Your handy guide to pre-departure COVID tests

By Linsey McNeill
25/04/2021
Home » Your handy guide to pre-departure COVID tests

Updated 6 May 2021

Who knows where and when your clients will be travelling this summer, but it’s almost certain that most of them will have to take a COVID test to enter another country.

This will be in addition to COVID test they’ll need to re-enter England at the end of their holiday.

Unfortunately, at the moment they can’t use the free NHS tests for travel, they’ll have to pay for private tests which include a ‘fit to fly’ certificate.

The good news is there are now more testing centres available than a year ago; the bad news is the tests are still horribly expensive.

The Government has said it is looking into reducing the cost of COVID tests, but it hasn’t said if this will be in time for the lifting of the holiday ban, or how much it expects the public to pay.

Covid test guide

Which test does your client need?

Most countries that request negative COVID tests from new arrivals insist on the more expensive RT-PCR Covid tests, rather than the much cheaper antigen or lateral flow tests.

PCR tests cost more because the samples need to be analysed in a laboratory, but they’re preferred by countries because they’re more accurate.

The US, Italy and Germany are among the few countries accepting antigen tests instead.

Clients should always be advised to check their destination’s entry requirements on the Foreign Office website (FCDO) before they buy a test.

In-clinic or home test, which is best?

Home-testing kits, which cost from around £60, are cheaper than those carried out in a clinic, but they aren’t accepted by all countries.

Clients will be fine with home-testing kits if they’re travelling to Spain (including the Canaries and the Balearic islands), Greece and Cyprus.

But some countries, including Dubai, will only accept PCR tests carried out by a clinician, at the moment. These can cost as much as £214 per person.

Covid test guide

Swab or spit?

No-one relishes sticking a wand down their throat or up their nose and parents often struggle to perform the task on young children. It’s especially hard for those with children with disabilities or learning difficulties.

Some clinics and pharmacies, including Superdrug, are now selling PCR saliva tests which are much easier to use. You only have to spit in a test tube and send it off for analysis, but these ‘spit’ or saliva tests aren’t accepted everywhere.

If a destination specifies that it requires a PCR swab test, clients won’t be able to use the spit test instead. 

Where are the test centres?

Many airports now have drive-through test centres, and there’s usually a discount for passengers (though note that it takes about 24 hours to get the results of PCR tests).

Expresstest provides drive-thru and/or walk-thru testing at a number of airports including Gatwick, Heathrow, Birmingham and Edinburgh for £80 for passengers or £99 with up to 30% off for multiple tests.

Lateral flow tests cost £50 with results in 30 minutes, but they won’t be suitable for travel to many countries.

Expresstest also provides drive-thru and walk-thru testing in several city centres or football grounds. Details are available on its website.

Collinson is another company providing airport testing.

Boots, the high street chemist has testing facilities in more than 100 of its stores, with results delivered within 48 hours. However, it doesn’t test children under 13.

Covid test guide

Travel companies offering free/discounted tests

Several airlines and tour operators have worked out deals with the major testing companies to offer cheaper home testing kits, but remember these won’t be suitable for travel to all destinations.

TUI has launched a range of testing packages, starting from £20 for tests to leave and return to the UK from countries that will be on the Government’s green list. A package that includes a PCR test for entry to another country, plus testing for leaving and returning to the UK, costs £60 for clients travelling to ‘green countries’

Gold Medal and several airlines are offering discount codes for customers to buy kits from Randox for £60. Advantage agents can also pass the discount code on to their clients. Hays Travel is offering a discount code that reduces the cost of postal tests to £45 with AssuredScreening. It can also offer tests at centres, for £55, and tests with same-day results for £140.

TUI recently offered free tests for customers travelling to St Lucia. For other destinations, both TUI and Jet2holidays offer discounts on home testing kits for £70 and £75 respectively.

While we heard stories of customers missing flights last year because their test results failed to arrive in time, one advantage of using a tour operator’s recommended test supplier is that they might re-arrange the holiday if the results are delayed.

Some airlines also offer discounted tests, bookable from their website. With British Airways you can get a  home PCR swab test for £99 or a rapid antigen test, accepted by the US, Germany and Italy, for £39.

EasyJet offers discounts for Randox home testing kits, which reduces the cost to £72 from £120.

Will the cost of testing come down by 17 May?

There certainly seems to be some room for manoeuvre here since it’s been claimed that the cost-price of a PCR test is only £2-£3, which, if true, means that testing companies are making a huge profit.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he’d like to bring down the cost of testing, and he announced last week that one of the Government-approved testing firms is looking at introducing a £45 test.

He’s also considering relaxing testing requirements for leaving and returning to the UK, possibly swapping PCR for cheaper lateral flow tests, but most other countries are likely to insist on PCR tests for entry.

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