An increasing number of countries require travellers entering the country to have had a PCR test to show whether they are infected with Covid-19.
We break down everything you need to know about getting tested before you travel from cost to reliability.
So what exactly is a PCR test?
A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test can detect antigens stimulating an immune response. In normal English? It indicates whether patients have an active, specific infection such as Covid-19.
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Why do I need one?
Upon reopening, an increasing number of destinations are insisting all arrivals – or those from certain countries – produce a negative PCR test in order to gain entry. This is now mandatory for British visitors to various Caribbean nations, the Maldives, Mauritius, Cambodia, Cyprus and, newly, Italy (for those willing to self-isolate on return), among others.
Will it become standard practice?
Very possibly, according to Jiten Vyas, of VFS Global, a visa-facilitation provider that can arrange PCR tests. ‘An integrated Covid-19 testing solution can become a catalyst in international travel’s recovery by being a major risk mitigator,’ says Vyas.
So how do I know if I need one?
Check the entry requirements of your chosen country (see gov.uk). The demands vary: the Seychelles, for instance, currently stipulates a second negative PCR result be produced (tested at their own expense) after five days of quarantine. Other nations such as Iceland are instead demanding travellers pay for tests upon arrival or are providing them free at certain airports. You’ll have to quarantine for hours or days until the results.
Can I get one on the NHS?
No. ‘This isn’t possible on the NHS as its tests are only offered to those displaying Covid symptoms,’ says Vyas.
So where can I get one?
You must pay to be tested privately. Google it and heaps of clinics pop up. To make things easier, use VFS Global’s appointment booking system to arrange a test via a reputable clinic (vfsglobal.com).
Can I do the test at home?
Yes. Home sample kits can be ordered through VFS or other providers for a self-administered swab or saliva test. After you produce a sample, the kit must be posted back by next-day delivery.
When should I take it?
Predictably, the time frame before arrival for which a negative test is considered valid differs per country, varying from 48 to 120 hours after your swab.
But how long will I wait for the results?
Usually 24 to 72 hours. Results will be at your address within 36 hours if you book a clinic test with VFS. Vyas adds: ‘Customers choosing the home testing option can also expect answers within 36 hours from when the laboratory receives your sample.’
Are PCR tests accurate?
They’re 99 per cent reliable. Note that should tests be performed incorrectly or produce borderline readings – possible during the early or late stages of an infection – labs will return an ‘inconclusive’ result, which is insufficient for entry to countries requiring a negative test.
How much do tests cost?
From £115 (through VFS) to £250. The pain doesn’t always end there, though: some countries also stipulate a ‘fit to fly’ letter, costing up to £100 extra.
What happens if the test is positive?
Most travel firms or providers won’t issue refunds, although you may be able to reschedule a booking. ‘It’s also mandatory for both parties – laboratory and client – to report positive results to the authorities,’ adds Vyas.
Will travel insurance cover a positive result?
Several travel insurers offer Covid cancellation cover, including AllClear, assuming the destination is one to which our government permits non-essential travel.
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