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Do I need a PCR test or a rapid antigen test for my upcoming holiday? New travel rules explained

Travellers regardless of vaccination status will now need to take day two PCR tests when they return from trips abroad

Do I need a PCR test or a rapid antigen test for my upcoming holiday? New travel rules explained

The government has published an update to travel testing rules, meaning that from 30 November you’ll need to take a PCR test when retuning to the UK, even if you’re fully vaccinated.

Previously, travellers were able to use a rapid lateral flow or antigen day 2 test. However, new rules mean that from 4am on Tuesday 30 November anyone returning to the UK, regardless of their vaccination status will be required to take a test.

Those booking return PCR tests will need to do so through private providers  you cannot use free NHS tests for travel purposes. Travellers will also still be required to complete a passenger locator form before travelling and include the booking reference number given by their chosen provider.

The new rules mean holidays abroad will be costlier than expected for many. Day 2 PCR tests can cost between £43 and £90+ per person. In comparison, cheaper lateral flows cost in the region of £17 – £35 per person. 

Those who aren’t inoculated will need to shell out for three tests and self-isolate on return to the UK, including those returning from a green list country.

 


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Where can I get the cheapest day 2 PCR test in the UK?

We’ve conducted a mystery shop of the best, cheap PCR test providers, and four providers stood out. You can browse them via their homepages in the list below.

Testing For All homepage

Source Bioscience homepage

Rainbow Labs homepage

Eurofins homepage

We’ve also praised C19 Testing for its measures in place to help meet demand, and positive social media reviews. You can read more about C19 Testing via its website.

When will the day 2 PCR test requirement end for vaccinated holidaymakers?

The rules requiring travellers into the UK t take PCR tests are effective from 4am 30 November, and it us unclear how long this requirement will be in place.

What are the testing and quarantine rules for fully vaccinated holidaymakers returning from ‘rest of world’ green list countries to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

  • No pre-departure test required 
  • Take a privately purchased PCR test on or before day 2 after arriving into the UK (you cannot use a free NHS PCR test)
  • You must self-isolate at home until you get a negative result

In recent months there’s been a discussion around testing providers failing to return tests on time or including clauses in their terms and conditions which exclude them from the need to deliver on-time results, as well as those advertising misleading prices.  That’s why it’s essential you choose a provider that won’t let you down. Read our PCR provider mystery shop results for more information.

 

Can I use a free NHS Covid test for my day 2 test?

No. You cannot use free NHS tests for travel. When purchasing a private PCR day 2 test you’ll be provided with a unique reference number, which will be asked for in your passenger locator form when travelling.

people on plane wearing masks

What are the testing and quarantine rules for non-vaccinated holidaymakers returning from ‘rest of world’ green list countries to the UK?

  • Take a pre-departure lateral flow test before flying home to the UK – within 72 hours of your departure time (this must be negative to be permitted to travel)
  • Self-isolate on arrival in the UK for 10 days
  • Take privately purchased day 2 and 8 PCR tests
  • You can pay to take a day 5 test to release to reduce the self-isolation period (in England only)

These rules mean unvaccinated holidaymakers will still have to pay anywhere from around £100 to upwards of £250 for tests, but will be able to isolate at home, rather than in a hotel.

What are the testing and quarantine rules for all travellers returning from red list countries?

Anybody travelling to the UK from a red list country must take two PCR tests and quarantine in a hotel.

Requirements:

  • Take a pre-departure lateral flow test before flying home to the UK within 72 hours of your departure time (this must be negative to be permitted to travel)
  • Undergo a managed hotel quarantine for 10 days – this costs £2,285 for one adult
  • Take day 2 and 8 tests with no option for a day 5 test to release

Do you need a booster jab to count as fully vaccinated?

woman getting covid vaccine

Some countries including Austria and Croatia have set expiry dates on travellers’ ‘fully vaccinated’ status, meaning in some countries you may no longer be considered eligible for if a certain amount of days have passed since your second dose. Keep an eye on FCDO guidelines to find out your country’s entry requirements. 

Can I travel to all countries on the green ‘rest of world’ list?

No. Just because a country is rated green in the UK, that doesn’t mean you can travel there. Countries have their own specific entry requirements some countries, such as Australia, are not currently allowing British nationals to enter.

I’m not double jabbed and now need to quarantine – what are my cancellation rights?

Under the new rules, if you are not double jabbed with a vaccine that is recognised in the UK, you will be required to quarantine on return from a holiday, even if returning from a non-red destination. This may mean that it is no longer feasible for you to travel.

It is unclear how holiday providers will respond to this unexpected scenario. When the UK was operating within the traffic light travel system, many companies were offering unvaccinated travellers refunds or fee-free amendments if their destination moved from the green list to the amber list, requiring them to quarantine. 

They may or may not have extended these policies to include unexpected quarantine under new updates, covering unvaccinated travellers who booked before the requirement to quarantine began. Contact your holiday provider to check their cancellation and rebooking policy.

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