Home Latest Travel News and Views from Asia Covid-19 testing for travel – The Ultimate Guide

Covid-19 testing for travel – The Ultimate Guide

by James Wilmshurst

Following the October 4th 2021 simplification of travel rules from the government, going on holiday became much easier. We have collected and simplified all information about the updated Covid-19 testing for travel guidelines to give you the confidence you need to travel again.

Tourist getting a PCR test at Amilla resort, The Maldives for Covid 19

Do I need to take a PCR or lateral flow test for travel?   

Each country differs in whether they require you to take a lateral flow or PCR test to enter, and each has its timeframe in which you must take it. Nearly all countries will request that the test is from an EU approved provider and NHS tests are not generally accepted.

Both lateral flow and PCR tests screen for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus, although they differ in their technique, accuracy and time needed to receive results. It is important to know which is required to ensure adequate time to purchase the right test and obtain your results in the required timeframe.

Lateral flow tests from EU approved providers are usually relatively cheap. In the same way as an NHS lateral flow test, you’ll see the results in less than half an hour. You’ll then be expected to upload a photo of the test (often with a copy of your passport) to a website for verification. With some labs, verification is instant; others will check the photo manually which takes a couple of hours. The lab will then issue you with a certificate.

PCR tests are sent to a laboratory for testing, and it usually takes 1 to 3 days to obtain results. The PCR test is more accurate than the lateral flow test and costs more.

Do I need a COVID test to depart from the UK?  

You don’t need a test to leave the UK, but the country you are visiting may require you to take a PCR or Lateral Flow test to enter. Before you leave the UK, the airline will check that you take the test and have the associated certificates. Some destinations do not require children or those who are double vaccinated to take a test at all.

The types of tests, test certificates, and the time frame in which you must take the test also vary from country to country. We encourage you to review the latest travel guidelines for the country you wish to travel to by using the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office website.

What type of Covid-19 test do I need to return to the UK?  

The testing requirements were simplified on October 4th 2021 when the traffic light system was replaced by a two-tier system categorising countries as ‘red-listed and ‘countries open for travel’.  All countries were swiftly removed from the Red List, and you only had to take a lateral flow test on return to the UK.  There was a slight backtrack on this as concerns around the Omicron variant made news in late November 2021, however on 5th January 2022 the UK government thankfully dropped pre arrival tests and Day 2 PCR tests for all vaccinated travellers entering the UK.

What test do fully-vaccinated travellers need to return from a country that is open for travel?

Rules for fully-vaccinated travellers also apply to those who have not been fully vaccinated if they;

  • are under 18 years old and a UK resident (with the exception of the pre return lateral flow test which only under 12’s are exempt from)
  • are taking part in a Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK or the US
  • are English residents who cannot have a Covid-19 vaccine due to medical reasons and can show proof of a medical exemption from their doctor.

Passenger Locator Form 

You will be required to complete the UK Passenger Locator Form online before you return.

What test do non-vaccinated travellers need to return from a country that is open for travel?

Non-vaccinated travellers returning from non-red listed countries will still need to take the ‘Test to Return’ test, Day 2 PCR test and, additionally, Day 8 PCR test. They will also be required to self-isolate for 10 days upon returning to the UK.

Test to Return 

To return to the UK from a country that is not on the Red List, non-vaccinated travellers must take a  ‘Test to Return’ 48 hours before their return flight to the UK.  Please ensure that your test meets these standards and that you have proof of a negative Covid-19 test before your flight. (Otherwise, you may not be able to board your plane and can face a £500 fine on your arrival in the UK).

Passenger Locator Form 

You will also be required to complete the Passenger Locator Form online within 48h before you arrive in the UK. To submit the form, you will need to input the booking reference of your Day 2 and Day 8 Covid-19 tests.

Day 2 Test 

Two days after you arrive in the UK, you will need to take a PCR test.

Day 8 Test

On day 8 after arriving in England, travellers are also required to take Day 8 PCR test.


Non – vaccinated passengers will be required to self-isolate for 10 days following their arrival in the UK. If you live in England and wish to shorten the quarantine period, you can also pay for ‘Test-to-release’ on Day 5. Both Day 2 and 5 tests should be booked before travelling back to England, and the test booking reference must be added to your passenger locator form. Unfortunately, the ‘Test-to-release’ scheme is not available in other nations of the UK.

If you book your Day 5 test after you already arrived in England, you will need to submit an additional passenger locator form. If you decide to participate in the ‘Test-to-release’ scheme, you will still be required to take Day 2 and Day 8 Tests. Children of all ages must also take Day 5 test to leave quarantine.

Rules for non-vaccinated Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish residents

Rules for non-vaccinated Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish residents

If you are travelling back to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland you will need to follow all of the above rules applicable to English residents. The ‘Test to Release’ scheme is not available for Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish residents.

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What test do travellers need to return from a red-listed country? 

There are currently no countries on the UK red list.

The same rules apply to entry to the UK from a red-listed county for fully vaccinated and non-vaccinated travellers. You can only return to the UK from a red-listed country if you are a British or an Irish citizen or have residency status in the UK.

You will be required to take the Covid-19 lateral flow test before arrival in the UK, submit the passenger locator form and take the Day 2 and Day 8 tests after you have arrived.

Whether you are fully vaccinated or not, you will be required to check into the managed quarantine hotel for ten full days immediately upon arrival in the UK. You must book a quarantine hotel package before departure and provide your booking reference on the Passenger Locator form. Your quarantine hotel package should include all the necessary Covid-19 testing for travel back into the UK. The quarantine hotel package rate is £2,285 for one adult, with additional charges applicable to additional adults (including children over the age of 11) and children between 5 and 11. Quarantine hotel stays for children under the age of 5 are free of charge.  If the UK Govt. moves a country to the red list, you will be entitled to a full refund under our Covid-19 Promise.

How much does it cost to obtain covid-19 tests for travelling?  

Outbound and Inbound Lateral Flow tests can be obtained for as little as £22-£30 per person.
Day 2 and Day 5 PCR tests are more expensive, starting from about £55 pp. Below is a list of ETG’s trusted PCR and lateral flow testing companies. We are not sponsored by these brands, but we used them ourselves in the past and feel confident recommending them to our clients. 

  • Randox offers affordable testing and home deliveries taking between 4-6 working days. 
    • Outbound rtPCR Travel Test (£43)  
    • Inbound: Day 2 (£43), Day 2 & Day 8 Bundle (£86) 
    • Randox also offers a variety of package deals.
  • Chronomics offer the cheapest option for Fit to Fly and Test to Return lateral flow tests if you fly with the BA. You must order your Chronomics test at least a week before flying out.  
    • Outbound: rtPCR Travel Test (£89), Rapid Antigen Travel Test (£82) 
    • Inbound: Day 2 (£89), Day 2 & Day 8 Bundle (£170) 
  • C19 offer the second-cheapest option for Fit to Fly and Test to Return lateral flow tests if you fly with the BA and a priority next day delivery. 
    • Outbound: rtPCR Travel Test (£99), Rapid Antigen Travel Test (lateral flow, £29)
    • Inbound: Day 2 PCR Test & Rapid Antigen Travel Test Bundle (£109), Rapid Antigen Travel Test (£29), Day 2 PCR test (£89) 
  • Qured offers affordable testing kits and an option to arrange a fast and reliable courier service within the M25
    • Outbound: rtPCR Travel Test (£69), Rapid Antigen Travel Test (£39)
    • Inbound: Rapid Antigen Travel Test (£39), Day 2 (£69), Day 2 & Day 8 (£138) 

Please note that all the tests listed above are DIY kits only and you will be required to self-report your results online and/or send the test back to the company you purchased the test from if you are required to take the PCR test 

In-clinic and airport Covid-19 testing  

If you don’t feel comfortable using technology to self-report your results, you can also choose to attend a clinic appointment and have medical staff take your samples. Tests done in a clinic tend to be more expensive, starting at around £100.  

There is also an option to arrange a courier to pick up your samples and deliver them to the lab. Diamond Air is a premium option that offers courier pick-ups and provides a more personalised level of support.  

Finally, you can test at the airport as soon as you arrive in the UK. Day 2 testing is available in all major airports in the UK, including but not limited to Heathrow, Stansted, Manchester, Belfast and Gatwick airports. ETG consultants can discuss options with you and include the test in the booking if you require.  

Can I use free NHS Covid lateral flow and PCR tests for travel?   

The simple answer is no. Although private testing companies offer covid tests similar to the free NHS lateral flow and PCR testspurchasing covid test from a private company is necessary to obtain the certification confirming you’re ‘fit to fly’ status. 

**This page was last updated on 04th October 2021**

Still in need of advice on Covid-19 testing for travel?

If you are planning on travelling to one of the countries that we operate tours to then do not hesitate to get in touch on 020 7924 7133 . Alternatively, fill out an online enquiry form and one of the members of our team will get back to you. We are always happy to answer questions and give you expert travel advice, even if it is just about Covid-19 testing for travel.

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