isolate while awaiting the results of the Day 3 and 7 ART swabs (which will anyways be rather fast, given they’re the ART variety). These tests will cost S$15 each, and can be done at any of the venues below.
|Quick Test Centres|
Children aged 2 and below in this calendar year are not required to undergo Day 3 and Day 7 ARTs. Children aged 3 to 12 must be accompanied by a caregiver, aged 21 years old and above. The caregiver may be required to help administer the test if the child is unable to do so.
For avoidance of doubt, the routine for pre-departure testing before coming to Singapore remains the same. Both ART/PCR swabs are acceptable (here’s how to get it done at Incheon Airport), and must be done within 2 days of departure time to Singapore.
Also, there is no requirement that you stay in Singapore for at least seven days between your trips. You are excused from testing if the scheduled time of departure of your flight is before 2130 hours on the day of test.
The last 24 hours have had more twists than your average Korean drama, but now there’s official confirmation that Singaporeans can continue to enter Korea quarantine-free.
Given the unpredictable nature of the Omicron variant, however, those who have decided to travel should be aware that restrictions can change unexpectedly and at short notice. It’s always a good idea to keep abreast of the latest developments via the MFA’s official channels, and register your trip beforehand.
For some insights into what post-COVID life looks like in Korea, check out my report here.