These are testing times for those who want to travel abroad, whatever way you want to look at it. Even for those of us who are double vaccinated, a rapid antigen or PCR test will have a part to play in any trip you take abroad this year -whether the country you want to visit is on the green list or not.
It is also important to remember that there are two places you have to keep in mind when you are planning your trip – the country you are planning to travel to and the UK (if you are planning to come home, of course)! So, before you set off for the airport, you need to be fully aware of what both places require.
To ensure you don’t end up stranded at the airport gate, unable to get on your flight, here is Fit2FlyTest’s quick guide to the key things you need to know about PCR tests for travel.
How do I find out if I need a test for my destination?
You have probably heard about the UK’s traffic light system but you may not have realised that each destination on that list also has its own travel requirements, irrespective of this. For example, some destinations on the UK’s green list still require a PCR test – even from those who are double vaccinated.
Meanwhile, some amber list countries, such as France, do not require any tests to be taken but they do require a so-called “statement of honour” to prove that you are COVID free.
The quickest and easiest way to find out the relevant testing and quarantine requirements for your destination countries requirements is via the Foreign Office website, or you could ask the relevant UK embassy. One thing to keep in mind though, if you are not double vaccinated then you should expect the testing regime to be more demanding.
What tests do I need to do on my return to the UK
This is where the traffic light system kicks in.
If you are returning to the UK from a red list country, then you need to
- take a COVID test pre-departure (apart from if you are a child aged ten or under)
- Fill in a passenger locator form
- Quarantine in a designated hotel when you get back (at a cost of £2285 for one adult, £1430 for each additional adult and children over the age of 11, and £325 for each child aged 5 to 11)
If you are double vaccinated and are returning from an amber or green destination, then you need to:
- Take a pre-departure test – either PCR or rapid antigen
- Fill in a passenger locator form
- Take a day 2 test within two days of arrival back into the UK. You will need to reference number of your day 2 PCR test beforehand in order to be able to include it on your passenger locator form
If you are returning from an amber list destination and you are not fully vaccinated, then you will need to do the three things listed above PLUS
- self-isolate for ten days
- take another test on Day 8
You have the possibility of reducing your quarantine through the Test to Release scheme by ordering an additional test to take on day five. If your test comes back negative, then you can stop isolating, but you must still take the Day 8 test.
What is the difference between an Antigen Test and a PCR test
As far as holidaymakers are concerned, the main difference between Antingen and PCR tests is that PCR tests require specialist analysis in a laboratory, which means they need to factor in additional time and cost – whereas rapid antigen tests can all be completed at home. Other than that, they are quite similar, in the fact that they involve swabbing the nostrils and back of the throat typically.
Some popular destinations, such as Craotia, Greece and Italy are accepting pre-departure antigen tests. However, the majority of countries require PCR tests to be undertaken as they are gold standard and more accurate.
Can I use an NHS COVID test before I go on holiday?
No. COVID testing for international travel is not available on the NHS, and the NHS will not provide you with a fit to fly certificate that you will need for you trip. Instead, you can purchase relevant tests, including PCR Fit to Fly Test, Day 2 Testing Kit, Day 8 Testing Kit, Day 2 and Day 8 Testing Kit, and Test to Release from Fit2FlyTest – a UKAS-accredited private test organisation.
Do children need to take a COVID test?
There is no general rule when it comes to children, so you will need to check the relevant page on the Foreign Office’s website for the destination you are thinking of travelling to.
For instance, in France, children aged 12 and over have to be tested, while in Grenada testing is required for children aged 5 and over.
On returning to the UK, children aged 10 and under do not need to take a pre-departure test before travelling back to the UK, but they will need to take a post-arrival PCR test unless they are aged 4 and under.
Where do I get pre-departure test in a foreign country before returning home?
Your hotel or tour operator should be able to source this locally for you, but the simplest way to do it is to take a rapid antigen test with you, in your luggage. You then just need to complete it within 72 hours of your return flight, have it verified online, and receive a digital test certificate.
Are there any pitfalls I need to be aware of with COVID tests?
The single biggest pitfall is to do with timing – when you arrange your pre-departure test too early or too late. You need to allow plenty of time, but not too much – it’s a fine line.
Different destinations also have different validities set on testing – although most seem to be at either 48 or 72 hours.
It is important to remember that the countdown starts from the moment you swab yourself, and not from the time you receive your result back from the lab.
Be careful though as some destinations also require the tests to be valid, right up to the time of your arrival into the country, and not just up to the time when you board the plane.
Fit2FlyTest has a wide variety of PCR testing packages available from just £74.