The Government has reduced the testing requirements for vaccinated holidaymakers, however all travellers returning to the UK still need to take at least one Covid test.
Furthermore, certain countries still require even double-jabbed arrivals to show evidence of a recent negative Covid test, while the unvaccinated must take tests to gain entry to almost all destinations.
All holidaymakers must also take tests when they return to the UK, however this system has been simplified for those returning to England. Pre-departure tests were scrapped for the fully vaccinated from October 4. And from October 24, they will only need to take a lateral flow test on day 2 of their arrival, as opposed to a more costly PCR test.
Travellers will be able to order cheaper lateral flow tests from private testing providers, offering faster results – these can be booked from 22 October, when a list of approved private providers will go live. Passengers will need to take a photo of their lateral flow test and booking reference supplied by the private provider and send it back to them to verify the result, or take a test on arrival to the UK at a centre at an airport.
“We want to make going abroad easier and cheaper, whether you’re travelling for work or visiting friends and family,” said Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid.
Meanwhile, unvaccinated travellers must still take a Covid test before boarding a flight home, take a PCR test within 48 hours of arriving back in the UK and another test on day 8.
Here, we break down how the respective tests work and what to look out for when booking one this autumn.
How do I get a PCR test to travel abroad?
With free NHS tests reserved for those with symptoms, travellers must book private tests (where required by their destination). There are two options: ordering a home test kit or booking an appointment at a clinic/drive-through test centre. To help simplify the process and make pricing more transparent, the Government has launched an official Covid test comparison website. The list provides travellers with information on the cheapest, quickest and most efficient Covid test companies in their region – advertised prices range from £20 to £399.
Note there are different lists of providers for outbound and inbound Government-required tests.
For outbound travel, most home kits will arrive within 24 hours and should be sent back the same day. They will then be analysed in a lab and you should receive your results within 48 hours – various companies have different guarantees.
If your test is negative, you should then be sent a certificate declaring you Covid-free. However, it is not always clear how much information is required in each country. Some companies, such as the highly rated Corona Test Centre, whose home kits cost £129, ease fears with example certificates online, which are doctor-signed and include the name, address and telephone number of both the laboratory and company, plus the name, date of birth and passport number of the recipient. When ordering a kit, it is certainly worth clarifying what will be detailed on your certificate. Printing out a copy of your results is also a good idea, – in case technology fails at the airport.
Among the cheaper at-home test providers for outbound travel are Randox (£48) and Eurofins (£44.90). Tests can also be purchased (usually at a reduced rate or with discount codes) through airlines including BA, Ryanair and Easyjet.
Otherwise tests at clinics tend to have a quicker turnaround. Harley Street Health Centre in London, which offers tests for £99, guarantees results by 8pm the next day. More broadly, DocTap has a network of clinics across London and offers a range of coronavirus tests, including a same-day option, for £124.
Beyond the capital, Boots has launched a PCR testing service in 100 stores across the country. It promises results within 48 hours and is currently priced at £85. The advice to customers is to book appointments for between 60-72 hours before their flights.
Another option is Vivo Clinics, which has PCR testing centres in 23 UK cities and charges from £119 for its standard service, or from £144 for same-day results.
Gatwick has a drive-though test centre where PCR tests cost only £60 for passengers, though with results generally provided the next day this would mean two trips to the airport. At Heathrow travellers can use a service that promises to turn test results around within three hours.
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. Read more on what the new travel rules mean for under 18s here.
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. There’s also an increasing number of quick-turnaround services available at airports, including Heathrow.
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 October 24, 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 October 24) 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. Some private providers offer test packages that you can take away with you and complete over video call, before a certificate if emailed to you.
How do I get a day two lateral flow test when I arrive back in England?
Before you arrive in England, you must book a 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.
From October 24 if you are fully vaccinated this can be a lateral flow test. On October 22 the Government will publish a list of approved private testing providers. On their return home passengers will need to take a photo of their lateral flow test and booking reference supplied by the private provider and send it back to them to verify the result. Passengers are also able to book to have a test which they can take on their arrival into the UK at testing centres located in some airports.
Double-jabbed travellers that have already bought a PCR for travel after October 24 do not need to buy another test. Children aged four and under do not need to take this test.
How do I get a day two and eight PCR test when I arrive back in England?
As above, unvaccinated travellers must also book tests, to take place on day two and eight of their return to the UK and provide booking references on their passenger locator form.
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 ‘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).
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 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.