Now that travel is returning many of us are looking forward to getting away, however we have to face the added complication of searching for and purchasing COVID tests (depending on local requirements). Whilst a google search can help find the best solution for you, it can become quite a minefield of options.
Fear not, we’ve got your back. Here we’ll weigh up your options, including pros and cons, to craft a solution fitted to you.
Depending on the country you’re travelling to or returning from, your individual testing requirements will vary, so be sure to check before purchasing tests.
Most testing companies will offer a selection of tests, if not all the required tests you need when going away. However, before investing in a PCR test (which can be expensive and slower to get results back) check to see if there’s not an easier, cheaper and faster alternative available e.g. an antigen or antibody test.
Please see the testing requirements for entry back into the UK from the red, amber and green listed countries.
It’s important to check the rules for the individual country you are going to check whether:
- the UK government advises against all but essential travel to the places you want to travel to
- the country or territory you want to go to will allow people from England to enter
- you need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter, or quarantine when you arrive
Requirements may vary for arrival into foreign countries and are decided by their laws. This includes green-listed countries so it’s important not to assume the process of returning to the UK is the same as arriving at your destination. Requirements also differ for those who are fully-vaccinated and those who are not.
The majority of countries require the traveller to take a PCR test no more than 72 hours before departure (antigen tests are not valid) and to carry proof of the negative test with them. It may be worth covering all bases by having both a digital and paper copy to hand. Note: Passengers are not able to use NHS testing facilities for travel related testing, this must be purchased and organised privately, however most airlines have partnered with testing providers to offer free or subsidised testing for arrivals and departures.
Check whether you are required to submit an Embarkation/Disembarkation card 24 hours prior to travel - without this entry onto the plane will be denied. Information for this can be found here.
Note: if you are travelling under extenuating circumstances or as a diplomat/with governmental approval these requirements may not be applicable.
When you set off and arrive in the UK from an amber list country after being fully vaccinated, the testing requirements are exactly the same as if you had returned from a green list country (see above).
You’ll need to complete all the testing requirements that are expected when returning from a green list country PLUS you will:
In the instance that you have been to a Red List country (or the UK government has updated the country you are in to a Red list county) you will need to:
We’ve compared some options on the market and created a shortlist based on price, location and accuracy.
Ranking in first place is Randox Health Home testing. When it comes to pricing, they are the most budget friendly at nearly half the price of the other providers, and are now offering packages for pre and post travel, providing a range of options for both double-vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers.
A crucial consideration is location - do you want to be tested at home or at a test centre?
If you're restricted in terms of transportation options and Dropbox* accessibility. The ‘where’ is entirely up to you, your access and personal preference. Home testing is more convenient, Centre testing results in less personal admin. Only people who are returning from a green-listed country or fully-vaccinated returning from an amber listed country are allowed to use public transport within 10 days of arriving into the UK. If you don’t have a means to get to a testing centre and aren’t allowed to use a taxi or bus, centre-based testing including Collinson, wouldn’t be a suitable option for you.
*Some providers may require you to drop tests off at specific dropboxes, so be sure to check you have one near you before purchasing.
Before purchasing your test(s) it’s worth looking at reviews on trustpilot, tripadvisor, google etc to get the public’s opinion. Negative feedback is inevitable, especially when it comes to the home testing kits relying on postal systems and also relying on a correct sample being taken. But wait times and delayed results can range from company to company depending on where they are at with updating their protocols in line with the unpredictability of new announcements.
It’s important to make sure that certificates from your testing centre of choice will be accepted as proof of a negative result. All of the testing companies featured here are on the Department of Health and Social Care’s list of private providers, so you can rest assured that your results will be accepted.
If you need to get a test abroad, to return to the UK, it’s important to make sure that you are going to a recognised provider, also make sure that your result is in either English, French or Spanish - otherwise this won’t be accepted as proof of a negative result.
1. Collinson Airport tests (suitable for centre-based testing)
2. Express Test (suitable for method variety)
3. Halo Home Spit Test (suitable for families)
4. Medicspot Home Testing (suitable for return to UK lateral flow testing)
5. Randox Health and Home Testing (top pick overall)
Collinson Airport Tests is the UK’s leading testing provider which speaks for itself. It provides all types of tests (excluding spit tests) and is available across the UK at London Heathrow, Manchester, London City, Luton, Stansted and East Midlands Airports. Collinson has also partnered with EasyJet airline to provide competitively low prices for passengers on their flights. Their website is easy to navigate and clear.
The location may prove an issue for some wanting a centre-based test as the lack of locality means a long drive. Unfortunately an at home option isn’t in the picture for Collinson Airport Tests, as inferred by the name it provides centre-based tests only.
ExpressTest provide mainly in centre testing and are commended for their easy-to-use online booking system, with online check in through their QR code feature, therefore the risk of exposure at testing sights is significantly decreased. Their drive-through method only suits individuals with access to a car but alternatives are provided such as LAMP (Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification), home, antigen lateral flow, and remote lateral flow tests. It’s important to note their most popular site is at Heathrow airport which is handy for arrivals into the UK if you are looking to use ExpressTest for your Day 2 PCR test. They also offer a cheaper “passenger fee” at their airport-based locations.
Halo Home Spit Test prides itself on being “the best spit test on the market” and highlights it’s ‘family-friendly approach’. This type of test takes a simple “spit in pot” approach and is not as invasive as alternative options. Admittedly it does fall within the pricey range of options but this is something to weigh up against the practicality and easy nature of this style of testing.
You can order your tests online with Halo and they will be delivered to your door the next day. With all home-testing options it’s recommended to give yourself plenty of time to allow for delays. There are around 5 drop-off locations around the UK, but Halo also provides a courier pick-up option, which relieves the stress of finding a dropbox.
Medicspot Home Testing Provides travellers with the option to purchase lateral flow tests before they travel. These tests are required to return to the UK whether you are visiting a green or amber list destination. At £45 each they are not cheap, but it does remove all the hassle of looking for a testing location whilst abroad. You’re also removing any uncertainty, such as tests running out if UK visitors rush to return.
The test is really easy to organise, simply purchase before travel and take with you, register your kit online, take the test, send a picture, and wait for your certificate. If you don’t feel confident you can order a spare kit for £15 to avoid the instance of an inconclusive test.
Randox Health Home Testing is our top choice. It’s adaptive to preference; providing mobile testing services and at home packages. It also considers the traffic light international travel scheme and automatically details and caters for each list. The booking system is trickier to navigate and the return postal system is exclusive to DX drop boxes, which may be less convenient then the common postbox option used by most companies. But this is a small price to pay (literally!) for the benefits.
As one of the cheapest options on the market, it makes travelling abroad much more affordable (half the price of its closest competitor). However, make sure that you give yourself lots of time as there are some complaints of delayed results. You also need to make sure that you have a drop box near you before purchasing home tests.
Preparation is key, you can take your tests within 72 hours of flying - so it’s great to allow yourself as much time within that window as possible. With home test kits you will have to post kits back, and while most guarantee 24 hour results, there is always a chance of delay. If you have decided to go with center testing, being prepared means you are likely to get a better deal. Airport tests can quickly add up if you require a quick results turnaround.
It's worth researching promotional companies providing discounts on sponsored testing providers, maybe consider this option in your booking process as either way, testing isn’t cheap, so check with your airline and insurance provider as they may have partnered with a specific lab.
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