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Traveling to Singapore in Times of COVID-19

This is not really the kind of article I was expecting to write on this site at first, but with COVID-19 now being part of our lives and strongly disturbing our travels, it’s only logical to talk about it. On this page, I will tell my experience of traveling to Singapore during the pandemic and serving the compulsory 14-day isolation on arrival – the Stay Home Notice, or SHN – in a hotel designated by the Singapore government.

My SHN was issued by ICA (Immigration & Checkpoints Authority). If you are reading this because you are also about to serve your SHN but yours was issued by MOM (Ministry of Manpower), I am not sure the procedures will exactly be the same.

My aim is to give some insight to anyone wanting or going to travel to Singapore in these troubled times, so they know what to expect. It might also remain an interesting reference of what travel was like in this unique period in History.

Quick Info

ICA – Immigration & Checkpoints Authority: Updates on Border Control Measures in Response to COVID-19

MOH – Ministry of Health: Updates on COVID-19 – Local Situation

SG Arrival Card / Health Declaration (3 days before travel): SG Arrival Card / Health Declaration

SHN Calculator: SHN Calculator

Price: 2000 SGD for SHN hotel stay + 186 SGD for a compulsory COVID-19 swab test

Duration of SHN: 14 days.

Prior to Travel + Some Background Information

At the time of writing this article, Singapore remains closed to short-term visitors (tourists) and is only starting to make travel agreements with a few selected countries where the spread of the coronavirus is under control.

However, for those having extenuating reasons to enter Singapore, a form is available to request special permission to travel to Singapore. This is the form I have used. My reason for wanting to travel to Singapore? Marry my Singaporean fiancée and then apply for a long-term stay in Singapore. For those who have read my About page, you might know that we had been in a long-distance relationship for quite a few years now so it was about time we tie the knot!

Anyway, my fiancée and I already had a wedding date planned in June with the Registry of Marriage (ROM) of Singapore, but it had to be postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdowns in both Europe and Singapore. We now have a new date, the 30th of October.

One can submit the request a maximum of one month before the intended date of travel. I submitted the form on 28 August, got my fiancée to follow up by phone one week later, and received my approval right after her phone call! To support my application, I have provided my registered wedding date with ROM, the reference of my in-principle approval letter for the Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP), and mentioned that the marriage was already postponed from June.

You first receive an in-principle approval email inviting you to pay the 2186 SGD in advance for your SHN and swab test. Once you have paid and have forwarded the receipt to them, you receive a link to follow in order to select your date of arrival. I have selected 26 September. I then received the official approval letter from ICA, stating that I can enter Singapore between 24 and 28 September.

3 days before the flight, I filled and submitted my Arrival Card online, as requested by ICA.

The Flight

I originally was supposed to arrive in Singapore on 26 September but due to impromptu flight cancellation, I have opted for a direct flight from Paris CDG to Singapore arriving on 25 September, with Singapore Airlines. I think it is the safest thing to do because there are fewer moving parts and you don’t risk having half of your itinerary canceled and not the other half etc.

In Paris, I just had to show my ICA approval letter to be allowed to travel.

The flight was quite unique. They reserved the tail section of the plane for those who were just transiting through Singapore to continue their journey and the rest of the plane for passengers who were bound to Singapore.

This flight was pretty much like taking a private jet, as we had a whole Airbus A350 for about 20 passengers. It is really great for comfort and social distancing, but not so great when you think how much money the airline must be losing and how much kerosene per person we burnt. In any case, flying in such an empty aircraft makes you realize the extent of the damage this pandemic has on the airline industry. The mask had to be worn on board at all times except when eating.

Arrival in Singapore

After a 12:30-hour flight and a fabulous panoramic view of Singapore during the descent, the plane finally touched down at Changi Airport at 6:30 in the morning.

I got off the plane to discover an empty, rather dark Changi Airport, with staff showing me the way towards immigration. The process went very smoothly, the ICA officer was very friendly and relaxed. He asked to see my ICA approval letter and the Arrival Card. He didn’t ask about me having a return flight, what I was going to do in Singapore, or anything. He briefly explained to me that I was going to serve an SHN and that I will have to remain in my room at all times except for the swab test, by taxi only.

In any case, I have never seen them so relaxed.

He put the stamp on my passport, and a small sticker on my arm and I was ready to go. After getting your luggage, you just need to head to the exit as you would normally do. Staff will check if you have the sticker on your arm to let you pass. If you accidentally lost your sticker on the way (like me), you can quickly go back to the ICA officer who let you in to ask for a new sticker.

Immediately after exiting, you need to follow a closed corridor leading you to the coach area where you wait to board a bus or van to SHN Hotel. Everything is well organized.

Stay Home Notice Journal

SHN, Day 0 – Friday 25 September 2020

I stayed at the InterContinental Hotel at Robertson Quay, a 5-star hotel located on the bank of the Singapore River.

On arrival, you are invited to sit down on socially-distanced chairs for you to wait for the front desk to be ready. Then you check in as you would normally do for any hotel stay. You are once again reminded that you are not allowed to leave your room at any time except for the swab test. You are asked if you have any requirement regarding food as well. Everyone is very warm and welcoming.

Since you are in quarantine, you are not supposed to get in contact with anyone so obviously, you can’t invite anyone into your room but it also means there will be no cleaning service from the hotel. You are given a few sets of towels, water bottles, and a cleaning kit with disinfectant. Of course, you can always request to get them replaced.

The price you pay for the SHN includes 3 meals a day, delivered to your door. Do not expect the refined cuisine of a 5-star hotel. It is mostly cheap, basic food. It is sometimes not too bad, sometimes okay, sometimes pretty bad. So 3 times a day a person comes and drops your meal off on a small table located in front of your door, rings, and leaves. You don’t even get to see the person.

Breakfast comes at around 8 AM, lunch comes at around 12 PM, and dinner comes at around 6 PM.

Next to the table, a bin allows you to get rid of your rubbish.

For this first day, the meals were really not bad, the breakfast was nice with an omelet and tasty tomatoes – and two delicious croissants! Lunch and dinner were okay, mostly based on noodles and rice, with two chicken wings for dinner.

SHN, Day 1 – Saturday 26 September 2020

First full day of SHN! The day started at 8:30 with a cereal breakfast with soy bean milk and an apple. I honestly didn’t have much pleasure eating this breakfast but well, it’s OK. Just the time to do some morning exercise and it was already almost time for lunch at noon sharp, with a few chicken nuggets with rice and veggies. And an apple.

The afternoon was spent watching TV and Whatsapping. Dinner was better with some sausages with mashed potatoes, veggies, and watermelon.

SHN, Day 2 – Sunday 27 September 2020

On this Sunday morning, I received a visit from two gentlemen from ICA who just came to check my identity and contact information. Another okay breakfast made of two chicken & salad rolls, with an apple. They do seem to love apples.

Lunch and dinner were really not amazing, some noodles and a tiny chicken burger, with pretty dry onion rings. I did enjoy the dragon fruit dessert though!

My day looked pretty much the same as yesterday having some exercise and walking in my room. Yes, I had a walk in my room. I know from the outside it probably looked like I lost my mind but I don’t care, I am an outdoors person and I enjoy a good walk. I happen to have a Bluetooth sound bar in the room, which is great for listening to my usual French radio from my phone and connecting it to the sound bar. Spent the evening watching TV, feeling good so far.

SHN, Day 3 – Monday 28 September 2020

Days pass and look the same, but surprisingly I don’t even feel particularly bored.

I had noticed the minibar was really not in good shape – not very cold inside and way too hot outside. I was considering ordering some food from outside (such as yogurts, etc.), but it wouldn’t work out. The event of the day was to change rooms for the one next door, with a fully functioning minibar.

Breakfast was simply inedible. A box of dry, tasteless thin noodles after getting up, thanks but no thanks. Luckily there was an apple. We are far from the breakfast I had when I arrived! I hope it will not get worse every day…

Lunch was okay with some minced meat and another type of noodles, and dinner was better with coconut chicken, rice, and slices of tomato and eggplant. With some nice melon for dessert.

SHN, Day 4 – Tuesday 29 September 2020

Today’s breakfast was great if you are looking to lose weight: a salad. It’s not really my case as I am already pretty skinny. Fortunately there was an egg inside. And an apple, of course. After all, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, it may not be a bad move during a pandemic.

Since it was not a warm meal, I could leave it in the bag for a while and go back to bed to laze for an extra hour.

At 11 AM, I received a call from ICA on Whatsapp. The lady then started a video call so I could show her my surroundings, so she can see I am indeed in my hotel room.

Lunch was made of a tiny chicken wing in some not-too-bad gravy, with a huge portion of rice and some veggies. Hours fly without me feeling I am doing much, apart from updating this article. Dinner was quite big with a large portion of mashed potatoes again. At least I could fill my stomach properly.

Another day passed, without doing much, but without feeling bored either. A bit of radio, a bit of TV, some Whatsapping, some computer… and the day is gone.

SHN, Day 5 – Wednesday 30 September 2020

Since breakfasts these days tend to be cold meals, I am taking the habit of lazing in bed. After all, it is time I won’t have to find an activity for, always good to take when you are locked up and just waiting to get out of your room. Today’s breakfast was a simple chicken and salad sandwich, and I have a feeling I am going to get those frequently. Not to mention the apple.

Lunch and dinner were not too bad today, and the portions were filling. When I say not too bad, it is by SHN standards of course. Comparing it to your usual food would be like comparing apples to oranges. For lunch, it was some tofu with noodles and vegetables, and for dinner it was some minced meat in a sauce, to mix with rice, plus some barbecued veggies and potatoes.

It was quite hard to focus on anything today. For some reason, I always ended up staring outside the window, not thinking of anything particular. After some exercise while listening to the radio, I felt a little better and could do some stuff on the computer.

We are 30 September. In one month I am getting married, wow!

SHN, Day 6 – Thursday 1 October 2020

Seriously approaching 50% of my SHN! I lazed in bed a little longer today, as breakfast was (again) a cold chicken & salad roll – plus an apple. It’s cold food, no need to hurry and eat it while it’s hot.

I spent my morning doing exercise, and my afternoon doing some planning and location scouting for pre-wedding pictures. It was really nice to do and kept me busy for quite a few hours. I will probably continue tomorrow.

Lunch was made of small fried chicken pieces with a quite spicy barbecue sauce, with fried rice. It was okay. For dinner, I got a pretty good western meal, with chicken, tomato sauce, and carbonara-style spaghetti. Feels good to take a small break from Asian food sometimes and eat something that looks a little more like what I usually eat in France.

I spent my evening and part of the night watching Away on Netflix. What’s better than watching the story of a few astronauts locked up in a small spaceship when you are locked up in a small hotel room?

SHN, Day 7 – Friday 2 October 2020

Voila! I have completed half of my SHN! I can’t believe a whole week has passed since I arrived.

For breakfast, after the chicken & salad sandwich + apple, the chicken & salad roll + apple, let me present you the upgraded chicken & salad sandwich + apple: this one actually has some sauce inside.

I have received a second visit from ICA a little before 11 AM, they wanted to check that my passport photo was indeed me, as well as the spelling of my name, my passport number and contact number.

A couple of hours later, I received an SMS for my COVID-19 test appointment: it will be on Monday 5 October at 10 AM… at the hotel! That’s great, I won’t have to bother with getting a taxi and all. All I will have to do is take the lift to another level. Granted, it could have been an opportunity to get out of this building but since I am not allowed to do anything I guess it would have been more frustrating than anything.

The day passed pretty fast, discussing about the pre-wedding photos with my fiancée on Whatsapp, listening to the radio, exercising… For lunch, I had the same tofu & noodles meal I had a couple of days ago. I guess we can say my appetite was good, I finished everything.

SHN, Day 8 – Saturday 3 October 2020

Bad news: another box of noodles for breakfast. These looked a little better than the ones I got last time, but still, not really my cup of tea. Luckily I have some Frosties (and an apple).

The weather was rather sunny today, and I have to admit that when it is the case it is harder not to think of all the nice things I could have done outside. Especially knowing that my fiancée was going out! But it’s OK, I just stick to my little routine and my little life inside y hotel room, and time passes quickly.

I have watched TV a bit more than usual today, mostly the movie channels. I also worked on blog-related stuff and did some exercise.

My appetite is still good, I have finished all my lunch and dinner. Lunch was pieces of fried chicken with rice, and dinner was more western style with penne. Not too bad honestly.

In the evening, I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. Interesting and thought-provoking.

The SHN does start to feel a little long, thinking I have completed only about 60% of it now, but well, what can I do.

SHN, Day 9 – Sunday 4 October 2020

Lazed in bed late today, it’s Sunday after all. For breakfast, it went back to rolls on a box, but they turned out to be egg rolls instead of chicken rolls.

The day passed really fast working on a couple of articles for this website, and there is still plenty of work to do so it will keep me busy for a few days.

I have received phone calls from both the hotel and ICA regarding tomorrow’s swab test, telling me that I need to stay in my room until someone comes and picks me up to go to my appointment, that I will need to take my passport and wear a mask.

Lunch was really not bad, with tasty pork meat with onions and ginger sauce, with noodles and vegetables. Dinner was okay, chicken in tomato sauce, rice, and broccoli.

I spent my evening watching TV and chatting.

SHN, Day 10 & Swab Test – Monday 5 October 2020

Another box of noodles for breakfast, sigh. Once again the apple saved the situation.

Anyway, today’s a big day! I went for my COVID-19 swab test. When they say 10 AM, it’s actually a time slot for the whole floor (10 to 11 AM). They rang my bell at about 10:30 or 10:35, and led me and another guest to a service lift, to go down to the hotel’s Balcony at level 4 where the tests are taking place.

First, you queue for a few minutes to register yourself, show your ID or Work Permit if you have one, and they ask you to say your name, passport number, and date of birth. Your personal bar codes for the test get printed. Then on the side, another person asks you to say your passport number, name, and date of birth. This person takes you to another person a few meters away who asks you to say… your passport number, name, and date of birth. At this point, they feel pretty confident you are the right person and let you approach the testing zone.

After that, you are asked if you ever had any injury, or operation on the nose or head, and another person does the test. The procedure is highly unpleasant, but not really painful. I could tell the person was skilled, and he did it very gently. He penetrated the swab to incredible depths into my nostrils that I didn’t know existed, stayed there for 10 seconds, and took the swab out gently. This has the funny side effect of triggering tears. He repeated the procedure for each nostril. I was a little tense but it went OK.

At the end, you are offered tissues and led back to a person inviting you to throw your room key in a box and giving you a new one, and you just take the lift back to your room. The whole thing took 20 mins so I was back in my room a little before 11 AM. Quick and easy.

Lunch and dinner were OK, and since I was very brave during my swab test, I got rewarded with a second apple. I spent my afternoon working on my blog articles. For a most welcome break in the evening, I started watching the last season of 3% on Netflix. Nice and relaxing way to end the day.

SHN, Day 11 – Tuesday 6 October 2020

This was a quite uneventful day, starting with an extremely nutritious breakfast: a green salad with a few pieces of chicken.

Most of my day was spent working on my blog articles, and I have to admit time flew and the day passed really quickly. Complete this with a bit of exercise, chatting and some TV time, that was enough to keep me busy.

Lunch was not extremely good-looking but tasted okay; dinner was much better with some pasta and tasty fried chicken wings. In the evening I got busy again finishing the last season of 3% on Netflix. Too bad it’s already over! I’ll have to find myself another series to watch now.

SHN, Day 12 – Wednesday 7 October 2020

I slept quite late today, even if my sleep was interrupted at 8+ by the person bringing me my breakfast. I just went to grab it quickly and went back to sleep until 10!

I didn’t do much in the morning, basically waiting for my lunch. Well, this meal was really not great and I didn’t eat much… the only great surprise was to see that they put a banana for dessert. I was craving for a good banana!

48 more hours to go before the end of the SHN, they are the hardest.It’s hard to focus on anything else than getting the swab test result and getting out of here. I have received a call from the hotel front desk, confirming me that my check-out time on 9 October will be 12:35 pm. They have also sent me a link on Whatsapp where I need to update my swab test result once I get it. I am actually getting a little worried because my result hasn’t arrived yet and I am hoping I will get it on time!

As I opened my door to grab my dinner, there were more things than I expected on the table – a small wine bottle and a delicious-looking chocolate cake. I wondered if it was a mistake until I read the card: “Congratulations on your upcoming wedding signed- the front desk team”. Thank you so much guys, you’re the best! You made my day.

Anyway, today was generally a quite slow, unmotivated day, but I still did some photography work on the computer in the evening. I hope tomorrow will be better… and that I will get my swab test result!

SHN, Day 13 – Thursday 8 October 2020

Mid-morning, after a very predictable chicken roll + apple breakfast, I received a visit from 2 ICA agents. They came to confirm that my checkout will be tomorrow, and I shared my concern about not having received any results yet. They said that if the hotel tells me to checkout, it means it’s good anyway.

Only half-reassured, I didn’t have to wait very long before receiving a call from ICA to finally deliver the good news I was desperately waiting for: my swab test is negative! A little later, the hotel called me as well to give me the same news and explain to me the checkout procedure further. I will have to get my baggage ready outside my room at 10:30 AM, and someone will come at 12:35 to pick me up so I can finally GO OUT. Only 24 hours to go before freedom.

Since I have brought a lot of stuff, I spent my afternoon taking my time to repack everything. I don’t want to rush it at the last minute tomorrow morning.

SHN, Day 14 & Checkout – Friday 9 October 2020

Last breakfast, last apple, and last morning to bear. I was restless all morning, obsessed with the idea of stepping out of this room. I just turned on the radio, did some exercise, and waited for time to pass.

Seeing my fiancée through the window and walking outside coming to pick me up made me even more restless and these last hours felt quite endless! I could hear other guests coming out of their rooms and being escorted to the exit, but it was not my turn yet. Not fun. At about 12:35, someone finally came and my SHN adventure was finally over.

The SHN experience: Conclusion

So after 340 hours, a swab test, and 17 apples, I was free to walk in Singapore like anyone else. I had almost forgotten what it feels like.

The whole experience was not as bad as I thought, even though it does feel a little endless after the first 7 to 10 days. And the quality of the food is really not really helping, but I understand the logistics behind all these meals must be complex. Overall, everything is well organized. From airport to swab test and hotel, everyone is very kind and friendly.

If you are reading this in preparation of your own SHN, here is my little advice. I think what helps really is to create your own little routine inside your hotel room. The meals at 8 AM, 12 PM, and 6 PM will set the pace of your days, so the goal is to occupy the time between those meals. If you have work to do while in SHN, it will of course greatly help.

If you don’t, I still think creating a routine helps. For example, between breakfast and lunch I was often doing some exercise while listening to the French radio. Between lunch and dinner, it was either doing some work on the computer, watching TV, or chatting. After dinner, it would be mostly watching TV or Netflix. Just do that 14 times and you’re done.

In any case, it’s definitely an experience one would gladly skip. But since we have no other choice but to get through it, let’s see it as a one-of-a-kind experience that we will hopefully not have to live again.

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