Getting a Covid-19 test in order to travel? Here’s what you need to know

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause disruption to daily life around the world, some countries have reopened their borders; others have kept them closed.

Among those countries with open borders, it’s now necessary for travellers to check what additional restrictions have been introduced to combat the spread of Covid-19.

This may include the requirement to present a negative Covid-19 PCR test.

Places that are admitting travellers from the UK (and which the Foreign Office deems safe to travel) but which require a Covid-19 test include Cyprus, Antigua and Barbuda, the Maldives, and the Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Azores.

So how do you go about getting one?

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What you should know about getting a Covid-19 test for travel

The first thing to know is that you should not get a free NHS test for the purposes of travel. This is official advice from the government and NHS.

You should only get a free NHS test if you have Covid-19 symptoms, but if you have symptoms then you should not be travelling. The most common symptoms are a high temperature, a new or continuous cough, and a loss or change of your sense of taste or smell.

Instead you need to book a private test, which can vary in cost.

The second thing to know is what the specific testing requirements in the country you are travelling to are.

The test will almost certainly need to be a dated PCR test, but how long before your arrival in the country does it need to be taken? In some places it is seven days, in others it is 72 hours.

Do you need a printed certificate, or will an email or text with the results suffice? Do you bring the test results with you to show at the airport, or do you submit them as part of an online form?

How to book a Covid-19 test for travel

Once you know what you need, it’s time to book.

There is no “official”, government-sanctioned list of private testing facilities; it relies on your own research.

The main piece of government advice is that if you are worried about your test being accepted, you should check it is valid with the country’s embassy. Of course, this may take some time, so it isn’t something to leave last-minute.

Start by searching “private Covid testing [your local area]” and checking which providers tick all the boxes in terms of speed of results, and the provision of a dated, “fit to travel” certificate signed by a medical professional.

Bear in mind you need an antigen, not an antibody, test. An antigen test checks whether you currently have Covid-19, whereas an antibody test checks whether you have had it in the past. You should also check that the equipment being used is ‘CE marked’ (a type of EU certification).

What do Covid-19 tests involve?

An antigen test requires taking a swab from the nose and throat. The swabs are then analysed in a lab using a “polymerase chain reaction” (PCR).

How much will it cost?

It varies, but is likely to be at least £100. The Harley Street Clinic in London provides 24-48 hour tests with a “fit to fly” certificate from £250.

DocTap offers test results and a “fit to fly” certificate within 70 hours of receipt of your sample for £139, but has mixed reviews on TrustPilot. This highlights the uncertainty that looms over the whole policy of testing; there is always a chance your results will be delayed, which could jeopardize your trip.

Can I buy a Covid-19 self-test kit?

A coronavirus “self-test kit” means you take your own sample, test it, and read and interpret the results yourself (it is not the same as a “home test kit”, where you take the test at home and send it to a lab for testing).

The government says there are currently no Covid-19 self-test kits approved for use. In fact, it is illegal to sell them, though it’s possible this will change in future if a kit gets the proper certification.

Of course, this also means such tests are very unlikely to be accepted by any country you wish to travel to.

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