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Updated: 15 Jan 2021

Do you need a COVID-19 test to enter the UK and where can you get a PCR test?

The government has given travellers returning to the UK until Monday to get a Covid test. Anybody who tests positive may struggle to get home after quarantine, with routes cancelled from next week.
Woman performing Coronavirus drive-through PCR tes

Proof of a negative COVID-19 test for England arrivals will apply now from Monday, not Friday as the government originally suggested.

Nationals trying to get home could still be left out of pocket or risk being stranded, if they can't get tested in time for travel.

Scotland and Wales' testing requirements for arrivals will also begin on 18 January at 4am, but there is currently no requirement to get a test if you're travelling to Northern Ireland.

Almost everybody travelling to England, Wales or Scotland will be required to get a reliable Covid-19 test. This could be the standard PCR test (used by the NHS and many other countries) or a cheaper, faster LAMP or antigen test. However, it's the responsibility of the traveller to check with their test provider that the test meets minimum requirements (see below).

Passengers who test positive will need to self-isolate and may then face an expensive and difficult journey home, with many flights to the UK having been suspended from next week.

Even those who don't have Covid could have problems in many parts of the world, because of the difficulty in getting a test at short notice.

cancelled flight board at airport

Exceptions to the rules

The government has allowed holidaymakers in Antigua, Barbados and St Lucia more time to be able to fly without a test. They have until 21 January due to lack of testing infrastructure. Travellers from Falkland Islands, Ascension Islands and St Helena do not need a test but people may struggle in many parts of the world.

72 hour window

Travellers will need a Covid-19 test to fly to England or Scotland no more than 72 hours before departing. But if the result is not returned before a passenger's scheduled departure, no insurer Which? contacted would cover passengers who need to purchase new return journeys.

AllClear, Allianz Assistance UK and AXA UK have confirmed that if you can't get a test result returned within the 72-hour window required, you won't be covered for the cost of a new flight under their policies.

If passengers don't comply with testing requirements, they face a £500 fine in England and £480 fine in Scotland. Excluded will be the likes of hauliers, children under the age of 11, crews, those who are travelling for urgent medical reasons and those travelling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver tests. See the government website for a full list of exemptions.

If you are currently abroad, Which? advises you locate potential private clinics now to avoid a last-minute dash.

To be confident that the test meets minimum requirements travellers might want to choose PCR tests rather than antigen, as these are more reliable. However, they take longer to return the results and are usually more expensive. If you do choose an antigen or other test you need to check with the test provider that it meets the government's minimum standard of '97% specificity, 80% sensitivity.' Find out differences between tests.

For more unbiased news and advice, sign up to Which? Travel

What happens if I can't get a COVID-19 test in time for travel? Can I get a UK Covid test on arrival?

No, you cannot get a test on arrival, you need to get it before you leave the country you're travelling from.

If you can't locate a test until after your departure date, or a test does not get returned to you in time, you'll be required to book a new flight. Meeting entry requirements is the responsibility of the passenger, even when these change at the last minute.

You may be able to change your time or date of travel if you've booked a flexible ticket. If your ticket is a standard fare, contact the provider to ask if it will let you move your ticket free of charge or for a small fee.

What happens if I test positive before returning to the UK? Will my insurance cover me?

You can't fly. Your insurers may cover you for accommodation, travel and health costs if catching COVID-19 abroad was covered in your policy.

AllClear, Allianz Assistance UK and AXA have confirmed this would be covered under their insurance, but you should check details with your own insurer.

Will I still need to quarantine if my COVID-19 test is negative?
negative coronavirus test form

Yes, you'll need to if you're travelling from somewhere not on the governments travel corridor list, even if you test negative.

You can reduce isolation time if you participate in the test-to-release scheme, where you will pay to be tested on the fifth day after landing in the UK. You'll only need to self-isolate for five days if you test negative.

Travellers additionally need to fill in a passenger locator form. Not filling out a passenger locator form can carry a fine of £500.

How can I get a COVID-19 test in Italy?

If you're searching for a clinic yourself, it's important to note Italy's regions (such as Sicilia, Lazio, Veneto) manage their own healthcare services. For example, information on testing in the Lazio region, around Rome, can be found here.

You'll need to locate a drive-in or authorised medical centre to gain a PCR test in Italy. Costs can vary depending on region - in Lazio, the test is capped at 60 euros.

Many airports provide antigen tests, but we don't yet know if an antigen test will be accepted by the UK government.

If you don't speak Italian, it's probably easier to ask a local pharmacy or hotel staff to help you.

How can I get a COVID-19 test in Spain?
covid test

The government told Which? that passengers should search for a private testing clinic in the area they're currently travelling in. It told us it will give further advice to travellers next week.

It's important to check how quick the turnaround time is, as you'll need the result ready for when you travel, but you can't take it earlier than 72 hours before your flight's departure time.

How can I get a COVID-19 test in France?

In France, you can find labs and pharmacies offering PCR and antigen tests here. They cost 54 euros.

Walk-in testing centres can be located on the Agence Regional de Sante website. This will lead you to the area you're located in in France, where you will find a map of testing centres.