What to do if you need a Covid-19 test for travel

October 09, 2020

Many countries now require a negative PCR test on entry.  What is a PCR test and what is the procedure?

Some countries have provided facilities for PCR testing at arrival ports of entry if you have not had a test, for example Madeira and Jersey.  After taking the test both islands require you to self-isolate until the results come through.  Not a problem in Madeira where the result comes in less than 12 hours, however in Jersey it can take up to 48 hours - not much point if you are going for a weekend away!  (However, for Jersey you can apply to use a test taken before travel).

So, what is a PCR test and what is the procedure to obtain one?

A PCR test, or polymerase chain reaction test, is administered via swabs being taken from inside the nose and throat and then being processed to check for antigens that indicate an active infection.  From experience I can say that the process is not pleasant but is over quickly and worth the discomfort to enable you to travel.

The PCR test is the type of test that is administered by the NHS at their testing centres.  However, an NHS is NOT available to enable travel, firstly they are reserved for referrals by the NHS and secondly no certificate is provided that can be used for travel.  It is therefore necessary for you to obtain a test and certificate privately.

Searching the internet, you can find many results of companies providing tests for travel with costs varying widely.

First make sure that the laboratory processing the test is UKAS approved and that the test is also CE marked.  Failure to do this will mean that it will probably not be accepted.

You will also need to make sure that the test is processed within the time frame that you require, which will depend on the place you are travelling to.

For example, South Africa require a test to be made with 72 hours of your departure from the UK whereas the island of Mauritius requires this within 48 hours.  there is little point in going to a test centre that gives a 72-hour guarantee when you need the result within 48 hours!  Also remember that many companies are offering home test kits but there processing time is taken from when they receive the test so you may have to hand deliver the test or same day courier it in order to achieve the time limit.  Also beware that some skill is required in administering the test to take the samples from the correct place, believe me it is pushed a LONG way up the nose!  You may therefore be better served by using one of the services that provide staff to administer the test rather than use a postal service.  There are companies who will administer the tests in your home.

Some companies ask for just a saliva sample - but make sure that this complies with the regulations of where you are travelling to.

Oh and don't forget that weekends may delay the result.

You will also need to specify that a certificate is provided that is in an acceptable form for the country you are visiting.

For up to date information on which countries require what type of test (if any) look at the FCO website here... search for the country you are travelling to and look at the Covid-19 specific requirements.

Note that some countries require a second test after you have been in the location for a while.  For example, the Seychelles require a second test to be taken after arrival.

Many countries that provide local testing are doing this for free - for example Madeira and Jersey but some (for example Iceland) require this to be paid for.

Don't let the requirement for a test put you off travelling.  If you do the research in to your destination and the testing regime thoroughly you will find that things are not as daunting as they appear.  At least you know that the authorities where you are travelling to are taking your health and safety seriously. 

To read more about my experience in Madeira click here...