Why would I need a test?
Several countries require anyone crossing their borders to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test – failure to do so will result in being turned away or worse. In Ireland, for example, failure to produce a negative test result taken within the previous 72 hours could lead to a fine or even imprisonment. (Even with a negative result, travellers to Ireland still have to self-isolate for 14 days.) This now also applies to those entering or returning to England and Scotland; anyone who fails to produce a negative result will be given a £500 fine. Countries requiring a PCR test include Turkey, Maldives, Brazil, Cyprus and Jersey – though this can change quickly so it’s best to check official guidelines before you book.
What sort of test do I need?
The standard test is the PCR – standing for polymerase chain reaction – which is a nose or mouth swab test that takes seconds and detects the genetic material in the virus known as RNA. You’ll need to show results that have been produced within either 48, 72 or 96 hours, depending on individual country requirements, which can be arranged at a number of places, and ordered by post to take at home – and the results are emailed within 48 hours of the test taking place. Note that these are for people with no symptoms of Covid-19 – if you do have symptoms, you are eligible for a free NHS test.
How much do they cost?
Covid tests for travel are not available on the NHS and must be arranged privately. They cost around £150, although before lockdown some travel companies subsidised these for customers. Wizz Air’s Fit to Fly package was £85, while the service at Gatwick was offered to passengers for £60.
Where else can I get a PCR test?
It’s best to shop around to find the right price for you – and the right location, if you’re taking a test at a clinic. Some branches of Boots offer it, as well as outfits such as Global Nomad and VFS Global. The latter has centres in London, Birmingham and Leicester that can be visited, and also provides home-testing kits for a discount, with results within 36-60 hours from the time the laboratory receives the sample. In central London, Lanserhof at The Arts Club offers a PCR test for £195, with results available within 48 hours – the clinic will call you and explain the results (and also offers an antibody test).
When do I need to take the test?
This takes careful planning, although any good clinic will ask you the date and time of your flight or journey before arranging a test. Make a note of your departure date and work backwards, and allow for weekends when receiving results may not be possible. It also depends on whether the country asks for a result produced within 48, 72 or 96 hours of the flight – make sure to take the test as early as possible within the time frame. Note that the Gatwick service mentioned above, for example, isn’t available on the day of the flight, but has to be scheduled 48-96 hours in advance.
What about test kits that I’ve ordered by post?
For customers requiring a negative result 72 and 96 hours before travelling, kits can be ordered weeks in advance of a flight and kept at home. Customers should order tests at least five days before their flight and then perform and return them via next-day delivery four days before – again, this takes careful planning to ensure you don’t stray outside the time frame.
Is this different to the Test to Release scheme?
The UK’s Test to Release scheme is intended to cut down the 10-day quarantine time for travellers to England (arriving from countries outside the travel-corridor list) if a PCR test shows negative. The test must be taken five days after you leave the non-exempt country – if it’s negative you can stop self-isolating. The test must be paid for privately and costs around £60. For more information it’s best to check the UK government website.