Travellers need to be cautious when choosing a Covid test provider before taking a trip.
Most countries currently insist on Covid tests before entry, along with other border control measures. The most common requirement is for passengers to have the rigorous and expensive PCR test.
British Airways’ website links to four different test providers, which provide a discount to its customers for tests that show you’re ‘Fit to Fly’.
One, from a company called Halo Verify, costs £89 if you book it direct, but that price goes down to £75 if you use BA’s discount code.
That compares with rates from £93 to £166 from the other companies that BA highlights. The other companies’ tests also all require you to use the, often uncomfortable, nose and throat swabs.
With Halo all you have to do is spit in a test tube at home and send it off to its laboratory.
Superdrug has also recently announced that it’s selling similar PCR saliva home-testing kits for £120 that customers can use for travel.
No entry with PCR saliva tests?
But of ten destinations that we looked at, three say that tests must be carried out by using a swab, while one, Australia, forbids self-administered saliva sample collection at home. For most of the other destinations, it’s ambiguous as to whether saliva tests are accepted or not.
Information provided by national bodies in Italy and Greece clearly state that they require a PCR swab test.
The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice for Portugal is also very clear. It says: ‘Make sure you have a RT-PCR COVID-19 nasal swab test.’
The Portuguese tourist promotion team told us that they believe that, while the EU may authorise PCR saliva tests in the future, it hasn’t done so yet.
Australia says that PCR saliva tests are accepted – but only if the tests are supervised by a medical professional. Saliva tests done at home are not accepted.
Of the 10 countries we looked at only Canada explicitly states that it does accept PCR saliva tests on its official entry information.
British Airways response
BA’s advice on its website says: ‘country Covid-specific entry requirements can be complicated – the regulations, issued by each separate government, can have different parts to them depending on your journey and your personal circumstances. This means we’re unable to provide you with detailed advice on your individual needs for your trip.’
It advises travellers to check the FCDO entry requirements pages for advice on the applicable rules.
A BA spokesperson said: ‘We are pleased to be able to offer our customers a broad range of discounted options across multiple providers, including PCR, LAMP and Antigen tests.
‘The saliva PCR test is accepted by the vast majority of countries that we fly to, and also meets the standards required for UK test and release and UK pre-departure testing. We follow the guidance from international authorities and always advise customers to ensure they meet the entry requirements for the country they’re flying to.’
You can find more information about how to get a cheap Covid test from your airline here.
Can you rely on a PCR saliva test for travel?
Passengers need to be confident that any test they take will be accepted by both their airline and the country they’re visiting.
It is the passenger’s own responsibility to ensure that the test they choose meets the requirements of their destination. Airlines are responsible for enforcing the rules and may not allow you to board if you have not had the test required.
For countries such as Portugal, Italy and Greece, which specify that tests should be done using swabs, we’d advise not taking the risk of using a saliva test until the advice changes. Portugal is currently on the government’s ‘red list’, meaning travel there is not possible. Travellers should look out for any change to its advice when restrictions are lifted.
As Australia specifically states that self-administered home saliva tests aren’t accepted, you should not use one for travel there.
For countries that just say that they require a ‘PCR test’, PCR saliva tests may well be accepted.
It would be unwise to travel without having had a test that’s definitely approved by the relevant authorities.
It’s also important to note that it isn’t currently possible to travel without good reason. Holidays are still prohibited from the UK and many countries have restricted entry to their own nationals or residents.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office has information about entry requirements here.
Do PCR saliva tests work to detect Covid?
There is some evidence that PCR saliva tests could be a good option, particularly in the future when more research has been done into their use and they’ve been approved worldwide.
Jon Deeks, Professor of Biostatistics at Birmingham University, said that a recent study does support their use. But he added that, ‘with such a new technology it would be wise for a quality assurance programme to be run alongside the saliva testing to make sure that it’s accurate.’
Halo Verify response
‘Halo’s endeavour is to provide accurate, convenient and cost effective SARS-CoV-2 testing that allows both businesses and people to move forward with their lives in a simple and safe way.
‘Adapting to the constantly evolving environment of SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic testing, Halo has worked in partnership with the UK government and relevant regulatory bodies to ensure it is offering an approved, affordable and almost 100% accurate test for those who require it.
‘As governments’ guidelines both in the UK and overseas constantly evolve and alter, Halo will continue to be at the forefront of the world’s technology and testing offering and will ensure it maintains a quality service for its customers.’
British Airways tests – for the return home
As well as needing tests to travel abroad, anybody who enters the UK will need to be tested prior to their return home and again after arrival.
BA have recently announced a deal with a company called Qured that provides the cheaper Lateral flow tests that you need to take before returning home. You buy the test before your trip for £33, take it with you in your luggage, and then take the swab before return, while being monitored by video link.
After arrival in the UK you then need to be self-isolate and be tested again on the second and eighth day after your return home. Until these restrictions are lifted there are significant barriers to travel. See our advice here on whether you can book a holiday for later in the year.