International travel is expected to resume from May 17, but you’ll need to get well acquainted with Covid tests if you’re planning a summer holiday.
Many countries now demand negative Covid-19 test results from incoming travellers, and, under the new traffic light system, you’ll also need to take a series of Covid tests when you arrive back in the UK.
Most places are using Polymerase Chain Reaction tests (PCR tests), within their foreign travel policy. Unlike rapid lateral flow tests – which can give a fast result in 30 minutes without the use of a lab – PCR swab tests must be sent to a lab for analysis. Most people get their result the next day, but it may take up to three days. PCR tests have a higher level of accuracy than rapid tests, which is why they’re being used despite the longer lead time.
What you need to know about departure tests
Each country sets its own rules, so it’s vital you check these before you book a trip, and double check you’ve met the requirements before you set off. You’ll find the pre-departure advice for your holiday destination on The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) website.
Let’s take Greece as an example. If you’re departing from the UK and travelling by air, land or sea to Greece, you must provide evidence of a negative result from a PCR test for Covid-19 that has been conducted within the 72-hour period before your arrival time in Greece.
In addition, those travelling to Greece from the UK by air are required to undergo a rapid Covid-19 test on arrival. If you test positive on arrival in Greece, you will have to self-isolate for at least 14 days, or until local authorities advise. You’ll then be required to arrange and undergo a fresh PCR test in order to be able to exit self-isolation.
You should not use the NHS testing service to access departure tests. Instead, the government asks you to arrange a private test.
Your holiday provider may direct you towards a private company offering such tests. For example, TUI lists two preferred suppliers, providing a PCR testing kit for £70. Alternatively, you can book an appointment at a high street pharmacy. Boots, for example, is offering PCR swab testing for £99.
The government’s website details other providers of private tests across the UK. You should also check the entry requirements for the country you’re visiting, and if they list any specific requirements around testing or suppliers.
What you need to know about arrival tests
When you return to the UK, you’ll need to take a series of PCR tests, but the system differs slightly depending on if you’ve been to a green, amber or red listed country.
The government is expected to set out which countries fall into which category later this week and, once announced, the full lists will be available on the government’s website.
Arrivals to the UK from a green-listed country will have to take a pre-departure PCR test at their holiday destination, then another PCR test on or before day two of their return to the UK. You’ll need to purchase a “test package” from a government list of providers before travelling to complete this process. Prices for the test packages start from around £160 and go up to nearly £600.
Again, those travelling back from an amber-listed country are required to purchase a “test package”. You’ll need to take a pre-departure test before leaving your destination, then enter a 10-day home quarantine when you arrive in the UK. Another PCR test is required on day two of quarantine, and a third is required on day eight.
There is the option to end your quarantine early by purchasing an additional private PCR test on day five, under the “test to release” system. These tests (costing £60-£100) must be purchased from the government list of providers.
If you’re entering the UK from a red-listed country, you’ll need to purchase a “quarantine package”. It’s essentially the same PCR testing system as the amber package – a pre-departure test, then a test on day two and day eight after arriv – but this time, there’s a mandatory 10-day stay in a quarantine hotel for £1,750 per person on top.
Further details on the traffic light system and testing will be available on the government’s website as we approach May 17.