PCR testing: What does it mean for my holiday?

  • Published: 16 Oct 2020
  • Author: David Ward

Important update: From 4am on 15th January 2021, passengers arriving from all international destinations will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result before departing for England to help protect against new strains of coronavirus circulating internationally. Furthermore, arrivals to the UK from all destinations can reduce their quarantine period by taking a test after 5 days. You can find details and a list of providers at the government's test-to-release page.

As we know only too well, with Coronavirus infection rates rising and falling in different regions and advice changing on an almost-weekly basis, it’s tough to commit to firm travel plans at the moment. 

One way some countries are overcoming the uncertainty is with the introduction of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, allowing travellers to provide a negative Covid-19 test, usually around 72 hours before departure. These tests are now a requirement for travel to several destinations which, along with their exemption from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s (FCDO) blanket advice against all but essential travel, has given them quarantine-free status in both directions.

As such, the term PCR testing is likely to be become synonymous with travel, at least in the short term. Here we take a look at what a PCR test actually is, what it means for your holiday and, of course, how you go about getting one. 

What is a PCR test?

A PCR test is used to detect Coronavirus (Covid-19) in your body through the presence of the virus’s genetic material, or RNA. The test itself is carried out either at home or a clinic via a swab sample of your nose and throat, with results usually back within 24-48 hours. Same-day services are also available but, of course, cost a bit more.

Do I need a PCR test?

Most destinations now require a negative PCR test as a condition of entry and those that do often have varying timeframes for how long in advance of travel you need to undergo the test. Check the specific requirements for your destination carefully and as the window between taking the test and arrival in the destination can be short. What’s more, entry requirements can and do change, so for the most up-to-date information, we recommend visiting the FCDO website

There are other types of coronvavirus test, including 'LAMP', 'TMA' and antigen tests, which typically allow results to be obtained more quickly. However, as most destinations do yet not recognise these for entry - nor do some airlines even if the destination does - we would currently recommend obtaining a PCR test unless it is clear that another type of test is acceptable for both your destination and airline.

How much does a PCR test cost?

Typically, a PCR test costs between £120 and £200 per person, or more if you require a same-day service from a private clinic. Travellers will NOT be able to attain a PCR test via the NHS.

Where can I get a PCR test?

There are now numerous providers of PCR-tests for travel across the country and a quick online check via a search engine will bring back a range of options. There are two main methods of obtaining a test:

  1. the first is a ‘test at home’ option where a kit is sent to you from the provider that allows you to take a sample at home which is then posted to a laboratory for analysis; results are returned to you via email or an app - usually within 24-48 hours of receipt by the lab
  2. the second is to attend a clinic where a sample is taken by a trained clinician, which is then sent to a lab by the clinic with results returned via email or an app; this method is usually more expensive but there is less chance of the sample being taken incorrectly - and results can usually be returned more quickly

We would currently recommend the second option above, which although more expensive, is likely to be more reliable and results can often be returned more quickly.

When using a home sampling kit, particular care must be taken to ensure there is sufficient time for the test swab to be sent in the post, particularly over weekends and bank holiday periods.

In all cases please check carefully how quickly results will be delivered by your test provider and what the exact requirements are for your destination at the FCDO website. Please note that some destinations, such as Dubai, may not accept the results for some types of home sampling/testing.

Test at London Heathrow with DiamondAir

DiamondAir, offers a range of PCR pre-travel COVID-19 test options for clients who are able to attend a clinic at London Heathrow Airport prior to travel. Tests are conducted at a dedicated facility at the airport, with results being made available in as little as 4-12 hours if using their express service. Prices start at £155 per person for the standard service.

While this option is convenient for anyone living close to London Heathrow, DiamondAir is also able to offer a range of alternative options including home test kits, meet-and-greet services and chauffeur transfers. For example, you’d be able to transfer to the airport for your test, stay overnight at an airport hotel and then collect the results the next day before your flight.

We have negotiated a 5% discount on any COVID-19 test services offered, simply enter the code BSS05 when booking using the link below or quote the same code when calling DiamondAir on 020 8897 9183.

Book online here

Please note, you'll need to book early, especially for travel around Christmas, New Year and bank holiday periods.

Other airport-based testing options

Testing centres have recently been opened at a number of major UK airports. However, due to the way PCR tests results have to be analysed it is generally not possible to undergo a PCR test and get the result the same day from any airport locations, so plan on visiting the airport a few days before travel, depending on the requirements of your destination.

Some airport hotels, including the Sofitel at Heathrow Terminal 5 and Hilton Gatwick, now offer a 'test and rest' service where you can purchase a package that includes overnight stay and a PCR test which is analysed overnight and results are delivered the following morning via email or mobile app. Note that although tests are analysed in prioriry order based on flight departure time there is no guarantee that results will be returned early enough for very early morning departures, so please check carefully with the hotel before booking this service.

Click on the links below for more details:

Heathrow Airport

Sofitel Heathrow

Gatwick Airport

Stansted Airport

Manchester Airport

Edinburgh Airport

Also, you are flying with British Airways you can benefit from discounted rates with some test providers - details are available here

Please note that this information is provided in good faith but we are not responsible for the services provided by any of these third parties.