You’ve booked your holiday to a green-list country and sorted travel insurance, but where to start with testing?
The options appear to be endless, and the paperwork infinite. A growing number of websites, clinics, pharmacies and even hotels are offering them — but what kind should you have? When do you need to take one? And how do the rules differ between countries?
With a bit of preparation and patience, you’ll be jetting off on holiday soon and all will be long forgotten. That’s the plan, at least. So, to help you along the way, here we unpick the testing minefield.
Once you know the requirements for your destination, it’s important you calculate when to order and take your tests
GOLD STANDARD OR EASE & SPEED
PCR: Seen as the ‘gold standard’ and used by the NHS, samples are taken via swab from the tonsils and inside of the nose then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Results can take several days. Generally these tests cost from £50 to £150.
LATERAL FLOW: Also known as antigen tests, these are relatively inexpensive, do not require laboratory analysis, and provide results within 15 to 30 minutes. A swab is inserted into the nose and throat, then submerged in a tiny tube of liquid. This is dripped on to a paper pad which has a test strip that changes colour in the presence of Covid-19 proteins (antigens).
Of course, it’s not just a case of getting to grips with the UK’s requirements; it’s essential you adhere to your holiday destination’s rules, too. These can be checked at gov.uk or on the country’s tourist board website.
In Portugal, for example, tourists must present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of their departure (visitportugal.com), while in amber-listed Italy, visitors need to show proof of a negative lateral flow test taken no more than 48 hours before travel (italia.it).
Many countries require further testing after arrival.
Under-11s are exempt from pre-departure testing for returns to the UK. However, those over the age of five will be required to take a PCR test when back home.
Each country has different entry rules for children. Spain, for example, does not require children under six to show proof of a negative test (spain.info), while those under two are exempt from Portugal’s testing requirements (visitportugal.com).
BOOK A PACKAGE DEAL
A number of holiday providers are now offering testing packages to green-list countries. Tui is subsidising the cost of testing for its customers, offering packages for between £20 and £90, until August 31.
TIMING IS CRUCIAL
Once you know the requirements for your destination, it’s important you calculate when to order and take your tests. Qured, a Government-approved provider, has a helpful tool on its website which advises on timings so you get results in good time before your flights (qured.com).
In Portugal tourists must present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of their departure
The below rules apply whether or not you have been vaccinated.
GREEN LIST: You must take a lateral flow test within 72 hours of your return flight, followed by a PCR test on or before the second day of your return. No need to self-isolate.
AMBER LIST: Take a lateral flow test before return flight, then quarantine at home for ten days and take a PCR test on days two and eight — or use the Test to Release scheme, paying for a private test on day five to end quarantine early (you’ll still need to take a test on day eight).
RED LIST: Quarantine in government-approved hotel for ten days at a cost of £1,750.
ARE YOU FIT TO FLY?
All tests for travel must be carried out by a Government-approved provider. These can be found in a number of places (check the full list at gov.uk):
CLINICS: Health centres offering Fit to Fly tests have sprung up across the country, including Express Test (from £50 at 17 locations, expresstest.co.uk), Corona Test Centre (£129 at eight sites, coronatestcentre.com) and Wren Healthcare (from £139 at ten clinics, wrenhealthcare.co.uk).
AT HOME: Eurofins offers at-home PCR tests from £44.90 (eurofins.co.uk). They are delivered and returned via Royal Mail and results are guaranteed within 24 hours of receiving the sample. Randox Health (randoxhealth.com) offers tests from £60.
AIRPORT HOTELS: Hilton London Gatwick Airport (£129, hilton.com) and Sofitel London Gatwick (£179, accor.com) are among hotels running Test & Rest packages, where you take a test the night before a flight and wake up to the result and a certificate.
PRINT THE PAPERWORK
You’ll need a Fit to Fly certificate to show your negative result, so make sure the testing facility can provide this. Print it out and keep in your hand luggage; you may be asked to show it at any point.
In the future, potentially by June 21, test results will be available to show on the NHS app, which will go live on Monday for travellers to show their vaccination status.
PACK FOR THE RETURN LEG
Arrivals from green-list countries must present a negative lateral flow test taken no more than three days prior.
No one wants to spend the last few days of their holiday searching for a test centre, so it’s best to pack a testing kit in your luggage. You can order them online from companies such as Qured (£39). After a video consultation with a nurse, results are available in 15 minutes and a GP-signed travel certificate is delivered by email.
ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD
Similar to the Fit to Fly tests, these return PCR tests can be taken at clinics, on the High Street or at home on or before day two of your arrival back into England.
You’ll need the test’s booking reference number and provider name in advance so you can enter it on your passenger locator form prior to your flight home.
Day zero is your arrival day — so if this is a Wednesday, you can choose to take the test on the Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.
Another option is to do it at the airport. Many of the UK’s largest airports, including Heathrow and Manchester, have launched in-terminal testing centres for arrivals, which should be booked ahead of your holiday.
Express Test is launching day-two testing for green arrivals at Gatwick and Heathrow next week, from £69 (expresstest.co.uk).