Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble: What are the rules & hidden costs?

PHOTO: The Straits Times

Waiting with bated breath for that moment when we can flock to Changi Airport and go on overseas holidays once again? Then the recent news that travel will soon be possible from Singapore to Hong Kong might have gotten your attention.

Singapore and Hong Kong have agreed to set up a “travel bubble” which enables people to travel between the two without needing to be quarantined.

When will Singapore & Hong Kong’s travel bubble start?

It’s official, guys: the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble will start on  Nov 22, 2020. Here’s the official news report from CNA.

Like Singapore, Hong Kong is not completely free of the virus, with a handful of new cases each day, most of them imported. So both governments will keep a close eye on the air travel bubble when it launches. 

Should there be a spike in cases, there’s a chance the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble will be suspended.

Who is eligible for the travel bubble?

Anyone who has lived for 14 days in either Singapore or Hong Kong will be able to travel between the two places regardless of nationality. But this excludes work permit holders or S Pass holders working in construction, marine shipyard or processing.

The Singapore-Hong Kong green lane will be open to tourists, not just business travellers or officials. There are no restrictions on your travel itinerary.

ALSO READ: Singapore ramps up testing ahead of Hong Kong travel bubble

What are the requirements for travelling to Hong Kong?

Here are the pre-travel requirements for Singaporeans going to Hong Kong:

From Dec 1, travellers will not need to apply for the test. You’ll still need to test negative for Covid-19 before you fly.

When you arrive at Hong Kong airport, you will have to take a Covid-19 test again. There will be no quarantine so long as your Covid-19 test is negative. 

No quarantine, hooray! But are there any hidden costs?

Yes, you will need to book and pay for your own Covid-19 test when you land in Hong Kong. You also have to remain in Hong Kong airport until you receive the negative results.

If you do get infected in Hong Kong, you will have to bear the full cost of medical treatment over there. Currently, travel insurance companies do not cover Covid-19 as it is a known risk.

But all these somewhat pale in comparison to the inflated flight prices — simply the result of demand far outstripping supply for flights.

Remember, it’s not just holiday-makers who want to fly between Singapore and Hong Kong. There’s also a sizeable number of Singaporeans living in Hong Kong who have not been able to see their families and friends back home for most of the year.

What flights are available from Singapore to Hong Kong?

Bear in mind that you need to fly on a designated travel bubble flight in order to access Hong Kong.

From Nov 22 until Dec 6, there will be just one dedicated Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble flight per day, capped at 200 passengers. From Dec 7, this will increase to 2 flights (or only 400 passengers) a day.

Currently, only Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific operate travel bubble flights to Hong Kong. The flights are:

  • SQ890 (SIN-HKG)
  • SQ891 (HKG-SIN)
  • CX734 (SIN-HKG)
  • CX759 (HKG-SIN)

Due to the mad rush for tickets since the travel bubble was announced, most Singapore-Hong Kong flights are sold out for November and December, with return fares surging as high as $1,000.

You’ll have better chances of booking a flight if you’re willing to wait until 2021 to travel.

What happens after you return to Singapore?

After the new Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble arrangements kick in, you should not need to serve a Stay-Home Notice upon returning.

But what if you suay suay test positive for Covid-19?

Well, the government will not be footing your medical bills in full, but you will be able to tap on existing government subsidies and make health insurance (MediShield Life, Integrated Shield, or private health insurance) claims.

This applies to Singapore citizens, PRs and long-term pass holders only, and only if symptoms appear within 14 days of your return.

ALSO READ: Air travel bubble: Singaporeans can fly to Hong Kong for leisure from Nov 22

Apart from Hong Kong, where else can we travel to?

Technically, there’s a way for Singaporeans to travel to Thailand thanks to the Special Tourist Visa… but only provided you’re able to stay for at least 90 days. Singaporeans and PRs, their spouses and children aged 20 and under qualify for this visa. 

But there are a lot of requirements, including:

  • You need to make an online application on www.thaiembassy.sg at least two weeks before you wish to travel.
  • You’ll need to serve a 14-day quarantine at Alternative State Quarantine facilities, which are mostly luxury hotels. So no, you cannot serve your quarantine in a 200 baht per night guesthouse and then congratulate yourself for cheating the system.
  • Proof of accommodation after the quarantine period, proof of medical and travel insurance covering you for at least 100,000 USD (S$135,000), and a bank statement showing a deposit of at least 500,000 Thai Baht (S$22,330) for the last 6 months.

It looks like cheap weekend getaways to Thailand are still out of the question, as the quarantine period alone will make you bleed money.

Singapore’s other green lanes (for official travel only)

Official travel to the following places can now take place without having to be quarantined:

  • Japan
  • China
  • South Korea
  • Brunei
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia (including Batam)

Unfortunately, these travel bubbles are applicable only for official or business travel, and must be sponsored by a company or the government. And lest you think of mixing business with pleasure, you must adhere strictly to a controlled itinerary while overseas.

So, should Singaporeans make travel plans?

It all depends on how anxious you are to travel and how much money you’re willing to burn on it.

Those who cannot live another day without an upcoming holiday have gone ahead to book their (expensive) flights to Hong Kong, with some even personally heading down to Changi Airport to buy tickets over the counter.

There are concerns about whether the travel bubble can really be kept Covid-19-free. If it can’t, it’s possible the Singapore and Hong Kong governments will axe it. So, some Singaporeans would rather travel to Hong Kong ASAP, before it’s too late.

If you’re one of these people, then be prepared to pay a premium as supply has not yet matched demand.

This article was first published in MoneySmart.