My attempt at unraveling the complicated travel rules – SG to KR

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I’ve been procrastinating on the research for my potential trip to Korea in less than a month’s time. Why am I procrastinating you might ask? Well, that’s because I have no idea if I’ll be able to go on this trip or not. At this point in time, there are far too many possibilities and uncertainties that could jeopardise the travel plans and I am pretty much still undecided, just as I have been for the past two months.

Well, let’s rewind back to the time where it was 4 months ago when omicron was still nothing more than just a greek alphabet. The covid cases were stabilizing, vaccine rates were healthy and there were exciting days ahead with the opening up of overseas travel. As a result of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out), I decided to make an impulsive purchase on flight tickets to South Korea – a country that I’ve visited 5 times yet am still keen on visiting again. After all, it was a country that I had and could solo travel despite not knowing the language (I’m only Beginner 1). Well, things were looking good until.. this month (February). Cases in both Singapore and Korea (and perhaps all over the world) has surged double/triple fold and as of today, Korea has hit 165k daily cases while Singapore is at 18k. The situation in Singapore is pretty scary as I do know of many people that have tested covid positive and it’s almost every day I hear of someone new. At the same time, I’ve been a close contact for quite some time and it’s really just.. waking up every day to see if I have the symptoms. Given that the virus had been around for such a long time, it has somehow evolved to be a milder version of its original strain. Most of my fully-MRNA-vaccinated friends only ‘suffer’ the terribly symptoms for about 2 to 3 days, before keeping to the protocol of ‘getting out of jail’ after a negative ART test within 72 hours or on Day 7 of their first positive test.

I am somewhat thankful that the COVID rules are more relaxed – as we start normalising it to be a common flu; yet at the same time, the extent of spread is pretty alarming too. So.. if getting covid-19 is getting more and more common.. why am I so afraid to travel? Well, that’s because the rules in Korea has not yet been relaxed much since 4 months ago.

Let’s look at the complicated procedures / cost involved in my potential trip to Korea.

[Information is valid as of 24 Mar 2022; with sources mainly from Korea’s foreign affairs website, last updated 24 Mar 2022]

  • Vaccinated Traveller definition: Second vaccine to be taken within 180 days of travel or have received Booster jab (3rd dose)
    This doesn’t really affect me as I’ve taken the booster jab already.
  • Traveller must remain in SG/KR for the past 14 days before travel
  • Traveller must test negative on pre-departure PCR test
    This is the biggest uncertainty for me. Given the speed of spread, there’s absolutely no certainty that can ensure I remain covid free. Even if I recover from covid (given the 7 days protocol), there is no guarantee that my PCR test would still be negative. I’ve read experiences of people still being tested PCR positive even after 2 months from infection.

Costs involved (SGD)

(will use exchange rate of 1 SGD = 880W)

Before you fly

  1. Pre-departure PCR in Singapore (within 48 hours) – $95
  2. Korea electronic travel authorisation K-ETA – $11.40 (~10,000W)
  3. Travel insurance with > 30 million W covid coverage – $60

When in Korea

  1. On arrival PCR test at Incheon Airport – $136 (120,000W)
  2. Self-administered ART on Day 3 & Day 5 – $10 (assuming you bring over from SG)
    (No longer required from 1 Mar 2022)
  3. Day 6/7 PCR ART test (if staying more than 8 days) – $170 (150,000W; prices varies) $5 (if bringing from SG)
    (PCR is changed to self-administered ART from 10 Mar 2022 )
  4. Pre-departure professionally administered ART in Korea (within 2 days) – $51 (45,000W)

When in Singapore

  1. Supervised self-administered ART – $15
    (No longer required from 1 April 2022)

Total Cost (Visa + Compulsory insurance + 2 PCR tests + 2 ART tests) = $548.40 $358.40

***

If you’re looking for a ‘support group’ relating to Singapore-Korea VTL, you can join this telegram group which contains a lot of info sharing from the people who have visited Korea/still in Korea/planning to go. Since joining the group, I’ve read a wide spectrum of experiences of people having to cancel their trip last minute as their pre-departure PCR was positive, people getting tested positive upon arrival or on the day 6/7 test. Also, there had been requests for taxi sharing etc. so do join the group if you need help. Disclaimer: I’m not the admin or endorsing the group in any way. I am just a lurker who has been around collecting info for my ‘possible vacation’. That being said, I’m going to post some useful tips that I’ve obtained from the group – to make my life (and your life) easier in future 🙂

List of random info

1) Korea does not care if you have recovered from COVID.
As long as your PCR still shows a positive result, you may not be allowed to enter the country. I’ve read one sharing from a person who had recovered from covid more than 2 months ago, but only found out that the PCR test is still positive 2 days before their flight to Korea. Sadly, this case is not unique. I’ve heard from another friends’ friend who was due to fly to US, and the pre-departure PCR test came out as positive, despite the person not having any symptoms nor tested positive for any ART test. The strict PCR regulations do make it frustrating as your travel plans would be derailed in view of any unknown hiccups. While most airlines (like SIA) still allow for date changes, the hotels may not be that flexible. As a result, if you’re 100% certain that you’re going for a trip, do purchase travel insurance and they may ‘insure’ you if airlines/hotels do not agree to do a transfer/refund.
(From 7 Mar 2022) Latest update is that if you’re a Korean national with recovery between 10-40 days, you can be exempted from pre-departure test. But why will Korean nationals be reading my blog.. hmm.

2) Things to print (in Singapore)

    • K-ETA Visa
    • Insurance policy to show COVID coverage
    • Notarise Cert to show vaccine status
    • Negative PCR test result (for flight)
    • Completed QCode and printed QR code (Optional but will aid the speed of checks at immigration)

3) Highly recommended (but not compulsory) to get a Korean Sim Card with local number.
Have read that most test results would be sent to email and mobile (if you have a local number). The local number was primary used to leave contact details when dining in restaurants but seems like with the vax cert or COOV app or Naver app, getting a local number could be optional.
(From 1 Mar 2022) Restaurants no longer have to check for vaccination status. Thus, local number can be quite optional, unless you need to make calls.

    • Purchase from Trazy (Prices from $37.90 for 10 day unlimited data/voice)
    • Purchase from Klook (eSim, no physical card but only valid with some phone models; prices from $15)

4) VTL travellers are now allowed to take public transport (measures changed again after 3 March 2022)
Incheon airport is approximately one hour away from Seoul and in all my past travel (except for the media one), I’ve always taken the AREX train or the airport bus.

    • Price of private vehicle via Trazy: $88 for 2 pax; $95 for 4 pax ($24/pax)
    • Public Transport
      • Airport train: $5.50 to $10.20 (depending on express or all-stop train)
        [27 Feb 22 – latest info in group chat saying that they no longer allow travellers to take the AREX train regardless of PCR result/vaccine status; not verified info though]
      • Airport bus (very limited routes still in operation): $17 (15,000W)
        When deciding whether to take the airport train or bus, I usually check against my accommodation – whether I’m staying near the AREX station (without transfers) and whether there are lifts/escalators. Seoul still has a lot of stairs when it comes to transferring from different train lines, thus it is not exactly recommended to push your luggage especially when you’re commuting through rush hour.
        .

5) *Vaccine cert no longer required for restaurants from 28 Feb 2022*
Obtain Vaccine Cert via ‘COOV app’ (found in apple and play store) and use the app to scan the QR code obtained via notarise.sg or visit a public health centre to obtain a confirmation of vaccine status document. This document may be required for entry into venues/restaurants. Without the cert, you may be rejected from entering places that do not recognise the english vaccination cert. I didn’t have any issues with my notarise document in UK, but I guess Korea is different as english is not the main language. To activate this app, you will require to have a Korean mobile number, thus it seems like it can only be done in the airport after you arrive. Found a website that gives step-by-step instructions.

6) Day 6/7 PCR Test (From 10 Mar, Self-administered ART has replaced PCR test)

    • Seegene medical – Booking is available online and it costs about 110,000W. Results will be out within the same day (4 to 5 hours) if done before 6pm. The seoul clinic is located within 5 mins walk from this station called ‘Dapsimni’ (purple line). Haven’t heard of this stop before but as long as it is along the metro line, it should be rather convenient. They have other outlets in Busan, Daegu, Gwangju and Daejeon too, if you intend to travel out.
    • List of other test providers (list by Singapore Airlines/MOH, dated 23 Feb 22) – I did a few random searches but am unable to find other companies that provides PCR test information online. Seems like you would probably have to do a walk-in (with unknown pricing) if the Seegene option ain’t convenient for you.
      Found the following experience sharing online:

    • (unverified, but info found in telegram chat) Konkuk University Hospital PCR test will cost 48,900W (if you are tested negative. if positive, you will have to go for doctor’s consultation which will be up to 140,000W.) However, the cert will not be in English and they will SMS the result to your korean number. If you plan to use this for Day 6/7 records, it seems fine but if you are using it for your pre-departure test, you may have to pay more for a translation.

7) Pre-departure ART Test (Hardcopy is required)

    • At Incheon airport (to book via Safe2gopass), $75-80 (66,000W to 70,000W), results in 1 hour
    • Eulji Bareun Clinic 을지바른의원, $51 (45,000W), results in 1 hour, no reservations required, just walk-in but please note that it is closed on Sundays and public holidays
      Address: (Google Maps) 서울특별시 중구 충무로 48 2층 을지바른의원 48 Chungmuro, Jung-gu, Level 2. Euljiro-3-ga Station, Exit 8.
    • [Busan] 삼육부산병원 Busan Adventist Hospital does ART at 68,780 won

8) Check with your accommodation to see if they allow for early check-in before PCR result is out.
Have read that some hotels do not allow but when I checked with the one I intend to stay with, they mention that Singaporean guests arriving via VTL is eligible for check-in before PCR result is out but we are not allowed to leave the room. There may be extra charges for early check-in though.

*** My thoughts ***

After doing such thorough research over the weekend, it seems like I’m leaning towards the decision of postponing my trip to either next May, November or the following March (flight dates not available yet, thus it is likely I have to make rebooking twice). As much as I think I need a vacation, the thought of contracting covid abroad scares me. I wasn’t that worried for my UK trip as I had free lodging when I was there but given the rampant spread of the omicron variant, a solo trip right now feels pretty stressful in such an ‘uptight’ country. Spoke to a couple of koreans living in Korea and they told me that things are pretty ‘dangerous’ right now. If the locals don’t even feel ‘safe’ to step out of their house much, should I really go over and contribute more to my anxiety? For now, the covid restrictions lies at 6 pax and entertainment venues closing by 10pm. Should I or should I not? This is the closest chance I ever had to see cherry blossoms in full bloom but the external factors doesn’t seem to favour this trip ><

I guess I would most probably have an update in my next month’s post?

On a side note.. I have stared watching K-dramas again. Enjoyed ‘Our beloved summer’ quite a bit and now I’m watching 21.25, 39 and the weather and love forecasting show too. 39 is going a little too slow and solemn for me but let’s see how things develop. At the same time, I’m pretty excited for ‘Pachinko’ too. It was one of the first few audio books I’ve read in New Zealand and I remember I was working in a plant nursery while listening to the story. I guess the drama would bring back some interesting memories for me.

Anyway, let me end off with my awkwardly apt phrase these days – ‘Stay Negative.’ Cheers.

Last Update: 14 March 2022 -> Now I’m inclined to go to Korea despite the rising daily cases..

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