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8 Sep 2021

Where can I get a cheap COVID-19 test to travel? Can I get one for free?

Ordering a COVID-19 test via your airline, holiday company or at the airport could save families hundreds of pounds

The government's traffic light system still involves testing even for 'green list' countries, adding extra costs to holidays. In response, some companies are offering free and discounted test kits to encourage people to book. On the Beachis offering free tests, and Tui is offering test kits for as little as £20 per person.

You cannot use NHS tests for travel, except for freight drivers in certain circumstances. On the high street, fit-to-fly PCR home tests can cost around £65, or £85 for in-store testing, while private clinics tend to charge around £200.

But airlines, airports and holiday companies are offering much cheaper tests to customers.

Which? has examined the policies, prices and customer service reviews of Covid-19 test providers so you can pick the best for you

Airlines and holiday companies cut testing costs

Tui is offering a lateral flow, also known as an antigen test, that you can take before your trip and a PCR test you'll take a couple of days after your return, including delivery, for just £20.

On the Beach has announced that it will provide free Covid-19 tests for holidays booked up until 30th September to Spain, Greece (including islands) and Cyprus. You can see how the company performed in our survey of the best and worst package holiday companies. We would only recommend booking with a holiday provider that covers you against Covid disruption.

Some countries will still require a pre-departure PCR test but even that only brings the total package for 'green list' countries up to £60 - still cheaper than we've seen elsewhere. Test packages for 'amber list' countries, where more tests are needed, will be more expensive.

Test prices are falling however. We found London Gatwick Airport's drive-through and walk-in test centres offered the cheapest PCR tests from £60 per passenger. The most expensive test we found in London, with a 48-hour turnaround, was £399 - that's a difference of £1,356 for a family of four. Tui however offers a substantial saving with test provider Chronomics.

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What type of test do I need, PCR or lateral flow?

Before paying for a test, it's crucial to first check if you will be allowed into the country you are travelling to. If permitted, each country's entry requirements vary, so you need to check before booking and travelling.

For travel to some countries you'll need to take a PCR (polymerise chain reaction) swab test. These are more expensive than antigen or LAMP tests and it takes longer to get the results because they have to be sent to a lab for analysis.

If you've got a question about testing, join our new travel Facebook group to put it to one of our experts

Are all PCR tests accepted?

Most countries that require a Covid test will accept a PCR test. However, some stipulate that the tests should be carried out with a swab inserted in the nose and the throat.

This may mean that, for some destinations, it's not a good idea to choose the new PCR saliva tests that require you to just spit in a tube and send the sample to a laboratory.

You can see more information about the rules regarding PCR saliva tests here.

While some destinations accept PCR tests performed at home and posted to a lab, others stipulate that the test is taken at a registered test facility, and some say it must be performed by a clinician.

This usually costs a bit more, but you're less likely to get an inconclusive result and you'll probably get your results quicker so it's the safer option for everyone. You'll need to check that the clinic is on the government's list, which means it's going through the accreditation process run by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS).

You also need to make sure that the test will be accepted by your destination and that you'll get a 'fit to fly' certificate if your result is negative - some charge extra for this.

Some countries will accept a LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) or antigen test, which cost from around £40 and can give results within 90 minutes. There remain questions over the sensitivity of private tests, and the differing reliability of results.

Where are the cheapest PCR tests?

The cheapest way to get a test is if your airline or holiday provider offers a discount to its customers. Some airlines and holiday companies include links to Covid test providers on their websites, with many offering discounts to their customers.

On the Beach Covid tests

On the Beach offers free antigen and PCR tests for customers booking holidays to Spain, Greece (including islands) and Cyprus by 30th September.

British Airways Covid tests

British Airways links to several different PCR test providers that provide Fit to fly certificates for departure from UK, both for in-clinic tests and home testing. The cheapest is Eurofins, which costs £40 after a BA discount.

It also links to a company, Halo, that offers a PCR saliva test - meaning you spit into a pot rather than using uncomfortable swabs. This costs £75 but, as previously mentioned, it's important to make sure that the test is accepted by your destination.

EasyJet Covid tests

EasyJet also offers discounts for tests from numerous providers, with the cheapest being Randox Health (home test kits available for £43). It's important to make sure that your destination accepts home tests.

Jet2 Covid tests

Jet2 lists various test providers, with discounts for some. The cheapest pre-departure is Randox, which, again, costs £43 with the code provided. There are also discounts for Rapid Antigen test kits, that you'll carry in your suitcase to take before return to the UK (from £25) and tests for day2 and day8 (after your return to the UK). They cost from £43 (Randox) for day2 only and £86 (day2 and day8).

Ryanair Covid tests

The cheapest deals Ryanair customers can get are also from Randox. Enter the discount code FLYRYANAIR (if you're flying with Ryanair, of course) and you can get £5 off Randox's home PCR testing kit. Their green country testing kit, which includes one pre-departure PCR test and one day two PCR test pack for your return, will cost £86 with the discount code. There's also an amber kit, with an extra test for day eight, costing £129. Again, it's important to make sure that your destination accepts home tests.

Tui Covid tests

Tui offers a test package for £60 to 'green list' countries that require a PCR test for entry and includes the lateral flow test to return to the UK and the PCR test for day two after landing home. For countries that only require a cheaper, lateral flow test for entry the package is £20.

For countries on the amber list, tests will be £50 if they only require a lateral flow test and £90 if they require a PCR test. Test packages include the cost of delivery. Customers can order their tests an hour after booking.

Virgin Atlantic Covid tests

Virgin Atlantic also offers discounts. Through Project Screen by Prenetics, A self-testing fit-to-fly PCR test is discounted to £55 - but you need to check this at home test will be accepted in the country you're flying to as they may not be in some countries.

How can I check that my Covid test is suitable for home testing?

When buying a self-testing kit, be careful that they meet regulations.

All professional-use tests and self-tests should have a CE mark, which the manufacturer puts on it to confirm they've met the regulator's requirements.

Self-testing kits also have to go through additional checks and be officially approved. If this is the case they will have a four-digit number next to the CE mark on the packaging. This confirms they've been approved by a German organisation called TuV Sud. If you've bought a self-test that doesn't have this number after the CE mark on the packaging then let us know at travelexperts@which.co.uk.

Cheap covid tests at the airport

Testing centres at airports are often cheaper than those on the High Street, especially if you're planning to fly from there.

Gatwick charges £60 for a PCR test. Drive-through centres at Birmingham, Edinburgh and Heathrow airports charge passengers £80.

Test results should be available the next day but you're advised to schedule an appointment at least 48 hours before you travel. However, it's important you don't take the test too soon - most countries will only accept tests taken no more than 72 hours before you arrive, and some will only accept negative test results from within 48 hours.

How much will I pay on the high street and Boots for a private PCR test?

Boots charges £85 for a test in store and has test facilities at stores throughout the country.

Results arrive within 48 hours and if the test is inconclusive your fee will be refunded and you'll be given the option of paying to repeat the test. All negative tests come with a 'fit to fly' certificate.

What if my Covid-19 test doesn't come back in time?

COVID test rules for popular holiday destinations

DestinationType of testAges requiredHours before arrivalFree on arrival?
CanariesPCR6+72 maxNo
CyprusPCR12+72 maxNo
DubaiPCR (home tests not accepted)12+96 maxYes
GreecePCR10+72 maxNo
ItalyPCR or antigen test6+72 maxYes
MadeiraPCR12+72 maxYes
PortugalNot requiredn/an/an/a

Always check the latest requirements for your destination before travelling. If you opt for a test on arrival, where available, you'll have to quarantine until you get your result.

Where can I get a cheap day2 and day8 test for England?

Almost everybody who's five or over needs to take a test on or before day2 of their arrival in England, even if they're coming from a green list country. The same rules apply if you're fully vaccinated and coming from an amber list country.

If you're coming from an amber list country and you're not fully vaccinated you'll also need to take a test on day8 after your arrival.You can see the government's list of providers here.

Some companies offering cheap tests have been overwhelmed by demand and failed to get results back on time, so they may not be the best option. A number of the very cheapest providers also require customers to collect tests from the company's place of business (offering only one location in the entire country), which - even if you could get such an appointment - isn't much use for customers in self isolation.

The cheapest tests are likely to sell out fast but don't be tempted to choose the first cheap test you see. It's worth checking social media, the press and review sites to see if the company is receiving large numbers of complaints.

Where can I get a day2 and day8 test for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The rules for Scotland and Wales are similar but all tests have to be booked through the NHS's official provider, CTM, rather than private providers. Residents of Northern Ireland are allowed to use private providers.

Day2 tests cost £88 from CTM. Children under 12 do not have to take the test in Scotland, while for Wales and Northern Ireland everybody aged five or over has to take it. The CTM day2 and day8 test package costs £170.

Read about the green list countries we can travel to without quarantining on return to the UK