#HackIt | Budgeting | Personal Finance | Travel | Article

It Doesn’t Need to Be Very Expensive: How to Keep Cost Low with VTL Travel

by Yoga Kavinesh | 27 Jan 2022 | 6 mins read

[UPDATED: 16 FEB 2022]
New travel testing requirements for VTL travellers have been updated on 16 February 2022. The compulsory PCR test after landing in Singapore has now been changed to a supervised self-swab ART test instead. Testing from Day 2 to Day 7 after arrival in Singapore is also no longer required. Read here for more information on new testing protocols. 


It’s not been easy to be stuck in Singapore for the last two years, especially since most of us (me included) were used to taking overseas vacations. Hence, when the Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) finally took off, like many other Singaporeans, I was keen to hop on a plane again.

However, I was wary that it might cost a pretty penny. After all, there are now more procedures and tests involved, and even travel insurance costs had gone up.

But while I was expecting costs to be much higher than before, I was pleasantly surprised that it was less than I had budgeted for it and not too much higher than pre-COVID-19 days.

Determining my destination

After more than a year of being restricted to staying in Singapore, all I wanted was an overseas vacation and I wasn’t too fussed about where I was headed to. Hence I let market forces and the price of tickets to the various VTL destinations decide where I would go.

After hours of reading endless government advisories and comparing prices, on 13 October 2021, I booked an economy return ticket to Paris at the end of the year for S$958.10 — a price that is not too dissimilar from before the pandemic. Keeping my destination and dates flexible allowed me to take advantage of lower prices.


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Make Your Dollar Travel Further

Keeping my savings intact

As most of us haven’t travelled for almost two years due to the travel freeze, it is tempting to choose travel without worrying about costs. However, I decided that it was important to set a travel budget before making any other plans and bookings. And it proved to be very useful in controlling my spending, while still being able to enjoy myself.

Where to stay

After planning my itinerary, I started the task of looking at accommodation. To make the most of my buck, I reviewed hotel aggregators, shared accommodation providers, and considered credit card promotions (which had as much as a 20% discount!) before making any bookings. During my search, I was pleasantly surprised that some hotels/hosts were offering lower prices than I had anticipated – perhaps because many are still wary of travelling.

To avoid unexpected costs, I also ensured that any accommodation I booked was transparent about costs, including parking as I had planned to rent a car for a free and easy holiday.

Finally, and the most important, was that given the volatility of the situation, I made sure I read and reread all cancellation and refund policies before booking. In the end, my average accommodation cost was approximately S$68 per night per pax, while travelling in a group of two people during my trip.

Paying smart

Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of Fintech services dedicated to overseas transactions. As there is a risk of virus transmission via cash and the potential risk of theft, personal belongings, I turned to relying on a credit card for all payments.

When deciding which credit card to use, I looked into the fees and the exchange rates that I would be charged when using it overseas. I also tried to use cards with bonus miles or cashback for overseas spending to help reduce your cost.


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Include face masks in your packing list

While mask mandates differ from country to country, to err on the side of caution I decided to invest in higher quality masks for my trip. While this was an additional cost, it gave me a sense of protection and had the added function of keeping my nose warm as I travelled during the freezing winter.

I chose to buy all the masks I needed for my trip in Singapore as the price of masks might cost significantly more or worse, not be available at your destination. And even if they turn out to be cheaper, it’s more assuring to have them on hand, and it’s easier to work out the cost in my budget.

Testing costs

Regardless of which VTL country you are travelling to, multiple COVID tests are required. Some countries require a pre-departure test and/or on arrival tests, while others require further testing on day 3/5.

With the average cost of a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test in Singapore averaging around $120, these costs can quickly add up to a rather significant amount. If you need a pre-departure test, taking the test as early as allowed will allow you to save cost—last minute rapid PCRs test cost more than double the normal cost! There are also many clinics offering pre-departure tests, so do your research to find a ‘cheap-er’ centre and save money (I’ve seen tests for less than S$100!).

With regulations constantly changing, it is important to keep abreast of test validities. I managed to save cost by taking my pre-departure (from France) as an Antigen Rapid Test (ART), which is significantly cheaper than a PCR.  Additionally, with Singapore requiring an unsupervised test upon return on Day 2, 4, 5 and 6 (during the time of my trip), you might want to purchase test kits while overseas, if they are cheaper than Singapore and this will help you reduce costs.

Testing is the biggest additional cost for travel post-COVID, hence saving every cent counts. My total testing cost for my trip to France was S$194.00, as I didn’t need a pre-departure or on-arrival test when entering Paris. In comparison, a trip to Malaysia would cost around $400 in tests, so your destination plays a huge part in determining how much you would eventually spend.

With the right planning and budgeting in place, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to France; from a cruise on the River Seine to the views of Mont Blac, it was surreal to travel out of Singapore after nearly two years of no travel. While there are more things to consider cost wise when it comes to travelling now, with a bit of planning, budgeting, and luck – you too can enjoy an overseas’ holiday that doesn’t break your bank and gives you a much-deserved break.