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What COVID-19 tests do you need to travel abroad?

Posted on July 19, 2021 by Vicky Smith
COVID-19 PCR test concept with passport

If you’re planning on a trip abroad this year, you’ll need to get the right COVID-19 tests to make your journey smooth.

Whether you’re jetting off to an amber list country or somewhere on the more lenient green list, you may be required to show proof of a negative test at various stages of your trip.

When it comes to figuring out what tests you may need to take, you’ll need to pay attention to two things:

  •   The need for testing at your destination.
  •   The need for testing on your return from that country to the UK.

Both of these will vary so double check what tests you’ll need at both ends.

The government’s Foreign Travel Advice page contains useful guidance on the rules for entering different countries.

What’s the difference between a PCR test and lateral flow test?

When it comes to travel there are two types of COVID-19 test you need to know about.

The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is considered the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to screening for COVID-19 because the test can pick up the virus at low levels.

The PCR test involves a swab of your nose and back of your throat. Results need to be processed in a lab and may take 24 hours or more to come back depending on your supplier and reliability of delivery.

An antigen test, also known as a rapid test or lateral flow test, is less reliable but often a quicker way of determining whether someone is infectious.

This also involves taking a swab of the nose and throat. You can get results within 30 minutes with some lateral flow test kits.

The antigen, or lateral flow test, is cheaper than the PCR test.

Mobile app concept showing covid-19 test results for travel

What COVID-19 tests do you need to take to travel abroad?

When it comes to going on a trip abroad from the UK the PCR test is the main one you will encounter.

Many countries ask you to provide proof of a negative PCR test for COVID-19 at least 72 hours before you leave the UK.

Spain has recently said (although subject to change) it will allow British tourists to travel there without any need for proof of a negative test. Other countries have indicated they will eventually follow suit, but for now most will need you to test before allowing you to cross the border.

Your return journey to the UK may need at least two tests, depending on where you are travelling from. 

What tests do you need for returning to the UK from green, amber and red countries?

All travellers arriving in the UK need to have proof of a negative test, taken 72 hours before travel, using either a PCR or an antigen test.

You should have written proof of your test result along with your name, date of birth, date of the test, name of the test provider and details on the type of test.

The exact number of tests you need after this depends on whether you’re coming back from a green, amber or red list country.

The government says you need to take a PCR test by day two after your return to the UK from a green list country. This needs to be booked before you travel, so you will need to show proof of purchase at the border.

There is an additional day eight PCR test needed for those travelling back from an amber list country. People returning from amber countries must quarantine for 10 days at home, but they can reduce their quarantine time if they take a negative PCR test on day five after returning to the UK through the Test to Release scheme.

The government has recently announced that from 19 July fully vaccinated travellers can return from amber list countries without the need to quarantine, or take a day 8 test.

Travellers from red list nations will need to pay for and stay in a managed quarantine hotel for 10 days. Day two and day eight tests are included in the £1,750 cost of hotel quarantine.

So, in summary, when returning to the UK from green, amber or red countries you will need:

Green:

  • An antigen or PCR test (find your destination country’s requirements through the government’s foreign travel advice) before travel.
  • PCR test on day two after landing back in the UK.

Amber:

  • An antigen or PCR test (find your destination country’s requirements through the government’s foreign travel advice) before travel.
  • PCR test on day two and day eight after landing back in the UK.

For fully vaccinated travellers

  • An antigen or PCR test (find your destination country’s requirements through the government’s foreign travel advice) before travel.
  • PCR test on day two after landing back in the UK.

Red (under hotel quarantine):

  • An antigen or PCR test (find your destination country’s requirements through the government’s foreign travel advice) before travel.
  • PCR test on day two after landing back in the UK.
  • PCR test on day eight after landing back in the UK.

Children under 11 are exempt from testing.

How much do COVID-19 tests for travel cost?

The cost of testing for travel varies massively. Some private clinics charge as much as £200 or more for one PCR test.

Some travel companies have put together testing packages at a reduced price to make it more affordable for customers.

Where can I get COVID-19 tests for travelling?

Depending on where you are travelling to, the costs of COVID-19 testing can really add up.

To help you save on costs for travel, we have teamed up with Randox Health to offer 10% off PCR tests when you buy any travel insurance policy with us.

These are government approved PCR tests with results guaranteed within 24 hours.

How to get discounted PCR tests with Randox Health

You can also find a list of approved test providers on the government’s website.

Wherever you get your tests from, make sure they adhere to the government guidance for what will be accepted when you travel.

All information has been checked to be accurate at the time of publishing. Information is subject to change from the government and FCDO advice.

Vicky Smith

by Vicky Smith

Vicky Smith is a journalist and freelance content creator. She loves to travel with her family. Her favourite place in the world is a sandy beach in Cornwall.