COVID-19 has certainly altered how we travel nowadays. While it was far more stressful to go through all the admin procedures, I felt extremely blessed to be able to visit South Korea again. It proved that “Vitamin Vacay” is the best thing for my mental wellbeing. Singapore is cautiously opening up with Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) launched for many countries, and many are exited to cure our wanderlust.
As I travelled to South Korea via VTL at the end of 2021, here are the information that I gathered during my recent Singapore-Korea Vaccinated Travel Lane trip to help you understand the requirements and prepare for your trip.
Please note that the situation is fluid in times like this. While I will try to keep this post as updated as possible, the news media, the ICA website and the South Korean Embassy should be your main source of information.
CAUTION: My trip commenced from mid-December 2021 to mid-January 2022. All information below is reflective of my personal experience during the mentioned period.
Travel Korea 2022 Preparation List
First of all, I am sharing my pre-trip preparation checklist here with you:
While it looks rather overwhelming, once you’re at it, it is pretty straightforward. You would take about 1-2 hours to complete most things on the list. However, here are a few things to note:
Singaporeans will need to apply for K-ETA, a travel authorisation by the South Korean government for your travel eligibility. You can submit your application online and get speedy approval. For other nationalities, please check your eligibility for K-ETA here.
If your passport is non-eligible for K-ETA, you are required to apply for a Short-Term Tourism Visa through an appointed travel agent. This short-term visa would take 7 working days for approval post submission. For more information, see here.
Currently, non-Singapore passport holders are eligible to travel to South Korea via VTL if they are currently residing in Singapore and have not travelled out of Singapore 14 days before departure.
A friendly reminder to all PR holders in Singapore, please ensure your re-entry permit (REP) is valid before leaving the country. The application to renew your REP would take 7 working days.
For short-term visitors (that is, VTL visitors) to South Korea, you are required to purchase travel insurance with a minimum coverage of KRW 30,000,000 (~SGD 35,000) for COVID-19 related medical treatment and hospitalisation costs. I got my Standard Plan Classic (Single Trip) from NTUC Income. There was a Black Friday sale and we got it at a 50% discount which was a great deal.
As part of this Standard Plan (Single Trip), you can complete your COVID-19 pre-departure PCR swab test at $124.2 at Raffles Medical. However, we did not opt for a PCR at Raffles as we found a cheaper option (see below under section Pre-departure PCR).
Purchase a Korean Mobile SIMcard
I used to think a South Korean Mobile SIM card is a good-to-have, not a must-have. However, if you’re travelling during COVID-19 times, I’ll highly recommend you to purchase a Korean mobile SIMcard for practical reasons:
- For contact tracing when you are out & about in South Korea. It is essential. (see below for latest update)
Having a local mobile number also increases the chance to enter your favourite restaurants and malls. See details under Out & About.
- To receive your 7th-day PCR result in Korea. (As of Mar 12, there is no need to do 7th day PCR)
- For admin matters (if you need to get a Vaccination Confirmation Letter in Korean from Korea’s Public Office)
- To make reservations at popular restaurants
That is if you speak Korean, because some popular restaurants may only take reservations due to overwhelming response.
There are many types of SIMcard plans available. Please get the ones that include local voice calls for contact tracing in Korea. I got mine from Trazy as we prefer to receive the SIM card in Singapore before the departure.
If you are travelling in a group, my recommendation is to get every adult in the group a Korean SIM card. It is way more convenient and it saves you from explaining your situation every single time you are entering any place and you don’t risk being turned away at malls and restaurants. I will explain in detail in the Out & About section below.
Get a Wifi Router
It is essential if you’re travelling to a foreign country. You don’t need to worry about getting lost in a foreign land with unlimited WiFi.
I picked Changi Recommends out of convenience as I can pick up and return the router at Changi Airport. Their staffs are really friendly too!
However, I feel that the internet speed is slower compared to renting a Wifi egg router in Korea (KT Olleh or SK). If you like ultra-fast internet speed, check out KT or SK booth at Incheon Airport after completing your on-arrival PCR test.
Pre-departure PCR (SIN-ICN)
While there are two types of pre-departure tests available in Singapore (PCR swab test and Saliva ART ), the South Korean government only accepts PCR swab test results at the moment this blog is published.
I did my PCR test at PTD Swab, which offers competitive swab test pricing in Singapore. My swab test at the clinic was SGD 107. They have a list of partners so I chose Q & M Medical & Aesthetics at Tampines 1 as it was the most convenient one for me. Though there was a long queue, everything went smoothly. They also provide PCR swabs at home at SGD 138 and there were some promotions going on so do keep a lookout.
As of 12 Mar: Pre-departure PCR remains. it has to be within 48hrs (2 calendar days, no need to be exactly 48hrs).
Departure at Changi Airport
Once you have completed everything from the checklist above, it is time to pack up and visit Changi Airport!
There are more documents that the airport staff would need to go through, you’ll take longer to check-in your luggage at the counter. Please be at least 3.5 hours early. If your flight is at 01:25 am, be at the airport at least by 10:00 pm. We’d rather be safe than sorry.
Keep All Documents in one Folder
Please print out all documents and keep the physical copy in one folder before heading to the airport. I also printed out my entire insurance policy. The airport staff will be checking all documents for you, and you’ll need to show the same stack to the Incheon Airport staff too so keeping everything in one folder would be more convenient for you.
If you are travelling with your family or as a group, please separate the documents per person. Meaning 5 pax, 5 folders for a speedier process.
Collect your VTL Lanyard
After checking in your baggage at Changi Airport, please remember to collect your VTL Korea lanyard. Wear it when you touch down at Incheon Airport so that the Korean airport staff can take care of you when you’re there.
Arrival at Incheon Airport & PCR
Stepping into the Land of Morning Calm after 2 years feels so surreal. I was super excited but there was some administrative work to complete at Incheon airport before we could finally pass the customs check:
The queue for health declaration and PCR result documents was quite long. It took us about 30-45 minutes to clear. However, there are public toilets along the path so if you’re not travelling alone, you can take turns to get freshen up. However, if you are travelling alone, please take your toilet break on the plane as this queue is going to take quite some time. Once we clear off this document check, the rest of the checks were pretty speedy.
After collecting our luggage, we were being ushered to do our on-arrival PCR test based on the airport test centres we have pre-booked ourselves at. The test centres are located in 2 different wings of the airport and cost KRW 174,000 per pax.
Once arrived, you just need to register yourself at the counter, pay and verify your particulars then get the swab done. PCR swabs at South Korea only poke at one side of your nostril so everything is completed in a blink of an eye! We did our test at about 10:00 am ++ and the result came in within 3 hours in my email.
Airport Limousine & AREX
Airport Limousine was always my first choice of transport from Incheon Airport to Seoul as the bus stops are often conveniently located right in front of my choice of hotel/ Airbnb. However, the COVID-19 precautionary measures at Incheon Airport were that all arriving passengers are required to use the exclusive limousine bus. You’ll have to purchase the ticket at a designated ticket office and board your bus at a designated area. These exclusive bus stations and ticket offices are only for those who are arriving from abroad. However, the frequency is low. For example, there used to be 1 bus to Gangnam every hour pre-covid but it has been reduced to 2 buses a day (9 am & 5 pm local time).
AREX Train is a good alternative mode of transportation. However, the express train (직통열차) has been temporarily suspended. You may take the all-stop train that connects you to Seoul Station, and transit to their metropolitan subway line, or take a taxi from Seoul Station. For your information, my hotel was located in Gangnam. Taking a taxi from Incheon Airport to the hotel would cost me at least KRW 60,000++. However, taking the all-stop AREX train (일반열차) to Seoul Station only cost KRW 4,150, and the taxi fare from Seoul Station to Gangnam would only cost about KRW16,000++.
p.s: There was a discussion recently about banning all arriving passengers to take public transport (metropolitan subway), I am not sure VTL travellers would be exempted from this ban so please take note when you are at the airport and follow the instructions of the Airport staff.
Out & About
Once you cleared your on-arrival PCR, you are free to roam around South Korea like you used to be. However, there are social regulations that you’ll need to follow when you are out and about in the country.
Primarily, there are two things you need to qualify for before entering anywhere: (1) An Up-to-date Vaccination Status, by South Korean Standard, and (2) Completed the Contact Tracing Procedures. Please note that it is not an either-or requirement. You need to qualify BOTH. That said, even when you have the two qualifications, there may be chances that you’d be turned away.
Contrary to Singapore where we scan the QR code at the shops and restaurants to log our entry, all locals in Korea have a QR code that is unique to each individual. And in almost all places (restaurants, malls, eateries, museums, hotels etc.) they have a QR code reader to capture visitors’ vaccination status and entry log. This QR code is generated via Kakaotalk App but it is only available to local Korean and foreign residents who own a long-term pass and have received their jabs in Korea. So for VTL travellers, you’ll have to use the COOV app to prove your vaccination status, and a local SIM card to log your contact tracing.
To Prove your Vaccination Status
Download the mobile app “COOV”. It is developed by the South Korean Government as a verification of vaccination status for anyone who received their vaccines overseas. You’ll need to scan your vaccination cert issued by your home country (MOH of Singapore) and show them the result. It will include the type of vaccine you took and your last vaccinated date.
My tip is to familiarise yourself with the user interface (it is quite intuitive!) before the trip and switch the app to the Korean language so that you can show it to any local business owner before entering a premise. Please make sure that your vaccination status will remain up-to-date the entire trip as they are very strict in checking your vaccinated date.
Here is the tricky part. Most premises would have a unique contact tracing phone number for foreign visitors to log their visit. It is called the “Ahn Shim Call” ( 안심콜), a 10 digits toll-free number to call. This is one of the reasons I recommended a local SIM card. That said, if your Singapore telco provider charges fairly low for roaming service, you can probably go without a local SIM card.
Once you show them the COOV app, you’ll be directed to do Anh Shim Call before being permitted to enter the premises. However, as most locals are using their unique QR code to do their log & proof of vaccination, some premises will skip setting up Ahn Shim Call for their business and therefore, even when you can prove your vaccination status, you may not be allowed to enter the property.
I was turned away (for dining in) once during my VTL trip. It was a tiny cafe near Gyeongbok Palace. The owner was polite but stood firm that they cannot accept anyone without a Kakao QR code even after confirming my vaccination status. It was primarily because they do not have an Ahn Shim Call. So we did a take out 🙂
So you see, there will be times when you will be rejected entry even when you have an up-to-date vaccination status, and were prepared to do the Ahn Shim Call. So I’ll suggest all Singapore-Korea VTL travellers keep an open mind and an open heart when you are travelling in times like this!
As of 12 Mar: According to some of my readers, the store owners are getting more relaxed at checking-in nowadays. Some don’t really need your contact tracing at all!
Getting a Local Vaccination Confirmation Letter 예방 접종 확인서
In a Telegram VTL group chat, someone shared about getting a Korean vaccination confirmation letter from the local community service centre. It is an official letter endorsed by the Korean government so it would come in handy if the COOV app fails to work. As we were travelling out of big cities like Seoul and Busan to hidden gems like Namhae, we decided to get ourselves a local vaccination confirmation letter just in case.
It was pretty straightforward to get the letter from the district community service centre near your hotel. Each district in Korea comes with a community centre – the Gu-Cheong (구청). And within the community centre, there is usually a public health centre – the Bogon-so (보건소). You will need to bring your passport and vaccination cert issued by your home country to the public health centre during office hours for the letter.
For those with minimum Korean efficiency, just Google your hotel’s English address. You’ll find “OO-gu” in the address. For example, Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu, Jongno-gu, Dongdaemun-gu, Jung-gu.
For example, you are staying at Josun Palace Hotel – so here’s what you got:
Once you have confirmed the right district ( the “gu“), then search up the “OO-gu Office”. For example, if your hotel’s address shows Gangnam-gu, you should search “Gangnam-gu Office” in your Google or Kakao Map. And that is the community service centre you should visit to get your letter. Here’s what you should tell/ show the staff:
해외 접종 확인서를 받으로 왔습니다.
I would like to get my vaccination confirmation letter.
외국인 등록증이 없습니다.
I don’t have a Foreigner ID card in Korea.
I have my passport with me.
I went to Seocho-gu Office (서초구청) to get my letter. The entire procedure took about 10 minutes and the staff were nice and polite. However, I don’t think this letter is necessary if you are visiting big cities like Seoul, Busan or Jeonju. Even in Namhae, I didn’t need to show my letter. It was only at a restaurant at Gapyeong that I almost have to show this letter but another staff who was more informed about the situation accepted the status on our COOV app. So if you ask me, it was more like having peace of mind if you own this piece of paper. If you’re not exploring very exotic places, there is no need to get this letter. Let’s conserve their public resources 🙂
While there isn’t a specific requirement for the type of masks you wear in Korea, there are places where the authority may request visitors wear a KF94 mask. The place I came across that require wearing a KF94 mask is in the mountains of Namhae. The good thing is KF94 mask is easily available everywhere in the country, you just need to visit Olive Young!
Early Closing Time & Regulations
The South Korean government is doing their best to curb COVID-19 infections by implementing several rules and regulations. Please note that restaurants may be closing early and there may be restrictions to the total number of people you can dine in together. Please read the news for updated information. If you are travelling this time, refrain from travelling in a large group as you may be turned away at a restaurant even if you plan to sit apart. (Some restaurants & cafes are VERY strict).
Please remember to do your due diligence by updating your temperature every day while you are in Korea!
If you do not own this card yet, please get yourself one. YouTrip card is a multi-currency card (and a mobile wallet) with great exchange rates and charges zero transaction fees! Top up of the card is super easy and it is a breeze to pay with YouTrip in South Korea. The SGD to KRW exchange rate is even better than the rates I got at a physical currency exchange store in Singapore! As COVID-19 persis, I feel the stress when I am paying in cash because of the increased contact. I feel that I am making others really uncomfortable with cash payments too. So it is actually better to pay in a YouTrip card because of the similar (if not better) exchange rate!
7th day PCR
Currently, all VTL visitors from Singapore would need to do a 6th-7th day PCR test in Korea, if their trip is more than 7 days. Here’s a list of the hospital where you can do your PCR test. Again please note that the situation is fluid and there may be hospitals that drop out of the programme at any time so it is always good to call up the hospital before making your way down. I did mine at Seegene 씨젠의료재단 and it costs KRW 110,000 per person. They have a dedicated English website for travellers so it was very convenient to book a slot!
As of 12 Mar: There is no need for VTL travellers to do 7th Day PCR.
Pre-departure ART (ICN-SIN)
We did our Pre-departure ART at Eulji Bareun Clinic (을지바른의원) for KRW 45,000, 48 hours before flying back to Singapore. The result came in about 20 mins++ post swab, and the clinic gave us a physical copy of the result which was very convenient as we do not need to print it out elsewhere. As the clinic is located at Euljiro, one of the most charming neighbourhoods in Seoul, be sure to check out these places while you are here!
As of 12 Mar: You can either choose PCR or ART and it is of course more economical to do ART. 🙂
Korea Embassy VTL Notice | link here
K-ETA Application | link here
MOH Travel Advisory | link here
Notarise | link here
Safe2go | link here
Safetravel Concierge | link here