- General Tips
- Travel Advisories
- Buying Tickets for Travel
- Leaving Singapore
- Carrying Hormones and Equipment
- Finding Accommodation Overseas
- Returning to Singapore
- International Driving License
- Travelling to the USA
- Know your rights. Before using the airline or airport (including transit airports), find out their policies on transgender passengers and search out other trans people’s experiences with them. If there are no specifics available and you think you might run into problems, you can email them to ask, or, if it is convenient, switch destination/carrier.
- Stay with large carriers/international airports. Usually, big brands have trans-friendly policies. Notable exclusions are Dubai International Airport (avoid even transiting there if possible, as you may be deported or arrested). Muslim countries might raise issues for anything that might look like a sex toy (e.g., packers, dilators)
- Know the specific travel rules. Read up on the airline and airport’s travel policies regarding medication and medical equipment, along with policies on ID and boarding passes.
- Bring all available documentation. Deed polls, endocrinology letters, psychiatric letters, etc. In the event that you are stopped and questioned, documentation can serve as an effective communicator and proof of your identity.
- Try to have your photo ID match your current presentation as much as possible. If they only look at your name and photo, having a matching photo would help in smooth border-crossing.
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Some countries have enforced laws against LGBTQ people and you may risk deportation or arrest, especially if you are visibly transgender and have not legally changed your gender marker. Hate crimes are also a concern in areas with high levels of homophobia and transphobia. Many do not distinguish between homosexuality and being transgender.
The UK government has a page on foreign travel advice with in-depth information on each country and what laws (including those on sexual orientation and gender identity) may pose an issue for travellers.
The United Arab Emirates is particularly dangerous for transgender travellers. Homosexuality and cross-dressing are illegal there, and trans people have been arrested and jailed. Trans people transiting through Dubai International Airport have also been detained and subject to strip searches and genital examination for their appearance not matching the sex on their passport. Avoid stopping there if possible, especially if you are travelling alone.
The United States have recently seen a surge in anti-trans laws, especially but not only in Republican states, and a rise in violence targetting the trans community. Some states now make it illegal for you to use a public toilet or facilities that do not match your assigned gender, regardless of your transition status. Be careful when travelling through the US, especially if you are visibly transgender or have not changed your legal gender marker and may be outed as trans when seeking accommodation. Gender-segregated hostels may be especially dangerous in states where you have to use the toilet and showering facilities for a gender you may no longer look like, putting you at risk of violence.
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Buying Tickets for Travel
When purchasing tickets for travel, your details need to match those on your passport. In some cases, it may be possible for you to choose a gender-appropriate salutation to appear in their correspondences with you and on your boarding pass. For instance, a trans man who is still legally female will have to select the female option, but may be able to choose ‘Mr’ as the salutation, which is what will appear on his boarding pass, reducing the chances of encountering trouble at the border. Airlines where this has worked include Qantas and Cathay Pacific.
This is not always possible with Singapore Airlines. If you have an existing Krisflyer account in your legal sex, booking tickets from the website will not allow you to choose a salutation that does not match. While some trans people have successfully flown with a boarding pass salutation that matched their appearance rather than passport, others have also been made to pay to revert the salutation and reprint their boarding pass. This cost can be as high as $200 or more, depending on the passenger class; fees tend to be higher for cheaper flights.
It is possible that SIA has since become more lenient, but you will have to decide for yourself if you would rather risk the cost of being potentially made to reprint your boarding pass, or the greater scrutiny and possible danger of outing yourself. Your transition stage would be one factor to take into account, as well as what country you are travelling to and how safe it is for trans people.
Other airlines may have similar policies, so act with caution.
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In general, leaving Singapore with mismatching documentation and presentation is not that much of an issue. Border officials will mainly be looking to check if the name on the passport matches the name on the boarding pass. They will also look at the photograph on your passport and attempt to match it to your face, so if your photograph is up to date and resembles you, there should be no issue. They will generally not look at the sex listed on your passport.
Border control and gate security will have also had experience with transgender individuals, and probably see more of us than we think. For this reason, even if one’s photo does not completely match one’s face, there usually will not be an issue.
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Carrying Hormones and Equipment
If you will be away for a period of time and need to bring hormones with you on a flight, these should be put into your carry-on luggage for safety, especially for testosterone – the freezing temperatures and rough handling conditions might break vials and damage the medication. Needles and syringes must be checked-in, as they are not allowed in the cabin.
Before travelling with medication, have your healthcare provider write you a letter explaining your prescription. This need not mention that you are trans. Most of the time, you will not need to present this letter, but it is always good to have it as a backup in case you are questioned, especially if you are carrying a large quantity of medication. Testosterone in particular is considered a controlled substance and might cause issues if you have no doctor’s letter justifying your possession of it.
For trans men, travelling with packers in carry on luggage may present problems if they are deemed sex toys and prohibited from being brought into the country.
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Finding Accommodation Overseas
Most if not all hotels, hostels, inns and Airbnb hosts will require you to present some form of photo ID when checking in. Japan requires all registered hosts to make and keep a photocopy of your passport. If you have transitioned but not legally changed your sex, this risks outing you to strangers. This may have consequences, such as them refusing to let you stay and leaving you stranded in a foreign country without accommodation. The risk is higher with smaller businesses or individual hosts who do not have a brand reputation to protect.
As such, if you are travelling with cis people, it is usually best that they make the reservations so as to avoid any potential trouble when checking in. If you are travelling solo or with an all-trans group, it would be good to have some kind of backup plan just in case you are denied accommodation after arrival.
If you are visibly trans or have mismatched documents, we recommend that you stick to large brand names as much as possible, as these are more likely to have trans-friendly policies in place that can protect you. Trans-friendly hotel chains include Mariott, Hyatt and Hilton; the downside is that they tend to cost a lot more. Do register your travel with MHA, and take note of the contact information for the local Singapore Embassy.
Depending on your destination, you may be able to find guides for LGBTQ travellers on where to stay. Do note however that not all gay-friendly locations are necessarily welcoming to trans people as well. A Singaporean trans woman had her Airbnb booking instantly cancelled after she presented her photo ID, even though the host was described as LGBTQ-friendly and there had been no problems up to the point they found out she was trans. Airbnb technically has rules against discriminating against LGBTQ travellers, but violations still occur.
Hostels often have sex-segregated bathroom facilities and sometimes dormitories or floors, which could pose a safety problem if you have not legally changed your sex and are assigned a room or floor with the other gender. You may wish to call up to enquire, or look for mixed-sex or private rooms. Alternatively, during check in they may assume they made a mistake and change your room accordingly.
Hostel shower facilities do not always have locks on the doors, particularly in the men’s bathrooms. On rare occasions, they may only have communal showers, as is the case for some hostels in Japan. If you are a trans man who has not undergone top and/or bottom surgery, and safety is a concern, consider showering at odd hours of the day when there are unlikely to be others around. You could also consider showering with a loose swimsuit on (or a thin T-shirt and underwear). This is apparently not uncommon for cis people who are uncomfortable with communal showers, so doing so might not necessarily make you stand out.
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Returning to Singapore
If you have a biometric passport, you will not have to go through border security to get back into the country, as the process is automated. In the unlikely event that you have to cross border security, explaining the situation if questioned should be enough to let you pass through.
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International Driving License
The name on your international driving license name has to match the one on your Singapore driving license. This is not automatically updated from your NRIC name change. You will need to update the Land Transport Authority (LTA), change your Singapore license, and then reapply for your international driving license.
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Travelling to the USA
Travellers to the US will have to go through TSA security. The TSA has put up a page addressing concerns for transgender passengers.
As part of the screening process, travellers may have to walk through an imaging portal that produces a generic outline of a person. When you enter the portal, the TSA officer will press a button for male or female, depending on how you present yourself. The machine scans male and female bodies differently and produces an alert where anomalies are discovered, which presents a problem for many transgender people. Foreign objects such as prosthetics and binders will commonly set off alarms and result in you being flagged for a pat-down. However, a lack of expected body parts does not typically get you flagged. Some people choose to inform the TSA officer ahead of time that they are transgender.
If you choose not to be screened by the portal, you will instead be given a pat-down by an officer of the gender by which you present yourself. You can request that this be done in a private screening area with a witness of your choosing, and you should not be asked to remove or lift your clothing to reveal any sensitive areas. If you are likely to be flagged by the scanner and chosen for a pat-down, you might as well choose that option from the start.
You are advised not to wear prostheses such as breast forms or packers, or to bind. If you do, inform the TSA officer ahead of the screening process. You will not be required to remove them, but you may be required to lift, raise or lower your clothing. You may request for this to be done in a private area. You may also remove your prostheses prior to the screening and submit them through the X-ray.
Trans men who bind might consider going through the screening without binding, but carry your binder in your check-in luggage instead and put it on during the flight when you’ve gone through the security checks.
Additional resources for transgender travellers going to and from the US are listed below; travellers to other countries may also find them useful:
- Know Your Rights: Airport Security
- Tips for Transgender Travellers
- A trans* guide for staying safe while traveling
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