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

Oct 22, 2021

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


Travel has officially returned. A flood of positive travel announcements recently means you now have a wide range of options for that long overdue holiday, including the most recent news that from 22 October, your Day 2 test can be a cheaper lateral flow test rather than a PCR test.

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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 still need to book a Day 2 test for 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: 10 reasons I’m finally optimistic about travel

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, Greece said that it’s allowing Britons to enter either with proof that they are fully vaccinated or a negative PCR certificate taken no later than 72 hours before arrival or a negative antigen (rapid) certificate taken no longer than 48 hours before arrival.

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 — 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

You do not need a pre-departure test to return to (or visit) the United Kingdom if you are fully vaccinated.

If you are not fully vaccinated you must take one of the following within 3 days of departing for the United Kingdom, and produce a negative certificate confirming the test to board your flight:

  • a nucleic acid test, including a PCR test;
  • a LAMP test; or
  • an antigen test, such as an LFD (lateral flow device) test.

Children aged 17 and under do not need to take a pre-departure test whether they are vaccinated or not.

Fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries

Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in England from any destination not on the Do Not Travel List will not be required to quarantine for 10 days. However, they will need to provide one negative test result taken on or before day two of their arrival back into England — and it must be booked for and paid for in advance of your travel.

The second test result must be an antigen or lateral flow test, which adds a new cost element when planning holidays abroad. In addition, this test must be booked before your travel. On the government’s list of approved providers, these test kits range in price from only £1 to a staggering £399 per test.

Unvaccinated arrivals from most countries

Those travellers who are entering England from any destination not on the Do Not Travel List and are not fully vaccinated and aged 18 or over are required to quarantine at home or in a secure location for 10 days. 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.

Prior to their travel, they also need to have pre-booked a testing package to take two additional COVID-19 tests during their quarantine — one on (or before) day two and one on (or after) day eight. The tests must be booked through a government-approved provider — you can find the full list here.

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.

In total, an unvaccinated arrival from an amber country will need to take a total of four COVID-19 tests — three of which are required to be PCR tests. 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 £2,250 for a single traveller and include the mandatory additional COVID-19 tests on days two and eight of quarantine.

Related: Everything you need to know about the UK’s hotel quarantine policy

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

Travel has officially returned. That said, the travel experience will be different from what we’re used to. If you’re planning to head abroad this summer, be prepared to take COVID-19 tests. Even fully vaccinated arrivals from the lowest-risk countries will still need to have a Day 2 tests, though now that this can now be a cheap lateral flow test its much easier and cheaper to travel.

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

Featured photo by Jackyenjoyphotoggraphy/Getty Images.

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