Expat Preparation For International Travel During Entry-Restriction Period, What To Consider?

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Many countries have put travel restrictions in place in recent weeks and this often causes misunderstandings about who is actually allowed to enter a certain country.

A common misconception is that the Coronavirus-based travel restrictions are actually affecting anyone with a certain nationality which isn’t the case, it’s rather based on your travel history during the recent weeks.

Travelers residing in countries other than their nationality will likely have to make some arrangements if they plan to upkeep a travel schedule in order to comply with the restrictions put in place by some countries such as the U.S. where a 30 day immigration restriction has just been implemented, affecting all travelers with a recent travel history to Schengen countries.

Here is the original article John wrote about the U.S. travel restriction yesterday:

The proclamation of the U.S. Government reads as follows:

Section 1Suspension and Limitation on Entry.  The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the Schengen Area during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States is hereby suspended and limited subject to section 2 of this proclamation.

Sec. 2Scope of Suspension and Limitation on Entry.

(a)  Section 1 of this proclamation shall not apply to:

(i)     any lawful permanent resident of the United States;

(ii)    any alien who is the spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;

[further exceptions listed] …

An identical definition is listed in a new regulation for entry into Singapore:

In light of the rapid spread of the virus across Europe, the Ministry of Health (MOH) advises Singaporeans to defer all non-essential travel to Italy, France, Spain and Germany. The four countries have had very high numbers of cases and very high rates of increase. In addition, our existing advisory to defer all travel to Hubei province in mainland China, and non-essential travel to the rest of mainland China, Iran, Japan and the Republic of Korea, remains. …

Border restrictions

7.            Given the increase in imported cases from European countries, we are putting in place new border restrictions.

a.            From 15 March 2020, 23:59 hours, all new visitors with recent travel history to Italy, France, Spain and Germany within the last 14 days will not be allowed entry into Singapore, or transit through Singapore. 

b.            From 15 March 2020, 2359 hours, the following groups will be issued with a Stay-Home Notice (SHN):

i.              Residents (Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents) with recent travel history to Italy, France, Spain and Germany within the last 14 days; and

ii.             Long-term pass holders (including work passes, Student’s Pass, Dependant’s Pass, and Long-term Visit Pass) with recent travel history to Italy, France, Spain and Germany within the last 14 days. 

8.            Persons under SHN will have to remain in their place of residence at all times for 14 days after returning to Singapore.

9.            As previously announced, residents and long-term pass holders returning from mainland China (outside Hubei province2), Iran, and the Republic of Korea will continue to be issued a 14-day SHN upon return to Singapore.

10.          All these border restrictions are temporary, and will be reviewed regularly based on the global situation.

Singapore is taking decisive action which appears reasonable to me. Foreigners with travel history in risk prone areas are outright restricted and SG citizens as well as residents are going into self quarantine at home.

However the essential point here is the emphasis on “travel history” and not nationality.

This is an essential difference for Expats who aren’t living in their home country and can still travel to these places that have restrictions in effect.

How to prepare for travel?

I would expect a reasonable amount of scrutiny and questioning by immigration officers and possibly a secondary inspection during the immigration process to rule out that one has been in their home country recently as there obviously wont be any stamps in the passport.

Depending on the design of your passport, many countries have the option of letting the local embassy certify the residence abroad with an entry in the actual passport. This is also needed to claim the VAT back when buying something back home for example.

Here is how this looks like in a German passport:

The first entry was done manually by an Embassy employee when I first moved to Bangkok in 2013, the second one was printed automatically when I applied for a new passport. I had some issued in Tokyo as well and the design is the same no matter which foreign mission you apply at.

If your country doesn’t offer such entries in the passport you could always ask the embassy to issue you a Certification of Address letter that lists your local address. Other countries such as Japan have official resident cards that could prove your address. A utility bill is also an option.

Regardless of official documents I’d recommend to keep a diary of your whereabouts for the last 30 days and maybe some receipts of purchases along the way. Just to make your own life and that of immigration officials easier.

I’m not trying to sound paranoid here but the regulation wasn’t even out for an hour and there were the first discussions of how to trick the authorities and circumvent the rules. Maybe this is a case where we should all just comply with what has been put in place and not make a difficult situation even worse.

Sure you can fly on separate tickets tell an immigration official you just boarded from XYZ but these officers are experienced and know exactly how people try to slip through everyday. Providing false information can not only net you a denied entry but also a ban for future arrivals way beyond this Corona situation.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of people with European passports ends up in some form of secondary inspection in the U.S. and maybe even Singapore. There will be a lot of people in this room, maybe carry some masks.

Conclusion

Prepare yourself for additional hassle while traveling in the next couple of months, comply with regulations and try to make your own life easier.

Being prepared is always a good idea and being able to back up your travel history just helps to expedite your entry. I didn’t visit Europe since December and not planning to do so given the chaos that reigns there. While the Virus started in Asia I feel that the countries here are better prepared in their response based on experience with previous outbreaks such as SARS.

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