Following a brief spell where fully vaccinated Britons were permitted to take cheaper lateral flow tests around travel, the UK government has reinstated PCR tests as the mandatory style of test after travel.
The change in travel rules is due to the omicron variant, which has been spreading across the world – PCR tests are vital for genomic sequencing and tracking new variants, while antigen tests cannot provide this function.
This means we go back to the system before 24 October, where British travellers had to order and book private, paid-for PCR tests at around £45-120 per test, depending on location, quality and results turnaround.
You may not use the free NHS testing service, so must instead go through a private firm to obtain a test – whether a postal self-test or an in-person clinic appointment. They key thing is to ensure you have an order number (for your Passenger Locator Form) and an electronic test result with your name and the date and time clearly visible.
In terms of outbound travel from the UK, many countries already required a PCR test result in order to enter, while others allow an antigen (lateral flow) test, which can be cheaper. Check the the Covid entry requirements for your destination on the Foreign Office website before booking any tests.
At present, fully vaccinated travellers arriving into the UK must book a “day two” test within the two days after landing, and self-isolate at their home or accommodation while they wait for the result to arrive.
Unvaccinated or partly vaccinated arrivals must present a negative result from a pre-departure test within the 72 hours before travel, self-isolate for 10 days, and take two PCR tests at their own expense – one within the two days after landing, and another on day eight of isolation.
As such, PCR tests for travel can often run into hundreds of pounds, particularly for families.
For pre-departure tests, which are being reintroduced from 7 December, a PCR or a lateral flow (antigen) test will suffice, taken on the day you are returning from your trip, or one of the two days beforehand.
Here’s where to find a test that’s cheaper than the average.
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Providers offering PCR testings at UK airports include Collinson (Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, City, Manchester, East Midland and Stansted), ExpressTest (Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow, Edinburgh) and Randox (Heathrow, Belfast, Manchester, Stansted, East Midlands).
Collinson’s rapid PCR tests, which offer results in three hours, are available at Heathrow and Gatwick for £95. For “day two” tests after flying into Heathrow, it offers a “park and test” option near the west London airport for £69.
ExpressTest’s fit to fly PCR tests at its airport branches range from £59 to £119 each, depending on the location and speed of results. It also offers LAMP and lateral flow tests at some of its branches.
Randox offers express PCR tests for £80 at its airport locations. Day two and eight tests, as well those that enable passengers to test and release on day five, are available for £55 at its airport locations. These tests are done by trained staff at drive-through centres.
Boots UK has launched a PCR self-test package for £65 (or £136 for a dual day two and a day eight test package).
Its basic day two test – suitable for fully vaccinated travellers – can be purchased on boots.com and delivered the next day. It is also available at over 500 Boots stores and can be purchased by Boots Advantage Card holders using their points.
Boots also offers an in-store Covid-19 PCR Testing Service for £79, which is now available at over 200 stores in the UK and offers results within 48 hours.
All three private Boots tests can be used as a private pre-flight testing service, depending on the specific requirements of the destination country and airline, for customers who require a negative Covid-19 certificate before travelling abroad.
Boots is also now an accredited test provider for the government’s “Test to Release” scheme, offering in-store day five tests with next-day results for those wishing to reduce their home quarantine by taking a voluntary test on the fifth day after arriving in England from a country not on the ‘red list’. These cost £85.
Randox home tests
One of the largest providers of private Covid-19 testing in the UK, Randox offers PCR home testing kits in addition to those available at its testing centres. These cost £48 for a pre-departure or day two test, though discounts are available via a number of airlines and rail companies (see below). If you happen to live near one of dozens of Randox centres, the “click and collect” option saves you a bit at £34.99 a test kit.
Tui home tests
Britain’s biggest holiday firm has partnered with provider Chronomics, Screen4 and Randox on a range of Covid test packages.
You need a booking reference with Tui in order to access their discounted PCR test kits booked through these partners, which cost from £35-£60.
British Airways is offering discounted rates with government-approved Covid-19 testing providers with prices starting from £34.99.
Options available include:
- Test before you fly (evidence of a negative Covid-19 test at your departure airport)
- Arrivals testing (on arrival in the UK for quarantine tests on days two and eight)
- Test to Release (reducing your time in self-isolation by paying for a Covid-19 test as part of the government’s ‘Test to Release’ scheme)
- Day two and eight tests for arrival in the UK
Test providers include Qured, Randox, Screen4, Halo and Cignpost.
Tests can be done at home, at testing centres or at selected major UK airports.
Passengers travelling on selected routes can also upload their Covid-19 test results to an app called VeriFLY to certify their test certificates.
The budget airline has partnered with testing kit brand Randox to offer passengers money off its PCR tests, which cost £43 rather than the usual £48.
The discounted prices are only available for travellers based in the UK.
The UK’s biggest budget airline has also partnered with Randox Health to offer discounted home testing kits for £43.
EasyJet customers wishing to take pre-departure PCR tests at the airport before departure can take advantage of the airline’s partnership with Collinson. Using the special discount code when booking tests on the Collinson website will get you a pre-departure PCR for £55 or a day two PCR for £43.
This also applies to Collinson’s green list day two test, which you can complete at the airport on arrival in the UK (the day two tests must be completed on or before day two).
Government approved providers
You’re under no obligation to book a government-approved PCR test, but the UK.gov website does have a tool where you can narrow down test providers based on your travel details and vaccination status.
Although prices are listed as from £1, many providers have either gone out of business or have test kits that cost much more once you factor in postage or having to travel to a specific test site location, so it’s worth opting for one of the larger, recognisable providers mentioned above.
Most are in the range of £35-100 depending on whether they are a home test kit or clinic appointment, and how fast results are turned around.