covid-19 swab test

Travelling Out of Singapore during the Pandemic? Here’s a Guide to Getting Your COVID-19 Swab Test Before Your Flight.

Here’s all you need to know about the pre-departure COVID-19 PCR Swab Test if you’re travelling out of Singapore during the pandemic.

by Samantha Poh

The rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation and travel restrictions around the world have been disorientating for many. You too, may have experienced difficulty getting all the up-to-date information you need. To help you simplify and demystify your journey, we have prepared a series of handy guides and services tailored for you.

If you’re travelling out of Singapore, getting a pre-departure COVID-19 swab test (PDT) prior to your flight may be a key requirement for a welcoming arrival at your destination. Read on to learn more about the PDT and other important information related to your departure from Singapore.

Can I travel out of Singapore during the COVID-19 pandemic?

According to the Travel Advisory issued by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on 18 May 2021, a resident of Singapore can travel out of Singapore:

  • If they are pursuing academic studies or professional qualifications overseas and must be physically present in the foreign educational institution. Students under 18 can be accompanied by an adult, while mature students can be accompanied by their dependents.
  • If their employment or employment opportunities require them to be physically present overseas. Dependents, if any, are allowed to travel together.
  • For essential travel for business, official, and work purposes through the Green/Fast Lane and Periodic Commuting Arrangement.
  • For compassionate reasons, such as attending to a critically ill or recently deceased family member overseas.
  • To seek essential medical treatment (that cannot be reasonably received in Singapore) in another country.
  • To return to their country of residence to attend to, or after attending to, legal/contractual obligations.
  • To return to their country of citizenship.

Residents of Singapore are strongly advised to defer all non-essential travel. Furthermore, the borders of most countries remain closed to leisure travel as travel bubbles and corridors with Singapore have yet to be established. You may only be able to enter most countries if you are a citizen of that country or have familial and essential reasons. 

Note that the costs of additional COVID-19 tests and quarantine requirements in your country of travel will have to be borne by yourself or your sponsor. In the unfortunate event that you are infected with COVID-19 overseas and require medical treatment overseas or in Singapore, treatment costs will not be subsidised by the Singapore government. Do check with your insurance provider or sponsors to ensure that you are financially protected against COVID-19 before travelling, especially to high-risk countries. 

What is the current pre-departure protocol?

Step 1: Check border regulations & requirements of the country you intend to visit

If you are planning to travel, you should first confirm your eligibility to enter the country according to their updated border regulations. Information on country-specific travel regulations is available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Singapore) website, International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Centre, as well as the official websites of related ministries in the country you are planning to travel to.

Subsequently, you can obtain information from these sites regarding required health and travel processes such as applying for a visa. 

Step 2: Submit applications for special travel arrangements or other travel channels

Singapore has established agreements for short-term travel between a handful of countries for short-term work purposes. For those intending to travel on Reciprocal Green Lanes (RGLs) or with the Periodic Commuting Arrangement for short-term work commitments, do visit these pages for a detailed application process to Brunei, Mainland China (Chongqing, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Zhejiang), or Malaysia

Unfortunately, there are no active travel bubbles nor corridors between Singapore and other countries for leisure travellers.

If you are not eligible for these short-term work arrangements, you will have to apply independently to the border control or immigration ministries of your travel destination and stopovers, if any.

For those travelling for long-term academic or work purposes, your school or company may have provided a guide for your journey. For example, the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom has prepared guides to escort incoming international students through processes to fulfil visa, travel, and other requirements.

Others travelling for compelling reasons, such as medical and family emergencies, will still have to first submit an application to the respective ministry of their country of travel and ensure that they will not be turned away upon arrival. 

Step 3: Familiarize yourself with post-arrival procedures

Almost all countries will require you to comply with COVID-19-related post-arrival procedures immediately after landing. These include post-arrival COVID-19 tests, quarantine measures, and movement restrictions. Understanding these will help you plan your itinerary, things to pack, and be aware of any other pre-departure preparations such as pre-payment for a post-arrival COVID-19 test.

Step 4: Complete the required pre-departure procedures

Pre-departure procedures often include getting a recent negative COVID-19 test result and an authorized PDT certificate before you are allowed to board your outbound flight. Other requirements may include filling up various forms, such as a FCS health control form for travellers to Spain, installing a mobile application, or presenting a vaccination certification for fully vaccinated individuals. 

Additionally, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides an eRegister service for you to voluntarily declare your travel status and receive related information and advisories in the case of an emergency.

Step 5: Getting ready for your flight

In preparation to check-in for your flight, you should minimally have a softcopy or printed copy of your negative COVID-19 test result, a valid visa, a valid boarding pass, and proof of accommodation in the country you are travelling to. Depending on your destination’s regulations, you may require a pass issued by their government, a proof of installation of a local health-related mobile application, valid proof of payment for post-arrival COVID-19 test, or completed health and travel-related declaration forms. With all these on hand, you’ll finally be good to go!

Which COVID-19 Test should I take?

There are several types of COVID-19 tests, each with a different method, purpose, and degree of accuracy. COVID-19 tests recognised by governments around the world include:

  • Antigen tests
  • Real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)
  • Reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP)
  • Transcription mediated amplification (TMA)
  • Serology tests

In Singapore, there are three types of tests readily available in clinics and approved testing centres. The COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and Antigen Rapid Test (ART) are diagnostic tests that are commonly accepted by countries that require a negative COVID-19 test result before your travel.

COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Test

This RT-PCR test is the most widely used test for COVID-19 and is accepted by all countries that require a negative pre-departure test result. However, the process takes a longer time and it is usually more expensive. The test works by first obtaining a nasopharyngeal swab sample, then amplifying and detecting the genetic RNA code of SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, in the sample. A positive result indicates the current presence of the virus in the person’s body, while a negative test result indicates an absence of infection.

COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test (ART)

As its name suggests, the ART provides rapid results around 30 minutes after a less-intrusive nasopharyngeal swab or saliva test. This is an acceptable alternative to the PCR test for some countries, such as the United States of America and New Zealand, but not for Australia. Travellers to mainland China will require negative results from the ART test as well as the PCR test. COVID-19 antigen tests directly detect the presence of viral proteins that are found on the surface of the virus, but are less accurate compared to the PCR tests. Similar to PCR tests, a positive COVID-19 ART result indicates that the person is currently infected as the virus is present in their body, while a negative result indicates that there is no current COVID-19 infection.

COVID-19 Serology Test

A COVID-19 serology test is conducted on a blood sample to detect antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and is not used as a pre-departure test. If these antibodies are present, it means that the person has either been infected some time ago or was previously infected with the virus and has since recovered. A negative result does not indicate that the person is not infected with COVID-19 as it is possible that they may have been recently infected and their immune system has yet to develop antibodies against the virus. The purpose of a serology test is to estimate when a person positive for COVID-19 was first infected, so that linkages between cases can be established and possible contacts during the contagious period can be identified.

How Much Does a COVID-19 Test Cost? 

A COVID-19 PCR test costs between $150 to $250, while an ART test costs about $20 to $50 (in SGD and inclusive of GST). The full cost has to be borne by the traveller or their sponsors and no subsidies are provided by the Singapore government, meaning that you are not allowed to use MediSave, MediShield Life, or Integrated Shield Plans for a PDT. Moreover, government-sponsored tests are not allowed to be considered as pre-departure tests.

Where can I get a COVID-19 Test?

You can get a COVID-19 test by calling to book an appointment at any Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act (PHMCA)-licenced healthcare institutions (HCIs) or other approved providers. Access the links below for comprehensive lists of approved pre-departure test (PDT) providers:

Homage also provides professional swab-testing services in the comfort of your home, saving you the trouble of leaving your house and minimising any risk of exposure.

How can I book a COVID-19 Test?

Always call the service provider beforehand to book an appointment for your pre-departure swab test and inform them that you will require a Pre-Departure COVID-19 (PDT) certificate or travel memo. Prepare these details beforehand to facilitate an efficient booking process:

  • Your identity card (for Singapore Citizens, Permanent Residents, and Long-Term Pass Holders) or passport (for all travellers)
  • Your departure flight timing (if applicable)
  • Preferable times for your swab test slot
  • Your address in Singapore
  • Your mobile number
  • Your email address (to receive the result memo/PDT certificate)

Testing Window for COVID-19 Swab Test

For COVID-19 PCR tests, it is recommended to take the swab test at least 48 hours before your departure to ensure that you can be notified of your results before your flight.

For COVID-19 ART tests, you may take the test at least one hour before your flight. 

However, you should take your pre-departure test no longer than three days before entering a country as some countries may only recognize a short validity for the test results. Check the official requirements of the country you are travelling to to determine the accepted time frame for a pre-departure test.

When Will You Get Your Swab Test Result? 

A PCR test result will be available within 48 hours of your swab test, while an ART test result will be available in about 30 minutes. You will be notified of your results by SMS notification and receive your travel memo or a digital PDT certificate (compliant with the HealthCerts schema and standards) through email. You are required to digitally authenticate and endorse the PDT certificate before travel and a QR code to access the endorsed certificate will be emailed to you within 15 minutes after submission. This QR code will also be available on your SingPass mobile app.

Ensure that your swab test result and PDT certificate is provided in English. If you have received your result and travel memos in other languages, you may have to obtain an official translation to the accepted language(s) of the country you are travelling to, which may cause delays.

How Long Will Your Swab Test Result be Valid For?

The validity of a swab test result varies from country to country depending on their travel requirements. For example, the USA, UK, and New Zealand recognise negative PCR or ART swab test results of up to three days before your departure, while mainland China requires negative results for both PCR and ART test performed no longer than two days before your departure. Refer to the updated official requirements of the country you are travelling to to determine the valid duration of a swab test result.

What To Prepare for Your COVID-19 Swab Test Appointment 

After you have confirmed your appointment, bring the following documents along with you for your swab test:

  • Identity card (for Singapore Citizens, Permanent Residents, and Long-Term Pass Holders only and passport (for all travellers)
  • Softcopy booking reference showing your departure flight timing (if applicable)
  • TraceTogether token or smartphone with an active TraceTogether mobile app
  • Cash, card, or other accepted methods of payment

If you are travelling outside of your home to an approved clinic or other test providers, do remember to wear a mask with better filtration capabilities, maintain social distancing, observe gathering limits, avoid coming in contact with common touchpoints, and wash or sanitize your hands often.

If you prefer to complete your PDT in the comfort of your own home, Homage provides approved home-testing services conducted by licenced nurses.

References
  1. Immigration & Checkpoints Authority Singapore. (2021, May 18). Outbound Pre-Departure Test. https://safetravel.ica.gov.sg/health/covid19-tests/pre-departure-test
  2. Ministry of Health Singapore. (2021, May 18). Travel Advisory. https://www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19 
  3. Ministry of Health Singapore. (2021, May 14). Pre-event testing (PET). https://www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19/pet 
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Medical. (2020, May 12). How does the COVID-19 antigen test work?. https://medical.mit.edu/covid-19-updates/2020/06/how-does-covid-19-antigen-test-work 
  5. Ministry of Health Singapore. (2020, November 9). List of MOH-approved COVID-19 test providers. https://www.moh.gov.sg/licensing-and-regulation/regulations-guidelines-and-circulars/details/list-of-covid-19-swab-providers 
  6. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore. (2021, May 3). COVID-19 Travel Restrictions. https://www.mfa.gov.sg/Services/Singapore-Citizens/COVID-19-Travel-Restrictions 
  7. International Air Transport Association. (2021, May 20). COVID-19 Travel Regulations Map. https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/world.php 
  8. University of Cambridge. (2021). International Students – Pre-arrival information. https://www.internationalstudents.cam.ac.uk/arriving/pre-arrival-information 
  9. Immigration & Checkpoints Authority Singapore. (2021, May 22). Periodic Commuting Arrangement – Overview. https://safetravel.ica.gov.sg/pca/overview 
  10. Jabatan Imigresen Malaysia. (n.d.). My Travel Pass – Procedures Periodical Commuting Arrangement (PCA) for cross border movement between Malaysia & Singapore. Retrieved May 24, 2021, from https://mtp.imi.gov.my/myTravelPass/main?termConditionPCA
  11. Gobierno de España – Ministerio de Sanidad. (n.d.). Spain Travel Health. Retrieved May 24, 2021, from https://www.spth.gob.es/
About the Writer
Samantha Poh
Samantha is an avid environmentalist pursuing her Ph.D. in biology. She promotes better management of nature, agriculture, and diets to empower both human and environmental health. To escape the fracas of deadlines and global issues, she explores the wondrous natural environments around the world and returns with newfound inspiration.
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