Tested positive for COVID-19 overseas? Here’s the rules for returning to Singapore

Testing positive for COVID-19 overseas no longer means a prolonged stranding, with Singapore's eased measures for recently-recovered travellers.

Although the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) agreements have allowed two-way quarantine-free travel to resume, what’s kept many from heading overseas was the prospect of the dreaded “14-day stranding”.

This refers to the additional two weeks that travellers had to spend overseas, in the event their pre-departure test came back positive. That’s two more weeks of hotel and food costs, not to mention missed school or work.

The 14-day stranding has its origins in this ICA advisory:

⚠  Defer travel if you:

  1. Have COVID-19 symptoms;
  2. Are diagnosed or suspected to have contracted COVID-19 in the last 14 days before departing for Singapore; or
  3. Had been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive patient in the last 7 days before departing for Singapore. This includes the provision of care for a COVID-19 patient in a healthcare or family/social setting, staying in the same location as a COVID-19 patient, or had been in close (i.e. less than two meters) contact with a COVID-19 patient for more than 15 minutes.

But things have changed, and for the better. Singapore recently eased its measures for recently-recovered travellers, and here’s the updated advisory, effective 24 January 2022:

Defer travel if you:

  1. Have COVID-19 symptoms;
  2. Are diagnosed or suspected to have contracted COVID-19* in the last 7 days (for fully vaccinated persons) or 14 days (for non-fully vaccinated persons, e.g. children aged 12 and below) before departing for Singapore; or
  3. Had been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive patient in the last 7 days before departing for Singapore. This includes the provision of care for a COVID-19 patient in a healthcare or family/social setting, staying in the same location as a COVID-19 patient, or had been in close (i.e. less than two meters) contact with a COVID-19 patient for more than 15 minutes. [Not applicable for recovered travellers with proof of recovery]

* If you test positive for COVID-19 in the last 7 days (for fully vaccinated persons) or 14 days (for non-fully vaccinated persons, e.g. children aged 12 and below) before departing for Singapore, you are required to obtain a new negative COVID-19 PCR test or professionally-administered ART result more than 72 hours after the positive test in order to proceed with your travel.

In other words, if you test positive on your pre-departure test, you won’t face the 14-day stranding anymore.

Revised measures for recovered travellers

Fully vaccinated and recovered travellers can return to Singapore from anywhere- with no SHN or testing

From 24 January 2022 onwards, a fully-vaccinated traveller who tests positive on his pre-departure test has two options. 

  1. Wait at least 72 hours and take another professionally-administered ART or PCR test. If this is negative, he may fly back to Singapore, subject to the prevailing border measures (e.g. pre-departure, on-arrival, and post-arrival testing, or SHNs)
  2. Wait at least 7 days and then return to Singapore, exempt from further pre-departure, on-arrival and post-arrival testing or SHNs

(1) would be the preferred option for people anxious to get home, but there’s a couple of issues:

  • The likelihood of you being able to produce a negative COVID-19 test after just 72 hours (certainly not with the hypersensitive PCR tests, unless your first one was a false positive)
  • Isolation requirements imposed by overseas authorities upon a positive test may be in excess of 72 hours (in the UK, for example, self-isolation after a positive test lasts for at least five days)

Therefore, (2) is the more realistic scenario. 

If at least 7 days (14 days for the unvaccinated) have passed since the date of your first positive test, you’ll be exempt from all testing and SHN requirements on the Singapore side for 90 days from the date of your first positive test.

During this period, a fully vaccinated traveller could:

  1. Travel to any country, and return to Singapore without quarantine
  2. Return to Singapore on any flight (VTL or non-VTL) without quarantine
  3. Avoid all pre-departure, on-arrival and post-arrival testing requirements when entering Singapore

Do note that you’d still have to do pre-departure testing when travelling out of Singapore, as that’s a requirement imposed by foreign governments. Likewise, other countries may have their own quarantine requirements for travellers from Singapore; you can see a list of relevant restrictions via Sherpa.

But otherwise, during that 7-90 day period you’ll effectively be travelling into Singapore like the pre-COVID days. I’ve seen some calling this a “power card” or “incentive to get COVID”, and while I disagree with that characterisation (even if COVID is mild for you, you could pass it to someone in the more vulnerable segment), it’s good to see the authorities recognising the fact that vaccination and a breakthrough infection confer very strong immunity indeed. 

Recovered Traveller Checker

For avoidance of doubt, the authorities have come up with a useful tool for checking your eligibility for pre-departure testing and border measure exemptions. 

Exemption from Pre-Departure Test and Border Measures for Recently-Recovered Travellers
Recovered Traveller Checker

All you need to do is enter your vaccination status, date of first positive test, and date of departure to Singapore. 

Let’s say you’re fully vaccinated and planning to travel to Singapore on 29 January 2022. This means you’ll need to take a pre-departure test on 27 January 2022; suppose that comes back positive. 

Here’s what the eligibility checker says.

Eligibility for Pre-Departure Test (PDT) exemption

Pre-Departure Test exemption not allowed as first positive test is less than 7 days before departure. You may only board if you produce an acceptable negative test result which is taken at least 72 hours after your first positive test.

You may also consider departing at least 7 days after your first positive test instead, in order to be eligible for Pre-Departure Test exemption and the Vaccinated-Recovered Traveller Protocol.

Eligibility for exemption from border measures on arrival

Traveller is not eligible for exemption from inland border measures on arrival. Positive test is less than 7 days before date of departure.

“Pre-Departure Test exemption not allowed as first positive test is less than 7 days before departure. You may only board if you produce an acceptable negative test result which is taken at least 72 hours after your first positive test.”

If you get a positive test result on 27 January 2022, the earliest you can return to Singapore is 72 hours later (assuming there’s no isolation requirement imposed by the overseas authorities). However, you’ll still need to produce a negative test result because 7 days haven’t passed yet.

“You may also consider departing at least 7 days after your first positive test instead, in order to be eligible for Pre-Departure Test exemption and the Vaccinated-Recovered Traveller Protocol.”

But once those 7 days have passed, you’ll be exempt from pre-departure testing, as well as border measures.

“Traveller is not eligible for exemption from inland border measures on arrival. Positive test is less than 7 days before date of departure.”

If for example on Day 4 (the date you tested positive is Day 1) you’re able to produce a negative test result, you can return to Singapore (since it’s been >72 hours since your first positive result), but you’ll still be subject to prevailing testing and SHN measures on arrival (since it’s been < 7 days since your first positive result).

Now let’s look at what the checker says if we put 27 January 2022 as the date of the first positive test and 2 February 2022 as the intended departure date to Singapore

Eligibility for Pre-Departure Test (PDT) exemption

Pre-Departure Test exemption allowed as first positive test is between 7-90 days (inclusive) before departure. Please provide acceptable proof of your first positive test or discharge memo, in lieu of a negative pre-departure test, to the transport operator for boarding. No appeals are required. Refer to the Vaccinated-Recovered Traveller Protocol for more details.

Eligibility for exemption from border measures on arrival

Traveller is eligible for exemption from inland border measures on arrival. Positive test is between 7-90 days (inclusive) before date of departure. Please show acceptable proof of the positive test on arrival. Refer to the Vaccinated-Recovered Traveller Protocol for more details.

“Pre-Departure Test exemption allowed as first positive test is between 7-90 days (inclusive) before departure”

Since you’re fully vaccinated and 7 days have passed since your first positive test, you’re exempt from any pre-departure testing for travel to Singapore.

“Traveller is eligible for exemption from inland border measures on arrival. Positive test is between 7-90 days (inclusive) before date of departure.”

Even better- you’re also exempt from testing on arrival and any SHNs, during the 7-90 day window. 

The new exemption lane at Changi Airport (white sticker with “E”) for recently recovered travellers

If you’re not vaccinated, the best you can hope for is a waiver of the pre-departure testing exemption, which kicks in 14 days after your first positive test. There’s no waiver of border measures on arrival, so you have to do a PCR test on arrival and SHN, where applicable. 

Eligibility for Pre-Departure Test (PDT) exemption

Pre-Departure Test exemption not allowed as first positive date is less than 14 days before departure. You may only board if you produce an acceptable negative test result which is taken at least 72 hours after your first positive test.

Eligibility for exemption from border measures on arrival

No waiver of border measures on arrival. Traveller is not considered fully vaccinated.

Get your shots, people. 

What documents do you need?

A positive self-test ART result is insufficient- you need to have it certified

To be eligible for the ease measures for recovered travellers, you must be able to show the following:

  • a positive COVID-19 PCR or professionally-administered ART result dated between 7-90 days (14-90 days for unvaccinated individuals) before date of departure to Singapore or
  • a discharge memo 

Either document must:

  • state the traveller’s name and at least one other personal identifier (e.g. date of birth, passport number)
  • state the date of infection or discharge date, which must be within 7-90 days (14-90 days for unvaccinated individuals) before the date of departure for Singapore
  • be issued by a relevant state authority or licensed medical professional

You can present either a positive COVID-19 PCR or professionally-administered ART result or a discharge memo. In many countries it may be difficult to obtain the latter, but it doesn’t really matter since you can just show your positive pre-departure test certificate.

This requirement obviously means that a positive self-test ART result will not be sufficient. You need to get an official document to be considered as previously infected and recovered.

Conclusion

With the eased measures for recently recovered travellers, one of the biggest concerns about overseas travel has been removed. In a best case scenario, you could return to Singapore as soon as 72 hours after your initial positive test (although that depends on how fast your body clears the infection, as well as any isolation requirements that may be imposed by the overseas authorities).

That’s a big step down from the previous 14 days (and don’t forget- at one point it was 21 days), making overseas travel a lot more palatable.

Catching COVID won’t be on your highlights reel for the year, but as a silver lining, recovery from an infection gives you an 83-day window (days 7-90) to enjoy relatively unrestricted travel, at least where returning to Singapore is concerned. No concerns about SHNs, VTL flights, pre-departure or on-arrival testing- just like the good old days. 

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Tiak

I returned on a VTL flight from Cambodia to Singapore on 24 Jan morning (perfect timing!). All I had to do was to go to the manual immigration counter (make sure you don’t go to the automated lanes) and present 2 documents: vaccination certificate and the official discharge memo issued by the MOH to those who had recovered from COVID. They gave me a sticker with an ‘E’ written on it (my guess is it means exempted). Breezed straight out to the taxi stand and home.

Kkk

Mind if I ask how to get a discharge memo from MOH when you travel from overseas to Singapore?

Tiak

When you test positive at the clinic, the doctor will report your case and MOH will issue you an ISOLATION order by SMS. After the prescribed number of days of isolation (for me back in November it was 10 days), they will send another SMS with a link to a PDF discharge memo that you can save and print out. Moral of the story: if you self-test positive, make sure you go to the doctor to get a confirmed result, regardless of how sick you may feel.

Ortloc

…if you self-test positive, make sure you go to the doctor to get a confirmed result, regardless of how sick you may feel.

For those without symptoms, this is counter to protocol 2 which says isolate at home and not visit the doctor. These cases go undocumented and will not be issued a discharge memo.

Not being given discharge memo is a very strong disincentive not to see a doctor.

Marie

What if u from a CATEGORY 4 COUNTRY

Kelvin

Hi Tiak – can i check your experience in Cambodia airport? i tested covid positive here in Siem Reap, and got a PCR positive certificate. i plan to use this to come back to SG in 7 days, however i worry if Siem Reap airport staff is familiar with this new protocol and if they will let me board the plane…

thanks!!

Lifshitz

>In other words, if you test positive on your pre-departure test, you won’t face the 14-day stranding anymore.

Shouldn’t that read _negative_?

Ksk

Can a fully vaccinated recovered tourist enter Singapore without using vtl flights? Since a fully vaccinated recovered person is exempt from testing and quarantine rules, why would it be necessary to take only vtl flights? However, tourists have previously only been allowed to enter Singapore using vtl. The ica website is not very clear regarding this.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ksk
Marie

Agree
And what if u from. Category 4 countries
The website id definitely not clear and revised

Max

If you arrive in Singapore 3-6 days after the first positive test with a negative ART for the PDT then you still have to take the on-arrival PCR? Seems reasonably likely that would be positive and back to isolation although some may prefer isolating at home instead of overseas.

To the extend other countries still do contact tracing the requirement to defer travel for 7 days after being a close contact is probably a bigger worry.

Endemic Pandemic

90 day exemption? And where is the 3 months of data suggesting that re-infection with Omicron can’t occur within that window? So I choose a PCR test (like the civic minded citizen I am) and the person sitting next to me doesn’t have to take any test at all? Great.

Ortloc

Don’t forget the person sitting next to you may still be infectious and wheezing and coughing, but since 7 days has already passed since their first positive test, MOH deems him/her safe to fly without any further testing. #MOHLogic

Max

Doesn’t seem like recovered travelers are exempted from the requirement to defer travel if they have Covid symptoms.

Bryan

Don’t take a PCR unless it’s cheaper or last resort. ARTs are faster and cheaper

Bri

Is this also applicable to overseas tourists who recently recovered from covid and who want to enter singapore? Asking on behalf of my in laws who wanna come into SG. Thanks!

Brian

What are some nearby countries which don’t have quarantine requirements that you would recommend travelling to?

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