Error 500: Travellers face troubles getting VTL pass to enter Singapore due to vaccine certification differences

The The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said it has issued over 5,000 pass approvals since applications for the VTL scheme opened on Oct 12.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

SINGAPORE - A lack of standardisation among vaccination certificate issuers overseas has caused issues for some travellers when applying for a pass to enter Singapore under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.

One traveller, for instance, had to pay extra to obtain a certificate in a format that the VTL application portal would accept.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), which handles the VTL scheme, said in response to queries from The Straits Times that some travellers could have been issued certificates in a format that cannot be verified in Singapore.

It added that the authority and the SafeTravel Office will look into each individual case and help applicants who face such technical issues.

Jennifer, a Singaporean, told The Straits Times she had been trying to help her non-citizen partner Adam (not their real names) to apply for a pass to enter Singapore from the United States since applications opened on Oct 12. Singaporeans do not need a pass to return under the VTL scheme.

But she said the VTL application portal would repeatedly report an error when Adam tried to upload the QR code he was issued in the US - known as a Smart Health Card - as proof of vaccination.

This was despite the fact that the vaccination record was issued by a healthcare provider on a list of verified issuers, under the CommonTrust Network (CTN) and Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI) in the US.

Singapore's Safe Travel website states that Smart Health Cards from issuers on these networks are accepted as proof of vaccination for VTL applications.

"We tried uploading the QR code in different file formats, like PNG, JPG and PDF," said Jennifer.

"We tried cropping the image so it just shows the QR code and we also tried uploading the whole document with his name and other details on it. Each time, we got the same 'error 500' code."

Error 500 is a generic error code indicating that a server has encountered an unexpected condition preventing it from carrying out a request.

Jennifer said she made several calls to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), the Safe Travel Office and the Singapore Embassy last week but was unable to get the problem resolved.

While searching for a solution online, she came across a discussion thread on an online forum where others in the US said they had experienced the same issue.

One user suggested uploading vaccination records to a third-party service called VaccineCheck, which independently verifies them and issues its own Smart Health Card. VaccineCheck is a trusted issuer under the VCI network.

Jennifer and Adam paid about US$75 (S$101) for the service, including an extra fee to expedite the application as time was running short. The couple's flight to Singapore is scheduled for next week, and applications for a VTL pass must be submitted at least seven days before the arrival date.

The new QR code worked, and Adam was able to get his pass approved.

"What we did ended up working but it's not something that we should have had to do, because we already had a valid vaccination pass from an issuer that was part of the accredited network," said Jennifer.

"We were very worried that we would have to delay the flight as we would not be able to board the VTL flight without the approval.

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"We were also prepared to serve quarantine in the end, if necessary. There are only so many opportunities that I have to see my parents and we were going to come back anyway."

The CAAS said some applicants may face difficulties uploading their vaccination certificates because their local issuers may have issued the certificates in a format that cannot be verified in Singapore, even though the certificates themselves conform to other requirements.

"For example, some issuers in the US do not have the required configuration settings to enable the Smart Health Cards issued by them to be verified outside of the US," said Ms Margaret Tan, director of airport operations regulation and aviation security at CAAS.

While most of the countries on the VTL scheme have a unified national system for issuing vaccination certificates, the US and Canada currently do not.

Canada is working to develop one, while the US relies on multiple issuers such as individual state authorities, pharmacies, supermarket chains like Walmart and various other healthcare providers.

To ensure the authenticity of the vaccination records, Singapore requires certificates to be issued in the Smart Health Card format by trusted CTN and VCI issuers in the US and Canada. Some issuers do not use the Smart Health Card format.

"We will progressively onboard other issuers and formats," Ms Tan said.

The CAAS said it has issued over 5,000 approvals since applications opened on Oct 12, adding that it has the capacity to handle a few thousand applications at any one time.

Users from other countries faced different technical issues when applying for the VTL pass.

One traveller from France, who declined to be named, said her EU Digital Covid Certificate (EU-DCC) was rejected as it states only the date she received her second dose of the vaccine, but not the date of the first dose.

The EU-DCC is listed as an accepted format on the SafeTravel website.

"I have only a paper certificate for my first dose, which is not accepted by the system. The QR code for the second dose is supposed to reflect that we are fully vaccinated," she said.

Ms Tan said travellers can write to the SafeTravel Office through the inquiry form on its website, or call the SafeTravel Enquiries helpline on +65-6812-5555 for assistance.

This article was first published in The Straits TimesPermission required for reproduction.