Tue. Dec 7th, 2021
How to get a Covid test for travel and how much they cost


What about rapid tests? 

Some countries, such as Italy, accept rapid lateral flow/antigen tests as well as ‘gold standard’ PCR tests. Boots offers a rapid testing service at more than 50 stores for £59.99, with results typically available in as little as an hour and uploaded to an online portal. Elsewhere, 15MinCovidTest has locations across England and offers antigen tests with fit-to-fly certificates for £44.98.

Be sure to check the exact entry requirements of the country you are visiting before booking a rapid test. 

Do children need to take tests for travel?

Different countries have varying entry rules for children. Many, including France, Spain, Portugal and Greece require unvaccinated children over the age of 12 to have taken an antigen or PCR test. 

In terms of returning to the UK, children under 10 do not have to take a pre-departure test and those under four are not subject to a ‘day two’ PCR test. However, children of all ages must take the tests if adults in household are taking part in the ‘test to release’ scheme.

What happens if your PCR results don’t arrive in time?

With most countries requiring certificates issued no longer than 72 hours before departure, time is of the essence. 

Most companies guarantee a 48-hour turnaround, although it’s worth checking the terms as some offer a long window. In the event that the results are delayed, there’s not a lot to be done. Test companies should (and generally do) offer full refunds, but without a certificate travel plans will have to be altered or cancelled.

That said, for late-planners and victims of laboratory bungles, a few companies do offer same-day results. The London General Practice offers test dispatch 24 hours a day, seven days a week and promises results the same day – if swabs are returned by 12pm. The service also includes a follow-up video consultation with a doctor and costs £165 (plus a hefty delivery fee). 

For a last-gasp in-person PCR test, DocTap has a four-hour results option available at London Bridge, Chelsea, Highbury and Islington and Heathrow airport. The service costs £149. 

What tests do I need when returning to the UK?

Under the new regime, effective since October 4, double-jabbed travellers from ‘safe’ countries no longer have to take any sort of test before they get on a flight home from overseas; and from late October, only a lateral flow on their second day back in the UK, rather than a costly PCR test.

Vaccinated travellers need:

  • A PCR or (from late October) a lateral flow test, taken within 48 hours of arriving back in the UK
  • To complete a Passenger Locator Form before returning to the UK

Unvaccinated travellers need:

  • To self-isolate for 10 days
  • A Covid test before boarding a flight home
  • To complete a Passenger Locator Form before returning to the UK
  • A PCR test within 48 hours of arriving back in the UK and another Covid test on day eight

How do I get a test before returning to England?

If you are not fully vaccinated, you must have proof of a negative Covid-19 test to travel to England from abroad. This must be taken no more than three days before travel but can be either a LAMP, lateral flow or PCR test. 

FCDO advice pages contain information on where to find local test providers in different countries. Tour operators, airlines and hotels can also advise on how to book these tests.

How do I get a day two test when I arrive back in England?

Before you arrive in England, you must book a PCR test that takes place on or before day two of your return (the day you arrive is day 0). The test booking reference needs to be filled in on your passenger locator form to prove it has been ordered. You’ll need to show your form when you check in to travel to the UK.

Similarly to outbound tests, this must be booked through a private test provider, though the Government sets out a different list of companies that should be used for returning travellers. Providers will flag which tests should be used for returning travellers, with companies such as Randox offering ‘day two’ at-home tests, plus ‘test to release’ packages for unvaccinated travellers. Prices tend to be similar to any required outbound tests, for example Boots offers ‘day two’ home tests for £75. 

Arrivals can also take a test at a clinic or drive-through site. Randox has various airport centres where arrivals can take their required test (for £60).

Children aged four and under do not need to take this test.

How accurate are PCR tests?

There is some debate about the accuracy of home tests versus those performed at a clinic, as people could self-administer the test incorrectly. However, as the Government itself sends out a huge number of home tests every day, one would hope there is faith in the accuracy. 

Travel health specialist Dr Richard Dawood says that test accuracy is “very good” and suggests that potential problems with the certificate system lie elsewhere, with timings and complex flight routings.

However, with any coronavirus test there is also the possibility that your sample might prove inconclusive. Private Harley Street Clinic says: “Sample failure is rare, but if this happens, the sample needs to be repeated which takes another 24 hours. If the second repeat fails again, a brand-new collection is required.”

It remains unclear how quickly after exposure to the virus you might test positive. The NHS says the optimal time to get a test is within the first five days of symptoms, with less clarity on the pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. It is not unthinkable, therefore, that you have your in-date coronavirus certificate, but then start showing symptoms on the way to the airport.

Is the price of travel testing set to be reduced?

Following mounting pressure from travel bosses and holidaymakers, the Government has confirmed UK holidaymakers will benefit from cheaper travel testing packages, with the price of some tests to fall by a fifth.

The cost of NHS Test and Trace tests for international arrivals for example, which are advertised alongside private companies and administered through Corporate Travel Management (CTM), has been reduced from £88 to £68 for fully vaccinated arrivals, and from £170 to £136 for two tests for arrivals who are not fully vaccinated.

The Health Secretary has also announced there will be a rapid internal review of the pricing and service standards of all providers. Any misleading pricing will be clamped down on and the misleading listing will be removed.

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