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

Posted on November 12, 2021 by Vicky Smith
COVID-19 PCR test concept with passport

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

Wherever you’re jetting off to, 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 sometimes the throat. You can get results within 15 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.

Some countries may 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 or accept lateral flow results, but it’s best to check FCDO travel advice for your destination to find out before you go.

Your return journey to the UK will need at least one PCR test, depending on where you are travelling from. 

What tests do you need for returning to the UK?

  • For vaccinated travellers:

For vaccinated travellers coming back from a non-red country, you’ll no longer have to take PCR tests before travelling back to England after 4 October. But you’ll still have to take a day 2 lateral flow or PCR test, at least for the time being. The guidelines for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may be slightly different, so it’s best to check their travel advice for more information.

Under 18s will be classed as vaccinated and will follow these guidelines, regardless of their vaccination status.

  • For non-fully vaccinated travellers:

If you’re not fully vaccinated under the UK’s vaccination programme recognised under England’s travel rules, or can’t prove your vaccination status, then travel restrictions will still apply even from non-red countries.

This means you’ll need the following for all destinations abroad other than Ireland.

  • a pre-departure PCR test
  • a day 2 PCR test
  • a day 8 PCR test
  • self-isolate for 10 days

You can still use the Test to Release scheme to stop your self-isolation early at an extra expense.

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 COVID-19 tests when you buy any travel insurance policy with us.

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.