Covid-19 tests for travel

Don’t get caught out by the costs of COVID-19 tests on your holiday. Find out what you need to do before, during and after your trip - and what it could cost.

goco author
Updated 1 September 2021  | 5 min read

As well as budgeting for flights, accommodation and spending money, you’ll also need to factor in the cost of Covid-19 testing if you’re planning a holiday abroad during the pandemic.

Testing is being used across the world as a means of making international travel as safe as possible.

To be allowed entry to most countries, you need to show evidence of a negative Covid-19 test. And there are testing requirements to get back into the UK, too.

The total number of tests you need to take before, during and after your holiday will depend on the country you’re heading off to as well as where your destination lies on the UK’s travel traffic light system: red, amber or green. 

What do I need to do before I go abroad?

You’ll need to check if, and what, tests are required pre-departure for entry to your holiday destination as well as what tests you need to take to get back into the UK and when you’re back at home.

These all need to be booked and paid for in advance of travel. 

Covid tests for your destination:

Countries usually need you to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test (sometimes called a ‘Fit to Fly' test or ‘Fit to Travel’ test) taken either within 48 or 72 hours before your arrival.

This might include all members of your party, including children over 5 or over 12, depending on your destination.

The particular requirements of your destination can be found on the government’s foreign travel advice page or from their UK-based embassy.

Covid tests to get back into the UK

Next, you’ll need to find out what tests are needed to get back into the UK from your holiday destination.

This will depend on whether it’s on the UK’s green, amber or red list on the UK’s travel traffic light system.

For example, if you’re returning from a green list country, you’ll need to take a pre-departure test and book and pay for a test to be taken on or before day two after your arrival home.

If you’re returning from an amber country, you’ll need to take a pre-departure test, quarantine at home for 10 days and book and pay for a PCR test to take on day two and on day eight of your self-isolation.

Fully-vaccinated people returning from an amber country only need to take a pre-departure test, a test on day two and do not need to self-isolate.

In England (but not Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland), you also have the option to take a Test to Release test on day five of your quarantine, to end your self-isolation early. But you will still need to take the day eight test.

Which countries require Covid tests?

Most countries currently require a negative PCR test in order for you to enter. For some countries proof of full vaccination is all that’s required.

Check the government’s foreign travel advice page for current coronavirus entry requirements for the particular country you’re visiting.

Do I still have to test if I’ve had two vaccinations?

Many countries will deny UK visitors entry without proof of a negative Covid-19 test, regardless of vaccination status.

In some cases, though – for example if you’re travelling to Spain – people who can show proof they were fully vaccinated against coronavirus at least 14 days prior to arrival will not need to take a test.

The same is true if you’re travelling to Greece. However, you may be asked to undergo a random antigen test on arrival there.

Some countries, such as Malta, are currently only allowing fully vaccinated UK visitors into the country.

If you’re double-jabbed, you will not also be required to take a test before entry to Malta.

To return to the UK, no matter which country you are travelling from – and regardless of your vaccination status – you need to take a ‘pre-departure test’ up to 72 hours before your journey home. 

How much do COVID tests cost?

The total cost of tests can seriously hike up the price of your holiday. 

If you’re travelling as a family, you could easily be looking at forking out an extra £500 or more, depending on where you’re travelling to.

You can’t get a UK free NHS test for travel purposes. Instead, you have to buy tests from approved labs and providers. 

Prices for tests differ from provider to provider and can depend on whether you book a postal or an on-site clinic test, for example, or the speed of its turnaround.

Shop around because an individual PCR test can cost from £40 to over £250, with prices for antigen tests lower. Some countries accept negative antigen tests for entry, others will insist on the more sensitive and accurate PCR test. Check rules for your destination.

You can find travel test providers offering local clinic or postal pre-travel ‘Fit to Fly’ tests, plus day two and day eight tests on the government website. These providers are not endorsed or recommended by the government so you should do your own research on them.

Providers are listed in order of price – from lowest to highest – but it’s important to note that prices displayed may not include return postage or appointments with clinicians, so contact individual providers directly to get more detailed information. 

Also, as this Guardian article highlights, analysts found that some of the cheapest options advertised on the list are sold out and unavailable to buy, or have long waiting lists for appointments.

It’s a good idea to use the site which compares providers by customer satisfaction and price. 

For travellers returning to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, there are different requirements.

You cannot book private day two and eight tests, but instead need to book an NHS ‘travel test package’ via the Corporate Travel Management (CTM) Wales,  Scotland or Northern Ireland portal. Costs for the test kits are:

  • £88 for one test, for amber country arrivals if you’re fully vaccinated.
  • £170 for two tests for amber country arrivals if you’re not fully vaccinated
  • £88 for one PCR test for green country arrivals. 

Where else can I get COVID travel tests?

Some travel companies have arranged competitively-priced test packages for their customers. For example, Tui has teamed up with Chronomics and offers pre-travel ‘Fit to Fly’ tests for £40 per person for a PCR test and £10 for an antigen test. They also offer a package which includes the two tests needed for return from a green list country for just £20 per person.

Thomas Cook has partnered with Randox Health to offer pre-travel tests for £43 instead of the usual £48. And Hays Travel has linked with Collinson to offer pre-departure tests in resort for £33.60 per person instead of £42 per person.

Many airlines, such as British Airways , EasyJet, and Ryanair have partnered with private healthcare companies to offer discounts on COVID tests for customers, too. 

Most UK airports now offer testing services and these can often be cheaper than the high street. For example, Collinson have sites at airports including Heathrow, Manchester and the East Midlands where you can get a PCR test for around £83 and a lateral flow (antigen) test for £40.

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