How to find an affordable, reliable and fast Day 2 PCR test

Nov 29, 2021

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Travel rules for anyone travelling to or returning to the United Kingdom were tightened over the weekend, following the outbreak of a new COVID-19 variant of concern, named Omicron.

From 4 a.m. on Tuesday, 30 November 2021, anyone entering the United Kingdom is required to take a PCR test on or before Day 2 (after they arrive in the U.K.) and self-isolate until they receive a negative result, even if fully vaccinated. Given some testing providers can take several days to process a result, this could mean travellers could face almost a week of self-isolation.

Here are some tips to ensure your P.C.R. test is as affordable, fast and stress-free as possible.

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Understand your testing options

You must take a P.C.R. test from an approved U.K. government provider on or before Day 2 of your arrival into the United Kingdom. You will need the test reference number to complete your Passenger Locator Form. This means you cannot take the test before you arrive in the country but you can take it on the day you arrive (Day 0), the day after you arrive (Day 1) or two days after you arrive (Day 2). If you want to minimise the time you are self-isolating, you should consider taking the test as soon as possible on the day you arrive.

There are two main testing methods:

  • You can take an “at home” test that is administered by yourself before you post the completed test to a laboratory to be processed.
  • You can attend a testing clinic where a medical professional will administer your test, process it and provide you with the result either that same day or a day or two (or more) later.

Either way, you will need to isolate until you receive a negative result regardless of the processing time.

While at-home tests are more convenient than attending a clinic, they will generally take longer for you to receive your test result as you will lose at least one business day for the time it will take your test to reach the testing centre by courier or ordinary post.

This often means that even if you take the test at 9 a.m. and drop it immediately in the post box or courier box it likely won’t be collected until at least 6 p.m. that evening and likely won’t reach a testing centre until at least 9 a.m. the following day. This can sometimes add as much as an extra 24 hours to the length of your quarantine from the time you take your test.

Expected processing times for in-person testing clinics vary and generally, the more you pay for your test the faster the processing time. Major airports in the United Kingdom have set up large scale testing stations with fairly reliable turnaround times as a convenient option for anyone arriving in the U.K.

My personal experience at the London City Airport testing station earlier this year was easy – I booked the first appointment of the day and the results were delivered around 10 hours later.

Organise your test as early as possible

If you’re planning to travel during the festive season it’s likely that you already have a good idea of when your travel dates will likely be, and where you’ll be heading. With that in mind, you should arrange your PCR test as early as possible. Depending on how you are receiving and processing you should also aim to preempt Christmas postal delays, bank holiday shutdowns and other “longer than usual” wait times by being as organised as possible.

If you choose an at-home test you will want to ensure the test is waiting for you when you arrive in the United Kingdom. Ideally, if you have enough time, ensure it is delivered before you even commence your travel so you have the peace of mind that it will be ready to take when you are ready.

Remember, some packages must be signed for and won’t fit through a standard front door letterbox slot – if you are abroad and order the test to be sent to your home then it may be returned to the sender if no one is home to accept it.

For in-person testing clinics if the testing requirement is still in place at Christmas there is likely to be high demand, especially just after Christmas and New Year as travellers return from the Christmas holidays and book their Day 2 PCR tests. Additionally it’s possible testing providers will be short-staffed as their own staff take leave for the holiday period while demand for their services also increases.

Traditional medical centres may extend their opening hours over this period due to the demand for bookings but you don’t want to leave this to chance – you may want to check before you book depending on your travel date. Check if the airport, ferry port or train station you are arriving at has on-site testing facilities – remember, you can take the test as soon as you pass through the U.K. Border. Doing so – if you can – will make the process much faster and convenient for you.

Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Choose an affordable but reputable provider

There are hundreds of approved test providers on the U.K. government’s list with some advertising PCR tests as ludicrously low priced as 99p. While these offers may seem like a great bargain, it costs a lot more than this for a legitimate laboratory with trained medical professionals to process these tests so do not expect a perfect experience from these budget providers.

Many of these budget testing providers popped up as the government relaxed Day 2 testing to offer lateral flow tests. Some TPG U.K. readers never even received their test results, but given there was no obligation to self-isolate until they received a negative result, they didn’t bother chasing up the testing provider.

As the rules have now changed you must now self-isolate until you receive your negative PCR test result. Unless you want to spend more time isolating than wholly necessary, you will want to choose a provider that you can trust to deliver a reliable result to you quickly. The ‘ABC Upstairs Discount Medical Clinic’ with the dodgy website and no google reviews may let you down.

In terms of at-home testing options, the TPG U.K. team who travel regularly have used Randox and Qured without issue many times this year. Both providers are mid-range in terms of costs but have the infrastructure to deliver and process lots of tests every day.

Randox currently charges £34.99 for an at-home test and £55 for an in-person test (you may be able to save 15% with the discount code BATRAVEL15).

Qured is more expensive at £64 (you can save 15% with the discount code BATRAVEL15) though they promise results within 24 hours of the test arriving at the lab. This means if you post it on a Monday, it should arrive on Tuesday and then the 24 hours processing time means you should have your results on Wednesday. Qured also offers a priority service for an extra £29 with same day pick up from your house or hotel and priority processing in 12 – 24 hours. This means your test result could be back within 24 hours, perfect for anyone looking to minimise their self-isolation.

For in-person testing, you may wish to speak with your local medical clinic or pharmacy about their current processing times. The large scale testing centres at major transport hubs should also be reliable both in how they administer and process their tests. You can and should, however, check online for recent reviews from other travellers to make sure. You can expect to pay around £69 per person for a PCR test at major airports.

A good tip is to check if your travel provider offers discounted tests to their customers – you may be able to save even more on the above options.

Boots have not yet updated their Day 2 test prices to reflect the recent change from lateral flow to PCR though you should expect an in-person PCR test to be around £60.

Some providers offer same-day test results for an additional fee. If for any reason they do not deliver on this promise you should contact them to request a partial refund due o a failure of service.

Monitor turnaround times

Ideally, your testing provider will deliver your test result at the time you are expecting it, or even earlier. Remember there may be delays on weekends or Bank Holidays. Some providers may experience delays due to higher than expected testing volumes, staff shortages or postal or weather delays. This could extend your self-isolation period and wreck your Christmas party plans.

The best testing providers maintain transparency here and publish and update current processing times on their websites to manage customer expectations. This is another reason to choose a large, established and reliable provider rather than the cheapest option.

Posting the Randox Day 2 test (Photo by Nicky Kelvin)

Bottom line

While the re-introduction of Day 2 PCR tests for anyone arriving in the United Kingdom is a frustrating turn of events for travellers, fortunately, these testing processes are nothing new and something testing providers have had months of experience getting right. It is unknown how long this testing requirement will last though a review will be taken within three weeks, just before Christmas. Depending on what the U.K. Government learn about the new variant in that time, the testing rules may change once again.

If you are entering or returning to the United Kingdom in the next three weeks you should research and organise your own PCR tests as soon as possible so you are not caught out over the Christmas period waiting for a test result from an unreliable testing provider.

If keeping your self-isolation as quick and stress-free as possible is important to you avoid the temptation to book the cheapest test you can find from a company you have never heard of. It’s an added cost at an already expensive time of year but paying a little bit more for a large, reliable and established company should make your experience faster and less stressful.

Your fastest option is likely to be an in-person test on arrival at your airport or train station where they can deliver next day test results.

Featured image by Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

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