With billions of people around the world now vaccinated (and even boosted!) against Covid-19, travelling overseas doesn’t feel as scary as it did before. In fact, many Singaporeans have done so since the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme was launched, and they’ve all managed to stay safe in their holidays abroad.
Major FOMO alert! To put your mind at ease before planning your next trip, we gathered some of the top tips and travel advice from brave souls who’ve had a pretty good time holidaying in distant lands during the pandemic.
1. Intensive research required
The first step before everything else is plan, plan, plan, says Wendy, who enjoyed a 2-week long trip to Germany. She stresses that before even thinking of buying a flight ticket, one has to do some intensive research on the processes and the destination of choice.
Aspiring travellers will need to properly consider if the overseas destination is safe enough first by reviewing the Covid-19 infection rates and upcoming plans (if any) by the residing government. If it looks like they’re preparing for an upswing in infection rates, maybe it’s best to postpone that trip.
There’s also the fact that not all countries are open to quarantine-free travel for Singaporean travellers. This applies to places such as Brunei, Italy and Indonesia, where you’ll have to serve a quarantine or self-isolation period for a certain amount of time.
With the recent changes to Singapore's border control measures, the VTL scheme will be replaced with the Vaccinated Travel Framework from 1 April 2022. Fully vaccinated travellers can take any flight or ferry to Singapore and enjoy quarantine-free travel.
Be sure to properly study the prevailing Covid-19 regulations as well, which may vary according to different states and cities. In Germany, for example, they adhere to something called the 3G rule — geimpft (vaccinated), genesen (recovered) and getestet (tested). Abiding by these rules are important to stay safe while travelling around.
Different countries stick to different requirements for entry into most indoor places and events as well, so there’s a lot of reading to do.
Beyond Covid-19 regulations, doing some extra research into things like insider hotspots and tourist traps will pay off — you’ll want to make full use of your limited time abroad, after all!
2. Get familiar with pre-flight processes
Many countries require you to take a Covid-19 Pre-Departure Test (PDT) and present a valid negative test result before you are allowed to transit through or enter, so it’s always important to familiarise yourself with the process now acquainted with pandemic travel.
One crucial thing to take note of: The various types of tests that countries accept as part of their entry requirements. Some countries specifically accept Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests; others may require a nucleic acid test (NAT) or a reverse transcription (RT) process.
There are varying timeframes for the tests to be taken as well, so you’ll have to factor in sufficient time to undergo the test and receive your results. This, on top of the need to factor in the transit time when awaiting the results so you won’t miss the boarding time. Be sure that you get a PDT from an approved clinic or testing centre wherever you are too before flying anywhere.
Once the test has been taken, travellers will receive a digital test result certificate. For PCR tests, travellers will receive a digitally-authenticated and endorsed test result via email with the help of the clinic, which will have a QR code to support checks during boarding and immigration clearance. For non-PCR tests, travellers can request a hardcopy certificate from the clinic instead.
Of course, your vaccination certificate is just as important to have on hand before flying off. Travellers may be asked for proof of vaccination for various travel-related declarations and pre-boarding as well as immigration checks, so always keep in mind that your vaccination status can be shown via the TraceTogether or HealthHub mobile apps.
But some places overseas may not accept vaccination records found on our mobile apps. Which is why you should should obtain a digitally verifiable vaccination certificate via Notαrise, which will send a Vaccination HealthCert to your email or Singpass app. Foreign authorities will be able to scan the QR codes on the certificate to digitally verify that the certificate is indeed authentic.
Also, from 1 April 2022, on-arrival tests are no longer required. Travellers arriving at Singapore will also no longer need to serve any stay-home notice as long as they are fully vaccinated.
Due to the pandemic, most countries these days have made travel insurance mandatory before letting you in — understandably, they don’t want to absorb the financial burdens of tourists who contract Covid-19.
An easy way to get your travel insurance settled is through Changi Recommends, which can help calculate the coverage you need according to the destination and length of stay.
3. Keep your masks and documents handy
Regardless of regulations, always have your masks, travel documents and official vaccination certificates on you at all times to ensure that your holiday stays smooth.
This is a refrain echoed by Mara, who’s been enjoying her month-long stay in Bangkok without facing any hiccups. Public health measures vary across countries and regions, and though some may hold more relaxed restrictions compared to others, it’s always good to keep everything you need handy to keep yourself safe and avoid any trouble with the law. Getting a sturdy crossbody bag that helps keep all your valuables on hand might be an important step here.
Mara keeps her mask on in most places she visits (as required by Thai law) — especially so in spots where social distancing might not be feasible.
During her time in Berlin, Wendy does the same even though masks are not required outdoors. She finds that it’s just sensible to keep it on as masks are still required when taking public transit or entering stores. Speaking of which, another travel tip is to familiarise yourself with the type of accepted masks. In Germany, the accepted grade is the FFP2, which means that you can’t wear your usual cloth mask. N95 face masks are considered okay.
For tourists in any country, it’s also good to have proof of vaccination handy during your holiday activities to gain access to most indoor places or events, such as restaurants, theatres, and other recreational facilities. Sometimes they’ll even ask for your passport to verify your identity, so keeping it on you will make things much easier when travelling around.
4. Stay updated, always
With unprecedented times comes unprecedented circumstances, and you definitely don’t want to be kept in the dark while travelling abroad. Knowledge is power, and it’s always a good idea to have access to the internet at all times to stay updated on current rules and regulations.
During her time in Germany, Wendy had to keep checking up on the local rules as she was expecting things to change amidst the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. Having a solid internet connection also allowed her to access her proof of vaccination online, which may be required for entry in some stricter places that ask for a digitally-verified certificate. Keeping your smartphone and powerbank on you at all times may also prove to be a handy travel tip.
While most travellers would typically purchase a local SIM card overseas for internet access, an alternative (and very practical) option is to simply purchase a wireless travel router to stay connected on the road. Renting a portable wifi router is equally viable, and you can do so at Changi Airport at affordable and flexible price plans.
5. Let your hair down (but stay vigilant!)
But truly, the most important travel tip of all is to have fun. You’re on a well-deserved break after all!
While going out and about abroad, it might even seem like a parallel universe in other countries, where Covid-19 rules are a lot more relaxed than Singapore’s.
The contrast was what Sarah had to get used to during a work trip during the pandemic in London — people could choose whether they wanted to wear masks or not outdoors, for one. During her time there, clubs and bars remained fully open with no need to split tables to adhere to social gathering limits like in Singapore.
Popular hotspots like Borough Market and Brick Lane aren’t as crowded anymore with tourists, so they’re so much easier to navigate and to properly enjoy the sights and sounds at leisure.
While Sarah enjoyed the relative freedom, she contends the importance of staying vigilant and knowing when to mask up in places with a high potential of transmission. Let your hair down, but always monitor your surroundings no matter where you are.
Travelling overseas isn’t as scary as it seems, but things are certainly changing for the better. As these brave souls have shown, it’s entirely possible to enjoy a holiday trip abroad during the pandemic, so long as you’re well-prepared for everything that comes your way.
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