What kind of COVID-19 test do I need to travel and how much does it cost?

Dec 9, 2021

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.


The current rise in COVID-19 cases around the globe has seen various measures put in place around the world in an effort to stem the spread of the latest omicron variant. While travel is still very much possible this does mean that there are a variety of things to consider when booking your trip, least of all navigating the required testing for your destination.

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When travelling to the U.K. there are now several different mandatory tests you must take both pre-departure and upon arrival, with the news announced on the 8 December that masks in certain spaces and COVID-19 passes for mass venues will also soon be in place.

Outside of the U.K. some countries still require a negative COVID-19 test for entry, whether you are fully vaccinated or not. To return from any foreign country, even if low risk, you will need to book both a pre-departure test and a Day 2 test, plus additional testing and quarantining if you are not fully vaccinated ahead of your return to the United Kingdom.

Here, we’ll take a look at what kind of test you will need at each step of your journey and how much you should be prepared to pay.

Related: 5 things you need to know about UK’s new Omicron travel measures

In This Post

Getting to your destination

This is the part of a holiday that will feature the most varying information. Each country has largely set up their own entry requirements for travellers who are looking to holiday abroad. The most important part for would-be travellers is to do your research.

For example, travellers to the U.S. now must produce a negative COVID-19 test within one calendar day of their departure – either antigen or PCR – regardless of their vaccination status.

That’s expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

(Photo by Artur Debat/Getty Images)

Some other destinations, however, will require travellers to have a negative COVID-19 test, including lateral flow devices. These are easier to come by — and significantly cheaper. Whereas PCR tests cost about between £50 and £150 apiece — though this figure can vary depending on the type of service you book — you can find lateral flow devices for about £5-£30.

Be sure to research your destination and what the testing requirements are for travellers. Keep in mind, too, that an arrival country can change its entry testing requirements at any time. It’ll be best to keep up to date with the entry requirements leading up to your holiday.

Returning to the UK

Pre-departure testing

As of 7 December, all travellers to the U.K. age 12 and above must show a negative COVID-19 test prior to departing. The test must be taken no more than 2 days before travelling and can be either a lateral flow, LAMP or PCR test, the former being the cheapest and fastest. Although a PCR is currently the gold standard and will be more accurate.

It is crucial to check with your test provider that your test meets U.K. standards.

The tests can be self-administered but must be provided by a U.K. recognised private testing company and free NHS tests will not be accepted for travel. Once you’ve taken the test and your results have been processed you will be issued with a certificate for travel. Many companies such as Qured will also offer a video call consultancy or in-person tests if you are concerned about self-administering.

Upon checking in ahead of travel you will need to share your certificate as proof of a negative test result.

Fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries

Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in England must take a PCR test on or before the day of their arrival. The day that you arrive in the U.K. will be counted as day 0. You must then isolate until you have received a negative test result.

Lateral flow tests will not be accepted at this stage and, once again, you will need to arrange your test through a private testing company.

On the government’s list of approved providers, these test kits range in price from only £1 to a staggering £399 per test, although it is worth being wary of lower-cost tests which have recently been reported to see delays or have additional hidden costs attached. As is often the case, you get what you pay for in terms of service and turnaround.

Unvaccinated arrivals from most countries

Those travellers who are entering England and are not fully vaccinated will be required to take both a day 2 and a day 8 PCR test upon arrival. They will also need to quarantine throughout this period until they receive a negative test result.

As before, the day that you arrive in the U.K. will be counted as day 0. Following a day 2 test, unvaccinated people will need to continue isolating regardless of if they receive a negative test result. They will then need to take an additional PCR on day 8.

Once you have taken your day 8 test you can leave quarantine on whichever is later: day 10 of arrival in the U.K. or when you receive a negative day 8 result. If your day 8 test is positive you must quarantine for a further 10 days, with the day 8 test being counted as day zero of your quarantine.

If you are entering the U.K. via a cruise ship you may be subject to slightly different testing requirements.

They also need to have a negative COVID-19 pre-departure test result in order to travel to England which can be an antigen/lateral flow or a PCR test.

Prices for the two-test packages range from about £76 to £575 — though the vast majority of options are less than £200.

Unvaccinated arrivals also have the option to take advantage of England’s Test to Release scheme. The programme allows arrivals to leave their quarantine early if they can produce a negative test result. After five full days of quarantine, those looking to Test to Release will be able to purchase an additional private COVID-19 test. If the test produces a negative result, they can forgo the rest of their quarantine. They will, however, still need to take the day eight test, even though they’ve already left quarantine.

You can expect to pay for the pre-departure test (about £30), as well as a two-test PCR package (£73-£575) and a Test to Release PCR test (£42-£100).

(Photo by Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images)

Arrivals from red countries

Finally, arrivals from red countries have the most strict — and most costly — entry restrictions. First, it’s worth noting that only U.K. nationals or residents travelling from red countries will be allowed to enter England.

Those who are allowed to travel to England will be required to take a pre-departure test, as detailed above. They will also be required to undergo a 10-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel. Hotel quarantine stays start at £2,285 for a single traveller and includes the mandatory additional COVID-19 tests on days two and eight of quarantine. Additional rates may apply depending upon your situation.

Arrivals from red countries are not able to use the Test to Release programme in order to test out of hotel quarantine early. There are some exemptions to hotel quarantine — you can find the list here.

Bottom line

If you’re planning to head abroad, be prepared to take COVID-19 tests. Even fully vaccinated arrivals from the lowest-risk countries will still need to have a Day 2 PCR tests.

If you are not fully vaccinated you can expect to be required to take more COVID-19 tests, and for them to be much more expensive.

Additional reporting by Ben Smithson and Jordan Waller

Featured photo by Jackyenjoyphotoggraphy/Getty Images.

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