As we talk with our clients, many have expressed that they would love to begin traveling as soon as it is safe. At this time, officials around the world are doing everything they can to discourage international travel to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But caring for family members who are ill can make traveling essential, even in times like this. Linda Tjiputra, an advisor on our team, has just returned from an international trip to Indonesia where she helped care for her dad after his recent surgeries.
Here is the story of her adventure of international travel during a pandemic and don't miss her list of "International Pandemic Travel Takeaways!"
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A Story of COVID-19 International Travel
Linda grew up in Indonesia and her dad, an older brother and other family members still live there. Her dad recently suffered a fall and injured his knee which required knee replacement surgery. Linda’s dad turns 80 this year and the family decided that he needed extra care during his recovery for follow-up doctor visits, taking blood tests and physiotherapy sessions. Linda was called into action and volunteered to travel from the San Francisco Bay Area to Indonesia to be there for her dad after a couple big surgeries.
Indonesia's Pandemic Travel Requirements
Like most other countries, Indonesia only allows essential travel at this time and non-citizens are not allowed to enter the country unless they are permanent residents, hold a work visa, or in Linda’s case, a medical visa for a family member.
In preparation for her trip, Linda’s brother had to sponsor her to verify that her trip was for family medical reasons and the special visa took a little over three weeks to obtain.
A negative COVID-19 PCR test taken 72 hours prior to flight was required. Even getting an appointment for a test was a challenge during the surge in COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area in December. Linda had to reschedule her travel plans to accommodate the testing but ultimately prevailed and was cleared to travel and as an extra precaution bought travel insurance that covered COVID-19.
Linda flew from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) directly to Narita in Tokyo on ANA Airlines and noticed a small number of people at the airport. At check-in, they asked what country she was travelling to upon which she had to show her visa and negative PCR test result; however, her temperature was not checked at the security point.
On the flight, in the Premium Economy section, there were only 6 people in the 24 seats available and the Economy section was about 70% full. People wore masks, as it is required, and many people also wore face shields, which the airline recommended. Linda chose to wear her 3M goggles and her KN95 mask.
Boarding the plane was based on where your seats were with the back of the plane boarding first. Right before you entered the plane, there was a table where each passenger could get their individually wrapped mask, toothbrush, and wet wipes.
The meal was served in what Linda called “super-fast mode”. All meals were individually wrapped with no warm bread being offered down the aisle. Linda felt it was a safety measure for the airline to be able to server and clean up fast.
Her plane landed at the Narita International Airport in Tokyo, where only about 30% of the stores were open. After a 2-hour layover, Linda flew from Tokyo to Jakarta, Indonesia, again on ANA airlines, this time with only 27 people on the whole airplane.
Inside the Jakarta airport, people arriving had to fill out a health form asking if they had any of the COVID-19 symptoms. As soon as Linda was out of the plane, there were 3 lines of chairs, spaced 6 feet apart, to screen all new arrivals for possible symptoms. Each person’s temperature, heart rate and oxygen level were checked before new arrivals could progress to the immigration desk with a PASS stamp on their health forms. Linda passed all her tests and officially arrived.
After about 24 hours of travel, Linda finally arrived at her Jakarta destination. She completed a 5-day self-quarantine in her husband’s family home, which was empty, with only one caretaker. About a week after Linda arrived, Indonesia changed the rules requiring all new arrivals to stay for 5 days in a designated facility administered by the Indonesian Government. Luckily, Linda arrived before this was required, so she could self-quarantine in the house.
After her quarantine was complete, she took a same day PCR test, where the test is administered in the morning and results are provided by the evening. With all this behind her, she was finally ready to see her dad the next day.
Life in Jakarta
Linda’s dad had surgery the day after she arrived, but she was unable to see him until after her self-quarantine was finished. Her dad had both knee and hip surgeries, which later we were thankful to find out, were both successful. Linda spent the next few weeks taking her dad to doctor visits at the hospital, to physiotherapy sessions, and helping him with his daily recovery. Linda is happy to report that he is doing well now and able to walk very slowly without crutches.
Jakarta is 15 hours ahead of Pacific Time and Linda often found herself working in the middle of the night until early morning helping clients. The time difference and slow internet speeds made the remote work especially challenging.
While Indonesia is not on lockdown, there is considerable spread of the virus. Linda wore double masks with goggles or a face shield when helping her Dad. She also avoided dining out and grocery shopping and only did pickup or delivery for meals.
Finally, on February 10, 2021, with her dad making good progress with his recovery with a full-time caregiver at home, it was time for Linda to fly home.
The Way to San Jose
After many cancellations from ANA Airlines for not enough passengers, Linda decided to buy a new ticket home on Singapore Airlines. They had a flight from Jakarta to Singapore and then a connecting long-haul flight (13.5 hours) from Singapore direct to San Francisco. Singapore Airlines had also already vaccinated all their pilots and flight attendants.
Linda started preparing for her trip home by getting a PCR test as required, within the 72 hours prior to her departure. Although Linda was able to check-in online on her flights, they would not print a boarding pass for a passenger until all the requirements were met by Singapore Airlines.
It took 30 minutes to check-in as they verified the negative PCR test was from an accredited institution and ensured all the required information was provided: name, date of birth, passport number and date of test. They also required travelers to sign an attestation form that all the information on the required documents was accurate.
On top of that, if the passenger’s final destination is Singapore, a 14-day quarantine is required with multiple PCR tests conducted in designated hotels, and possession of approved health insurance. It’s no wonder Singapore has close to zero community spread.
In Singapore, the airport was again quite empty, like the other airports on the trip. As each person arrived on a plane at the Singapore Airport, each passenger who is in transit, was given a green wristband on the right hand, and temperature was taken with a monitored computer system. Then, all the transit passengers from this flight were ushered to a special transit area for people transiting from one flight to another.
Linda called it a “Mini Quarantine” area. Bottled water was provided as well as a hot food vending machine, in addition to being able to order food using a smart phone by scanning QR codes. Linda used contact-free payment with her ApplePay. There was plenty of space, so social distancing was not an issue in this area and all the airport staff wore full PPE, with double masks, plus goggles or face shields, and they took regular PCR tests.
After 4 hours and 40 minutes, an airport staff member called and ushered Linda to the gate to board her final Singapore Airlines flight of the trip, on an Airbus 350 airplane. There were only 8 passengers on the flight, with 12 crew. Luckily, there were enough passengers so that this flight was not cancelled. Singapore Airlines also provided a care kit bag, filled with a face mask, antibacterial wipes, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer gel. Linda felt quite safe on this flight, but she still cleaned her seating area.
Back in the USA
When Linda’s flight arrived back home in SFO, there were two other flights that landed at the same time. Hundreds of people were funneled into the immigration area inside the San Francisco Airport. She said it reminded her of the crowds when waiting in lines at an amusement park, in the days before the pandemic.
To enter the US, the current rules are that a negative PCR test is required 72 hours before arrival, and a Health Form that she filled out once she boarded the plane, but no one checked for her proof of a negative PCR test, nor the completed health form and there were also no temperature checks. Fortunately, Linda was able to use her Global Entry pass to skip the longer lines and escape the crowded immigration area.
Linda is now back in her own home. Her husband and son are living at her in-law’s house, so she can complete the 10-day quarantine required in Santa Clara County. She will finish her quarantine by getting a PCR test before the end of this week.
This whole trip was quite an adventure for Linda, and she wonders how we ever traveled before the pandemic.
When we asked Linda for some of the key takeaways she had from this trip, she reflected and noted the following:
- Do not travel internationally now unless it is essential
- Check the airline and country websites regularly for documents needed and special instructions, as they can change often and at any time
- Make multiple copies of your required documents and take pictures with your phone
- Buy Travel Insurance that also covers COVID, should you need hospitalization, etc. and buy longer coverage than your return date, as your flight may get cancelled. Linda’s trip was 7 weeks, but she bought a 3-month policy of $150,000 of coverage. It only cost $100 more for premium than a 2-month policy
- Check on your flights regularly as they can be cancelled at any time if there are too few passengers booked on the flight. It is best to purchase tickets directly through the airline websites instead of other third-party online travel websites to ensure you get updates and can call the airlines directly for any problems
- When in the airport, check your departure gate regularly, as they may change quickly
- Bring extra face masks, hand-sanitizer, and clean clothes in case of flight delays or cancellation. Per TSA rule, a passenger can bring one bottle of liquid hand sanitizer up to 12 oz. in carry-on luggage
- If you need to work during your essential trip, buy a portable Wi-Fi hotspot and upgrade your phone service to cover international calls and web browsing
- Apply for Global Entry. It costs $100 and it will be worth it to have the TSA precheck and Global Entry line when you return internationally. It does require an application and brief interview, but the status is good for five years and worth the effort if you have future international travel in your plans. Note: it used to take a few months to apply and schedule the interview and Linda’s son just got his in less than a week!
We're happy to report that Linda stayed healthy and COVID free during her trip. We're all glad she's back. Welcome home Linda!
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Our Financial Journey Partners office is based in San Jose, California. We have clients that live in many states across the country. If you have questions about your investments or financial situation, call us to schedule time to talk about your specific situation.
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