COVID-19 (Coronavirus) may impact your travel plans. Wherever you're going, you'll find the latest advice here.

News Fit to fly: COVID tests for travel explained

All articles

Fit to fly: COVID tests for travel explained

Following months of COVID-related chaos, the UK’s travel rules have been simplified. Here’s what you need to know about pre-departure requirements and testing after arriving in the UK from red and non-red countries.

Remember that the destination you’re flying to will have its own rules and regulations. Double-check whether you need to take a test before departing from the UK. The regulations differ depending on whether you’re vaccinated, unvaccinated or arriving from a red list country.


1. COVID tests: the latest changes for UK travellers

From November 30th, all international arrivals into the UK must take a pre-booked Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they get a negative result. Day 2 PCRs can be done anytime after you get back and before the end of day two. Day zero is the day you arrive. So if you’re back in the UK on Monday, you can take your PCR test on Monday (day zero), Tuesday (day one) or Wednesday (day two). Bear in mind that there are different COVID-19 rules if you are entering EnglandScotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The rules are more complex for unvaccinated travellers and those returning from red list countries. Please refer to our map to see which countries are currently on the red list and where you can travel if you are not yet fully vaccinated.


2. Local regulations for COVID tests

Every country has its own rules surrounding COVID tests for travel. Before booking your trip, check the latest FCDO guidance to find out if you need a pre-departure test. Some countries won’t require this if you’re fully vaccinated, however, some destinations don’t yet accept the NHS app as proof of vaccination. In these situations, you’ll be treated the same as an unvaccinated passenger.


3. What you need to do before and after travel

   Fully vaccinated or under 18

    • Book your tests before you travel
      You’ll need the reference number for your passenger locator form.
    • Take a PCR test on or before day two
      The day you land counts as day zero.

   Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated

    • Book your day two and day eight tests before you travel
      You’ll need the reference numbers for your passenger locator form.
    • Take a pre-departure test within three days of your flight to the UK
    • Take a PCR test on days two and eight of arriving in the UK
      The day you land counts as day zero.
    • Self-isolate at home for 10 days
      Travellers in England have the option to ‘test to release‘ after five days.

   Returning from a red list country
         (regardless of vaccine status)

      • Book a quarantine hotel package before you travel
        You’ll need the invoice number for your passenger locator form.
      • Take a pre-departure test within three days of your flight to the UK
      • Self-isolate at a managed quarantine hotel for 10 days, at your own expense
        You’ll stay longer if you get a positive test result.
      • Take a PCR test on days two and eight at the hotel
        There’s no ‘test to release’ option.

4. The difference between a lateral flow test and a PCR test

Lateral flow tests are quicker than PCR tests and you can easily do them at home. The results are usually available within minutes. Lateral flow testing involves a swab of your nose and throat to collect a sample. The swab is then inserted into a tube of liquid for a short time and dropped on a test strip. After 10-30 minutes, depending on the type of test, you get a result.

In general PCR tests are more accurate than lateral flow tests and cost more. The process for the swab is the same as for a lateral flow test: a swab of your nose and throat. A PCR test can be done at home but instead of seeing the results immediately, you send the test to a lab to get the result. It will then take at least 24 hours for your results to arrive.


5. How much does a test cost?

Prices vary and are dependent on which provider and which type of test you choose. Be mindful when choosing providers to avoid being scammed. There are specific PCR test providers that are government approved for travel. These Travel approved PCR tests can vary in cost from around 30 pounds and up to 250 for a rapid 24h test, depending on the provider. Regular Lateral flow tests can be bought at almost any pharmacy and can range from 10-20 pounds.


Discover where you can go

Making plans to get back out there? Find out which borders are open with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.


Want to read more?