COVID-19 testing for travel explained

When it comes to travel, one of the main tools health authorities around the world have employed in the fight against coronavirus is 'testing'. This includes pre-departure tests, on arrival tests at destination airports and on return tests to reduce time spent in quarantine.

For a full summary of Covid-19 statistics and entry regulations by country, and to compare destinations around the world, visit our interactive Covid-19 travel planner

COVID testing - the new reality for international travel © Patrik Hedström - Flickr Creative Commons
COVID testing - the new reality for international travel © Patrik Hedström - Flickr Creative Commons

How Covid-19 tests are helping us travel

Over 90% of countries now require proof of a negative Covid-19 test either from some or all of the people who want to cross their borders.

Some countries require everyone arriving to produce test results, others are selective about who needs a test and, occasionally, arrivals from specific parts of a country are required to take a test while others are not.

In most cases, these tests have to be performed before flying as pre-departure tests but some countries will also permit testing on arrival instead.

Please note: it is very important you understand exactly what type of test is required by the country you are travelling to and that you follow the requirements precisely.

Make sure the clinic you choose to carry out your test can produce the results in the format required. If you do not, you may be prevented from boarding your flight or be required to quarantine on arrival.

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Pre-departure testing

Typically, travellers take a pre-departure test a few days before their flight and arrive with a certificate that shows they are not infected. The test involves having swab samples taken from the back of the throat and nose which are then sent to be processed.

Where to get pre-departure tests

There are three important things to know about pre-departure testing:

  • those provided by the NHS are not suitable for travel
  • they must be paid for and are likely to cost between £60 to over £150, and
  • tests must be carried out no more than a certain number of hours prior to departure

Tests will likely need to be performed by a certified laboratory or clinic and the easiest way to find one is to search for one online. LetsGetChecked*, for example, provides home testing kits for £79 with a turnaround time of 24-72 hours.

Others are available on the High Street. Many branches of Boots*, for example, are offering tests also for £85 with a 48-hour turnaround.

There are also testing centres at all the major UK airports, but do remember if you are taking a PCR test, that these tests are not part of the boarding process; it takes a day or two to get the results.

If you decide to use a home testing kit, make sure the country you are travelling to accepts results from a home testing kit, as not all countries do.

Top tip: take your passport and flight details with you when you attend the testing centre so these can be included on your test results report.

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Please note: NHS Covid-19 tests are not suitable for travel.

On arrival in destination

As well as requiring travellers to take pre-departure tests, some countries also insist on additional tests on arrival or within a few days. These are intended to screen all arrivals to the maximum to prevent an outbreak of the disease.

While, elsewhere, countries take a more relaxed approach and offer travellers the option of further tests to reduce their time in quarantine.

Please note: it's important to check the local requirements and entry rules before you travel. Below we've provided up-to-date information for popular destinations.

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Which destinations require a test?

The following table shows popular destinations that currently require some or all arrivals to either provide a negative COVID-19 test result or complete a test on arrival and/or during their stay. Select a country or region to see more details and link to up-to-date information.

Region Open for tourism Testing On arrival in destination On return
Algarve1 Yes   Vaccinated arrivals exempt (Pre-departure test required for unvacinated arrivals over 12 years old) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Andorra1 Yes (See entry requirements for France and Spain)   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Antigua Yes PCR test No quarantine required (All tourists are carefully monitored in their hotels) No quarantine required
Aruba1 Yes PCR test No quarantine required (Mandatory further test on arrival + isolation pending result) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Austria1 Yes   Vaccinated arrivals exempt (Unvaccinated who cannot prove recovery from Covid must quarantine. Test to release on Day 5 is available.) No quarantine required
Azores1 Yes   No quarantine required (Pre-departure test required for unvacinated arrivals over 12 years old. Further tests required on Day 6 & Day 12) No quarantine required
Bahamas1 Yes PCR test No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Balearic Islands1 Yes   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Barbados Yes (Vaccinated passengers subject to test on arrival + release from quarantine if negative) PCR test Vaccinated arrivals exempt (Unvaccinated arrivals must quarantine and take PCR on Day 5 to release) No quarantine required
Cambodia Yes PCR test Quarantine for UK arrivals3 (Mandatory 2nd PCR test on arrival and on Day 13 of quarantine) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Canary Islands Yes   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Cape Verde1 Yes PCR or Antigen test No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK
Croatia1 Yes PCR or Antigen test No quarantine required No quarantine required
Cuba Yes PCR test Quarantine for UK arrivals3 (2nd PCR test on arrival + another test on Day5 to end quarantine) Quarantine in the UK
Cyprus Yes   No quarantine required (2nd PCR test on arrival for all unvaccinated visitors who after Day 7 need to be tested every 3 days for access to most hospitality venues) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Czech Republic1 Yes   Vaccinated arrivals exempt (2nd test on arrival for unvaccinated and again 5-7 days after arrival to end quarantine) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Dominican Republic1 Yes   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK
Egypt1 Yes   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Gambia1 Yes PCR test No quarantine required (2nd rapid test on arrival for all visitors from UK) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Gibraltar1 Yes   No quarantine required (Mandatory lateral flow test on arrival and on Day 5) No quarantine required
Greece1 Yes   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Hungary1 Yes   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Ireland1 Yes   Vaccinated arrivals exempt (Unvaccinated arrivals must quarantine. 2nd test on Day 5 to shorten quarantine) No quarantine required
Italy1 Yes PCR or Antigen test Vaccinated arrivals exempt (Unvaccinated arrivals from UK must quarantine for 5 days + take a further test on Day 5) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Jamaica1 Yes PCR or Antigen test No quarantine required (Within the tourist corridor visitors movements are restricted) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Jersey1 Yes   No quarantine required (2nd test on arrival for everyone. Unvaccinated arrivals must isolate until negative result received) No quarantine required
Kenya1 Yes PCR test Quarantine for UK arrivals3 (7 day quarantine for arrivals from the UK with a test on Day 4) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Madeira1 Yes   No quarantine required (All visitors over the age of 12 must take a test on arrival) No quarantine required
Maldives1 Yes PCR test No quarantine required (Tourists are exempt from quarantine but restricted to their islands) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Mauritius1 Yes PCR test Vaccinated arrivals exempt (Vaccinated visitors confined to their hotels for 14 days, unvaccinated confined to their rooms. Regular test for everyone) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Monaco1 Yes (Also see entry requirements for France)   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Morocco1 Yes   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Netherlands1 Yes PCR or Antigen test Quarantine for UK arrivals3 (2nd test on Day 5 to end quarantine) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Poland1 Yes   Vaccinated arrivals exempt (2nd test after Day 7 to exit quarantine) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Portugal1 Yes   No quarantine required (Pre-departure test required for unvacinated arrivals over 12 years old) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Seychelles1 Yes (Currently there are no direct flights between UK & Seychelles) PCR test No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK
Slovenia1 Yes   No quarantine required No quarantine required
South Africa1 Yes PCR test No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK
Spain1 Yes   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Sri Lanka1 Yes (Vaccinated arrivals subject to max 48 hours isolation) PCR test Vaccinated arrivals exempt (Test on arrival and during hotel quarantine for unvaccinated visitors) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
St Lucia1 Yes PCR test Vaccinated arrivals exempt (Unvaccinated arrivals are restricted to certified tourist venues during 14 days of quarantine) Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
Tunisia1 Yes PCR test Vaccinated arrivals exempt Quarantine in the UK
Turkey1 Yes   No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4
UAE1 Yes (All UK visitors to Abu Dhabi must quarantine) PCR test No quarantine required Quarantine in the UK (unless exempt)4

The information provided above is updated regularly - most recently on 28 September 2021.

  • 1 = UK FCDO advises against all but essential travel to this country
  • 2 = Non-resident foreign nationals are not permitted to land
  • 3 = Generally 14 days of self-isolation, but the number of days can vary
  • 4 = Vaccinated arrivals and under 18s may be exempt from quarantine

Travel advice by country

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Test to Release - arrival in the UK

Currently, the UK government requires most international travellers except those arriving from green list countries to self-isolate for 10 days when arriving in the UK with the option, unless they are arriving from a red-list country, to take a test on day five for early release from quarantine. This option is only available in England.

To opt in to the Test to Release scheme, travellers must book and pay for their test with an approved Covid-19 test provider before they arrive in the UK.

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Approved Covid-19 Test to Release providers

The following providers are among those approved to offer the Covid-19 Test to Release service. For a more complete list of providers, follow the button below.

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Types of Covid-19 test

There are broadly two different types of test to detect a Covid-19 infection: molecular tests and antigen tests. There is also a third antibody test but this cannot tell if you're currently infected, only whether you've had it in the past.

Molecular tests, including PCR tests, are more accurate than antigen tests which is why they have become the gold-standard in testing for travel. Antigen tests, however, have a more important role to play in government-sponsored mass testing programs.

PCR & other molecular tests

PCR and variants of PCR, which stands for polymerase chain reaction, is the most common type of molecular test. The PCR process was developed over 30 years ago as a means of amplifying very small quantities of DNA and is very accurate.

However, it is a time-consuming process which at the moment can only be carried out in a laboratory which means that it can take 48 hours or more before the results are known.

Recent innovations in molecular amplification techniques (NAAT, RT-PCR and LAMP) have started to reduce processing times, and now there are a few that do not require a laboratory and can produce results in under 30 minutes. These may bring some big changes to testing for travel, but it is still early days.

Where to get PCR tests

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Antigen tests

Antigen tests employ a different method to identify the coronavirus. Instead of focusing on DNA, antigen tests search instead for Covid-19 proteins.

This is a much simpler approach and does not require a laboratory. Samples can usually be processed in less than 30 minutes and it is also a lot cheaper.

However, antigen tests are not as accurate as molecular PCR tests, so the PCR test has become the one that most countries require you to take for travel purposes, and for England's Test to Release.

This is unfortunate because it is not as if antigen tests are not accurate. They are very good at detecting coronavirus in most cases and can be used very effectively in cutting transmission (the 'R' rate) when employed in mass testing of populations.

That said, there are a number of countries that have recently said they will accept antigen tests as an alternative to PCR tests, most notably France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Italy and mainland Portugal.

Given that these tests can become part of the boarding process, the whole landscape of testing for travel could change if they gain wider acceptance.

Where to get antigen tests

Test Completed Price
Corona Test Centre - Covid-19 Antigen test* Test centres from £75

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Antibody tests

Antibody tests cannot detect coronavirus infection, so no government requires them for travel. However, they are widely available for travellers who are interested in finding out if they have been infected in the past, and tests are easily performed at home by taking a small sample of blood with a finger prick.

Where to get antibody tests

Covid-19 antibody tests can be purchased online from many popular pharmacies. The tests are usually sent via post and carried out at home. Here is a selection of providers:

Covid testing deals >>

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Travel advice: stay up-to-date with the latest Covid-19 rules, regulations and advice from countries worldwide in our travel advice section.

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