As we look forward to a return to travel, you'll likely hear the term PCR testing frequently, 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 hours. Same-day services are also available but, of course, cost a bit more.
It's important to know that there are other types of coronavirus 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.
Do I need a PCR test?
A PCR test likely to be needed for travel to many, but not all, international destinations. Some might accept other types of test, while some may make other allowances for fully vaccinated travellers. For the most up-to-date information, we recommend visiting the FCDO website. You'll also need to undergo Covid-19 testing as a requirement of entry to the UK, both before departing your destination and also after arriving home. The current requirements are summarised below:
Testing before travelling or returning to the UK
- Take a coronavirus (COVID-19) test and get a negative result during the three days before you travel to the UK
- This test doesn’t necessarily need to be PCR test
- Certain exemptions may apply, but only for particular types of travel. These are outlined her
You can find details of testing prior to travelling to the UK, including exemptions, here.
Testing on return to the UK
- Two mandatory tests will be required on days two and eight, after your arrival in the UK
- These need to be PCR tests (or an equivalent standard) and must be booked via specific providers
- These ‘Travel Test’ packages need to be purchased prior to outbound travel
You can find details of ‘Travel Test’ packages, and how to book them, here
Optional ‘test to release’ system
- These optional tests can be taken, at the earliest, five days after return to England to reduce the length of quarantine at home
- While the UK government doesn’t specify that these should be PCR tests, any test taken under the ‘Test to Release’ programme must confirm to specific standards
- These tests can only be booked via specific providers
It’s important to note that, depending on your chosen destination, these requirements will change when the new traffic light system comes into effect either on or after 17th May 2021.
How much does a PCR test cost?
While the cost of PCR tests are starting to come down, they typically cost between £120 and £200 per person, sometimes more if you require a same-day service from a private clinic. Travellers will NOT be able to obtain a PCR test via the NHS.
Where can I get a pre-departure 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:
- 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
- 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.
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 priority 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:
British Airways & Randox Health
If you are flying with British Airways you can benefit from discounted rates with some test providers - details are available here. This now includes a partnership with Randox Health, where British Airways customers can obtain a PCR test for £60 per person.
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.