Where can I get a PCR Covid test? Rules on Covid testing for travel abroad – and how to order

Holidaymakers will need to take a pre-departure Covid test to travel abroad under new rules
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Travel rules are being tightened once again in the UK in light of the emergence of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

Testing requirements for holidaymakers will largely revert to rules that were in place earlier this year, as part of efforts to minimise the spread of the coronavirus strain.

The Omicron variant has been detected in at least 38 countries and is thought to be more infectious than all other mutations.

Holidaymakers will need to order a PCR test from a provider before travel (Photo: Getty Images)Holidaymakers will need to order a PCR test from a provider before travel (Photo: Getty Images)
Holidaymakers will need to order a PCR test from a provider before travel (Photo: Getty Images)

As such, from 4am on Tuesday (7 December), anyone travelling to the UK from a country not on the red list will need to take a pre-departure test a maximum of 48 hours before travel, regardless of their vaccination status.

The rule applies to anyone aged 12 and above, with travellers able to take either a rapid lateral flow test or a PCR test, which must be negative.

This pre-departure test is in addition to proof of a negative PCR test which must be taken on or before day two after arrival.

You will need to order all of these tests before travelling.

Some countries may also require proof of a negative Covid-19 test before allowing UK travellers entry.

Make sure to check the entry requirements for the country you are visiting on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) website ahead of travel.

What is a PCR test?

A PCR test involves taking a swap from the inside of your nose and the back of your throat using a long cotton bud.

This can be done by yourself, if you are aged 12 or over, or someone can do it for you. Parents or guardians should swab test children aged 11 or under.

This type of test is mainly used for people who have symptoms of coronavirus, including a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, and they are sent off to a lab to be checked.

Unlike lateral flow tests, which can provide results within 30 minutes, results from a PCR test are returned in up to five working days, via text or a phone call.

These tests are considered more accurate as they are better at detecting very small amounts of the virus, especially early on during an infection.

By comparison, lateral flow tests are mostly used by people who do not have any symptoms of coronavirus.

How can I get a PCR test for travel?

The government has advised that people should not use the NHS testing service to book a test before travelling abroad, but instead need to arrange one privately from a provider.

Test packages for holidays need to be booked in advance to give the provider time to organise delivery of the testing kits.

When these arrive, the first test will need to be taken on or before day two of your quarantine period, and the second should be taken on or after day eight of your quarantine period.

A comprehensive list of PCR test providers is available on the government website. You can select either a day two test to be taken on your return, or a pre-departure test, or both, depending on what is required for your destination.

High street retailers Boots and Superdrug both offer PCR tests.

The results of these will usually be returned within 48 hours and if the test is inconclusive you will be issued a refund, or be given the option of paying to repeat the test. Tests at Boots also come with a “fit to fly certificate”.

Other private clinics across the country providing PCR tests can be found on the government website.

Alternatively, some airlines and travel companies also offer PCR tests, with some priced at just £60.

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