Details: Hong Kong & Singapore “Travel Bubble”

Filed Under: Travel

A few weeks ago we learned that Hong Kong and Singapore will be forming a reciprocal travel bubble without a quarantine requirement. Singapore’s Transport Minister suggests this is “the first reciprocal travel bubble in the region, and maybe in the world.”

Well, I wanted to provide an update on this, as travel within this “bubble” is now on sale, and it sounds quite… complicated.

Hong Kong & Singapore travel bubble basics

The Hong Kong & Singapore travel bubble will be opening for travel as of November 22, 2020. While there will be testing requirements, the good news is that there will be no limit on the type of travel allowed, no rules about what can be done at the destination, etc.

Unfortunately that’s where the simplicity with this arrangement ends.

The travel bubble is capped at 200 travelers per day

When the travel bubble arrangement kicks off on November 22, the agreement will be limited to 200 travelers per day.

There will be dedicated travel bubble flights, which will exclusively carry passengers who are going as part of this arrangement. This is in order to limit contact with transit passengers, who the countries feel may pose a higher risk.

The way the flights will work:

  • Initially Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines will be operating on alternating days
  • Then as of December 7 the arrangement will be doubled, so that Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines will each be able to operate a daily flight as part of this arrangement

You can learn more about Cathay Pacific’s travel bubble flights here, and learn more about Singapore Airlines’ travel bubble flights here.

There will be dedicated flights for this travel bubble

Up to three coronavirus tests will be required

Even though Hong Kong and Singapore have few coronavirus cases, that doesn’t mean there won’t be lots of testing. Rather each traveler will need to be tested up to three times, which is expected to cost ~250USD.

Those traveling from Hong Kong to Singapore will have to take the following tests:

  • You’ll need to get a coronavirus test less than 72 hour before your departure to Singapore
  • You’ll need to get another coronavirus test less than 72 hours before your return to Hong Kong (assuming your original test wasn’t taken more than 72 hours ago, which would only apply for those taking really quick trips)
  • When you get back to Hong Kong you’ll need to get another coronavirus test, and then you’ll have to wait in the baggage claim hall for around four hours for the results to come in

Those traveling from Singapore to Hong Kong will have to take the following tests:

  • You’ll need to get a coronavirus test less than 72 hour before your departure to Hong Kong
  • You’ll need to get another coronavirus test upon arrival in Hong Kong
  • You’ll need to get another coronavirus test less than 72 hours before your return to Singapore (assuming your previous test wasn’t taken more than 72 hours ago)

Travelers will have to take up to three coronavirus tests

The travel bubble can easily be suspended

The travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore will be suspended if either place sees an average of five or more daily untraced coronavirus cases. So you could be planning this for weeks, and then the arrangement could fall through.

The travel bubble can be suspended with untraceable cases

Coronavirus in Hong Kong & Singapore

At this point coronavirus is well under control in both Hong Kong and Singapore.

Hong Kong has seen a total of under 5,400 cases and 107 deaths, and is now down to single digit new cases daily.

Singapore has seen a total of over 58,000 cases and 28 deaths. Singapore is down to single digit new cases daily, and hasn’t seen a single death in nearly a month.

As you can see, coronavirus is very much under control in Hong Kong and Singapore, especially compared to other places in the world.

Is this a step in the right direction, or…?

I’m sure many in Hong Kong and Singapore are excited to see travel start to reopen, especially in an objectively responsible and low-risk way.

This is probably also a model of what we should expect as more destinations open to tourists, especially those that have largely kept borders closed. I suspect we’ll see more bilateral agreements like this between low risk places, which are individually negotiated.

I love both Hong Kong and Singapore, and I can’t wait to visit again one day. What I’m not sure of is whether this development gets us one step closer to these places opening up on a widespread basis at some point in the future, or one step further away.

Also, I’m curious how you guys feel about this — are these testing requirements a bit over the top? Obviously both destinations have to be commended for how well they’ve handled coronavirus, but in this situation:

  • We presumably all agree that both destinations have few coronavirus cases
  • We mostly agree that flying is fairly low risk when it comes to the spread of coronavirus, especially on a plane that exclusively has people traveling between two low risk areas
  • I see little incremental risk to this arrangement vs. people just going about their everyday lives, so are three separate coronavirus tests for a long weekend away a bit much?

Hong Kong will be opening to those from Singapore

Bottom line

Hong Kong and Singapore are establishing a travel bubble at the end of this month, allowing travel on specially designated flights in conjunction with up to three negative coronavirus tests. It’s great to see this concept finally come to life, and it’s certainly a cautious and low-risk way to restart travel.

Only time will tell if this is the way that travel reopens for more destinations that largely have coronavirus under control.

What do you make of this new Hong Kong & Singapore travel bubble, including the testing requirements?

  1. “What I’m not sure of is whether today’s announcements gets us one step closer to these places opening up on a widespread basis at some point in the future, or one step further away.”

    Definitely not a step closer to them opening up to the world. The fact that it has taken them this long to get an agreement worked out between each other–two localities that have their shit together when it comes to dealing with Covid–indicates we’re nowhere close to them allowing in people from places which haven’t dealt as well with the virus.

  2. Morgan – I think “starting to be implemented” is a bit of a reach! New Zealand is not allowing Australians to enter, Australia will shortly let Kiwis visit two states but they will have to hotel quarantine at a cost of $3000 on their return.

    I can’t imagine anything getting close to being a meaningful “bubble” opening until next year.

  3. I think that leisure destinations will only see an increased demand if they reopen without conditions like quarantine or a testing requirement.
    I travelled to several international destinations during the pandemic and only those without such requirements were able to attract tourists.
    I personally would not travel to any countries with testing requirements. There are many beautiful countries without such restrictions in place. In two or three months most countries will have learned that tourists won‘t accept such conditions for travel. Therefore I expect that such travel bubbles will be scrapped and tourists will be allowed to enter from anywhere without a testing requirement.

  4. @Kevin Yes yes we all understand how important you and your countrymen are and the whole world is grovelling for your tourist dollars. How can wealthy Asian cities and states like Hong Kong and Singapore possibly survive without you? /s

    All these destinations have spent tons of money and gone to great lengths to get COVID under control. They don’t care about what you want, they do care about keeping case counts low.

  5. The issue for many expats living in SE Asia is that the bubble is not between paired countries, it is between paired passport holders.


  6. @Kevin Those wealthy Asian countries spending tons of money to keep their people stay safe from covid, they don’t need your tourist money

  7. @Kevin, not sure where you are from, but I am American and do not blame in the least those countries whose restrictions are stringent for crossing their borders. As well publicized everywhere, Infections rates in America and many parts of Europe are not under control, in sharp contrast to many Pacific rim nations. Rightfully so, they should restrict entry or deny it entirely until we can get the virus under control. Tourist dollars are important but not at the expense of public health. Heck, right now we Americans cannot even travel to Canada. And who can blame them? Two nations side by side, very different governmental leaders and the results speak for themselves.

  8. @JRL that you are wrong. The article explicitly says residents of both countries, resident meaning whoever who holds a valid visa to be in that particular country. And don’t try arguing, I live in Singapore.

  9. Hey, don’t worry. We will be enjoying all the benefits of Herd Mentality for a long, long time. That’s better than bubbles, and you never have to wear a mask.

    Thank you, brilliant Republicans!

  10. Even singapore and china & MY have travel lanes before today for biz travelers. Soon korea and japan will follow suit.

  11. (To be less cryptic: I expect far more people fleeing HKG for SIN than making the trip the other way. Think Berlin in the early 1960s. And, eventually, Beijing will notice and shut it down.)

  12. @Hal of course you had to bring propaganda into this. Entry into Singapore fro HK has been permitted for a while, just with mandatory quarantine. Do you really think that a quarantine would stop somebody from leaving a place they’re trying to “escape”?

    I don’t agree a bit with what’s happening in Hong kong, but I look at facts, not at politician’s lies. Singapore limits the number of visas it gives, that’s what’s holding people back, not the lack of quarantine-free travel! If it doesn’t lead to a resurgence of COVID-19, this arrangement will only grow in size. Let’s hope it’s the case.

  13. Add a few more Asia-Pacific countries like Taiwan and Thailand, and maybe Japan + S.Korea (when they stop failing, compared to their peers), and I will seriously consider isolating in Hong Kong for 14 days, and then staying in Asia for the foreseeable future.

    Sick of the selfish individuals in the West ruining it for everyone else.

  14. Readers should note that any travel bubbles are predicated on reciprocal, almost zero infections/deaths, to work.
    It should be blindingly obvious that no sane country would even remotely consider the US for the establishment of a bubble, with all its benefits, for the foreseeable future.
    Never mind, you still have your FREEDOM! to stay at home instead. And for some placard wavers nothing trumps that! I do imagine that many of the aforesaid don’t venture too far from their trailer-parks though.

  15. @JRL Justin Ross Lee
    The travel bubble is open to all residents residing in both Hong Kong and Singapore regardless of nationalities.
    In fact, according to the published article in our local newspapers, it’s even open to anyone lived in either place for at least 14 days even if they are not a resident.

  16. I am looking forward to more of these travel bubbles. Australian PM is talking to Pacific Islands, Singapore, Japan and South Korea. Hopefully soon Australians can travel to these countries and spend our money, with our case numbers continue to go down. There is no way in hell I’m going to travel to the US or Europe any time soon. The infection rates are out of control!

  17. Ironically these are not the most well-controlled places in Asia. Vietnam and Taiwan are better controlled.
    Taiwan has had 15 new cases in the past 2 weeks. It has a population of 24 million. Singapore’s population doesn’t reach 6 million. Hong Kong’s population is 7.5 million. And guess what? Singapore and Hong Kong have way more new cases.
    I guess the reality is that somewhat well-controlled places will establish travel bubbles while the truly well-controlled places won’t.

  18. @james
    Although I agree with you that Vietnam & Taiwan have done a great job in controlling the virus, but overall many asian countries had been doing pretty well comparing to the rest of the world, not only the government but their people are taking it seriously. It is not totally fair to compare just the numbers of cases, but you need to consider the exposure. Singapore & HK are international cities… they have exposure with many countries having expats working in their cities, aviation hub, one of the top ports for shipping containers, etc… All these can cause traffic of people in and out of their country comparing to Vietnam and Taiwan. Also, Taiwan hasn’t tested enough people (only 98,000 tests). HK had almost done 3.6 million tests (that’s about half of their population) and SG had done 3.3 million tests. Recently Taiwan had been exporting virus to many countries such as Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, China, Vietnam, etc… so I am pretty sure they have some asymptomatic cases that haven’t been tested or counted.

    The idea is to slowly setting up travel bubble with enough testing and protocols in between countries.

  19. There has also been an increase of expats in HK applying for dependent visas for their parents living in western countries such as UK and US. The usual turn around time for these visas have increase to almost 8 -10 weeks. The travel bubble between HK and Singapore is probably aim more for families visiting each other rather than people actually visiting each country for the first time.

  20. Unfortunately, CX has said that if the bubble is “suspended” due to the 5 untraced rolling average, your flight will not be refunded but rather changed to a non-bubble flight and you will be subject to 7 days stay at home order (per current Gov regs) on arrival into Singapore and a 14 day quarantine on arrival in HK.

    I would love to support CX right now, but really?!?

  21. This is designed primarily for business travelers, and the cost of testing is a non event given the fact the average business traveler will not be paying for it anyway. You will see a small number of “leisure travelers” possibly taking advantage of this, but don’t expect much in the short term. The reality is this was designed with big dollar interests in mind.

  22. Well @lucky one small inaccurate thing – if you originate from Hong Kong and do a weekend trip to Singapore there should only required two tests.
    – Thursday night you take a PCR test in HK (~USD30)
    – You grab the Friday flight to SIN
    – Your Test in HK is valid through Sunday night, enough time for you to grab the Sunday flight back, then have another test in HKG (~USD65)
    So if you are doing weekend trip, you are looking into a 3D2N weekend with USD100 on testing…while not everybody would find it worth, it may not be as steep as described…

  23. This border fetish is fascinating. It’s almost as if people believed that virus likes to explore new cultures and takes lines on a map into account when choosing who to attack.

    If two locations have more or less the same spread, what’s the point of limiting movement between them? Random person from Hong Kong isn’t more likely to be infected than a random person from Singapore.

    This is silly and it’s not the way to reopen.

  24. This only works because people there listen and follow guidelines that are in place. As strict and as overly cautious as it is. It works. In the United States it won’t work. Ppl are too selfish and unwilling to give up their “freedom” and it doesn’t help to have a leader calling it a hoax.

  25. This should be their policy for the rest of the world, not for another country with near zero cases. Singapore’s economy is unsustainable without access to the world. These 3 tests with a few days quarantine would open it back up to the world with minimal risk and make it massively competitive with the rest of Asia – it’d be a boom for them. Singapore – safely open to the world.

  26. The prudent approach by HK and SIN is exactly the reason why HK and SIN both have somehow got COVID under control and the reason why the countries where people think it is “too much” have universally become COVID hotspots. Take this as an exception to the norm “no visitors welcome” due to very high number of business travellers who need to travel between SIN and HKG frequently.

  27. Residents of these 2 metropolitan areas have sacrificed their personal freedoms during quarantine and keeping the disease spread in check many months after initial lock down. Now, they get to reap in the benefits of freedom of movement.

    Why aren’t Americans (and the rest of the world) following their lead? Science over politics.

  28. Speaking from a Singaporean’s perspective, while the 3 cumulative (and uncomfortable) tests may seem a tad bit excessive, it is a carefully designed policy to ensure the public health of both societies. The last thing we want is another lockdown (looking at you, U.K.)…

    Arguably a weekend getaway seems a little unrealistic for now, but if tried and proven, this could be the first step for many other countries to resume international travel in a safe and cautious manner.

    Sadly, does anyone know what is the refund policy in the event the rolling average >5?

  29. @KK

    Anyone who would say “science over politics” understands neither. Science cannot tell us how to make decisions and abrogating the freedoms of citizens is a purely political matter.

    The logo of Singapore’s People’s Action Party was directly inspired by that of the British Union of Fascists. I hope I don’t need to explain to you the nature of the ruling party in China.

  30. I am from Singapore, and while I have no immediate plans to travel to Hong Kong, we all feel re-assured by this step taken by both our Government and the Hong Kong Government. The arrangement is complicated when compared to pre-COVID era, but in the current situation, it is simply re-assuring to see how our Governments are thinking about sustainable yet extremely safe measures to re-open our borders. We know many people from different regions of the World may think that these requirements are “over the board”, but this is precisely the reason why we feel really safe in our home countries despite whatever that’s happening elsewhere. As you have rightfully pointed out, the testing requirements may be slightly exaggerated, but in all of our humble opinions, I am sure most Singaporeans and Hong Kong-ers feel that these requirements are inevitable and definitely needed. The air travel bubble should be the first step forward to a safe re-opening of borders, it should not become an excuse to travel freely again taking the low number of new daily cases for granted. Whatever measures placed in place should be done cautiously, and taken in a step-by-step manner. The air travel bubble should not eventually be causing more new cases in either of our cities. Such prudence, is precisely the key reason that made us feel highly confident with our Government’s response to this pandemic.

    Hopefully, more people can be welcomed into our Countries again, soon. Stay safe, everyone!

  31. I don’t think it’s too much of a hassle to do the testing required. I prefer the testing over going through the quarantine. It’s a first step in order to open up careful and make it safer. It’s easier to do the test than let’s say applying for a travel visa for some people. Plus the testing is for your own good. Don’t you want to know if you are COVID free when traveling now-a-days?

  32. I’m not going to travel to any country when they ask for all of that :/ I’m visiting countries that are not asking for the virus test. I went to Mexico. Dominican Republic, I’m going to Colombia soon, and then Costa Rica.
    Those countries feels like back to normal, of course you need to wear the mask, etc.

  33. New Zealander here. The reason these two locations have COVID “under control” is not wishful thinking or exceptionalism. It’s because they have combined strict border restrictions and mandatory quarantine with contact tracing and a determination to “stamp out” any small resurgences that do occur. In NZ this has involved genomic sequencing and CCTV footage to forensically identify the precise origins of any case that emerges in the community (which so far have all been traced back to border workers). There is pretty strong public support for these measures as we know this is the reason why we have sport, theatre, concerts, school graduations and balls and domestic tourism all proceeding as normal. There are economic consequences to border restrictions, of course, but overall the NZ economy has done better that it would have with uncontrolled COVID. It’s hard for those in parts of the world where their governments have taken a laissez faire approach to the virus to appreciate this. Citizens in these countries tend to treat the virus as an inevitable, mystical force that can’t be controlled and is lurking in the community no matter what. As our associate health Minister said on the radio recently experience has shown that “you can’t just have a little bit of COVID”.

  34. I live in Singapore. The 58K covid Cases were all credited to the Workers Dormitories (this is another fiascio altogether) In the community there are just a handful (i believed its ard 100
    + ). Back to the Travel bubble. In Singapore, We are opening Clubs and Bars in a Trial run soon. And pre-requisite to Visit the nightlife establishments is… drumroll a COVID test
    so what is being implemented for the Travel Bubble is pretty expected

  35. @ Betz Law

    Do you have a source for this? On the Cathay website I am reading that there are
    ‘free and unlimited changes to all new tickets issued between 9 March and 31 December 2020’.
    Nowhere it mentions separate rules for bubble flights.

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