Travelling from Australia to S'pore via VTL before Omicron emerged highly doable

To close the loop.

Lean Jinghui | December 01, 2021, 06:50 PM

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I boarded the first quarantine-free flight from Singapore to Australia on Nov. 21.

I returned one week later, on Nov. 26, via a designated Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) flight operated by Singapore Airlines.

From Sydney Airport.

And just a day later, the Omicron variant took the world by storm, and resulted in Australia imposing a 72-hour isolation requirement for all overseas travellers arriving in the country from Nov. 28.

However, as of Dec. 1, the two-way quarantine-free arrangement between Singapore and selected Australian states still stands.

So if you're travelling back from Australia to Singapore anytime soon, here's a rundown of everything you'll need to know for that return trip.

VTL eligibility

The most important thing: Take a designated VTL flight back to Singapore.

Otherwise, you'll have to serve a seven-day stay-home notice (SHN) upon arrival.

In case you're wondering, our national carrier, Singapore Airlines offers these VTL services, as does Scoot, Qantas and Jetstar.

To board the VTL flight, you'll have to fulfil these current requirements:

  1. Be fully vaccinated, and have received your doses from any vaccine on the World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Use Listing (EUL)
  2. Have been in Australia and/ or any active VTL country in the past 14 days
  3. Take a pre-departure ART/PCR test within 48 hours of leaving Australia and an on-arrival PCR test at Changi Airport. (Note that as of Dec. 3, you'll also have to undergo additional supervised self-administered Antigen Rapid Tests (ART) at a Quick Test Centre on Days 3 and 7 of your arrival).
  4. If you're not a Singaporean or permanent resident (PR), you'll need to apply for a Vaccinated Travel Pass (VTP).

Accompanying children aged 12 and below need not apply.

Pre-Departure ART/ PCR in Australia

Unlike the on-arrival Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test in Australia, which is free, the pre-departure PCR or Antigen Rapid Test (ART) must be taken at private pathology collection centres only.

This applies to both the states of New South Wales (Sydney) and Victoria (Melbourne).

Take note that the ART must be professionally-administered, which means that you can't try to game the system by using your own Covid-19 ART self-test kit.

Pro-tip: The cheapest Covid-19 Pre-Departure test is currently offered at Histopath, which can be found at both Sydney and Melbourne airports.

The Histopath testing centre right outside Sydney Airport

It costs AUD$59 (S$57) for an ART test and AUD$79 (S$77) for a PCR test, with results generally revealed in less than 30 minutes.

I took the PCR test, which comprises a nose and mouth swab. I got my results via SMS in 20 minutes.

However, if you'd prefer taking your pre-departure test in the city, you can do so at Healius Pathology, Sonic Travel Testing, or 4Cyte Pathology.

Check-in & departure

One thing new, was that if you'd taken your PCR/ ART test at the airport, you must have received your negative test results before being allowed to check-in at the counter.

To account for this wait time, it'd be best to be at the airport maybe at least three hours before departure.

At the check-in counter, I was then asked to present my negative PCR/ ART test results and vaccination certificate, on top of my passport.

The whole process took less than 10 minutes.

Clearing immigration thereafter was also relatively quick, although the Smart Gate + Electronic Screening systems were closed.

No queues.

At the physical counter, I was only asked to show my passport and boarding pass, and security checks pretty much followed pre-pandemic protocol too.

Surprisingly, most of the duty-free shops within the departure terminal were open, which meant that I could do some last-minute souvenir shopping.

Inside Sydney's departure terminal. All have to mask up while at the airport.

On-arrival PCR at Changi Airport

Back in Singapore, there are four additional checks at that time before you are finally free to go home.

You'll need to have completed your SG arrival card and booked your on-arrival PCR test (S$125) via Changi Airport's Safe Travel Concierge website before departing Australia (it'll also save you the hassle of scrambling to do so after landing).

Proceeding to the arrival hall, everything was well sign-posted, so you just have to follow the signs.

Even got step-by-step guide of the arrival process.

The arrival hall.

If you've completed your SG Arrival card, you can basically clear immigration as per normal, via Singapore's automated lanes.

However, duty-free was still very much shuttered at the baggage claim area.

Store empty, no alcohol.

After collecting your baggage, you'll then be shepherded to the on-arrival PCR test.

On the way out, staff will give you a green sticker to show that you've cleared immigration. Pro-tip: Don't lose it, or else you're headed back to checkpoint two down the line.

The green sticker that you'll need to exit the building. Keep it safe.

At the on-arrival PCR test site, which was situated just outside the airport, the queue moved quickly, and the entire process likely took about 20 minutes.

The PCR test itself comprised a throat and nose swab, and when I asked, I was told the results are generally out within 10 hours.

The PCR test site at Changi Airport.

The documents you'll need to present for your PCR test.

Current VTL requirements state that all air travellers will need to self-isolate after taking their on-arrival PCR test, until they get a negative result.

This is, therefore, a glimpse into the future of air travel.

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All images by Lean Jinghui