As more and more countries get added to the Government’s green list and we start to think more about travelling abroad again for our holidays, many destinations will – at least in the short to mid-term – require us to take Covid-19 tests before departing and, in some cases, while we’re away, too. Many countries require these to be in the form of a PCR test, but what exactly is it and what do you need to do to get one? We explain all you need to know about PCR tests…

What is a PCR test?

A PCR test stands for polymerase chain reaction test. It’s not the same as the rapid lateral flow tests that have been used for mass testing in schools or the testing packs you can receive from the NHS. You can get a free PCR test from the NHS, too, but only if you’re displaying common symptoms of coronavirus. PCR tests consist of nose and throat swabs that are then sent to a lab for assessment, with results usually back within one to three days.

Most countries will require you to take at least one PCR test and provide a negative result prior to travel, with many more also requiring you to take another PCR when you arrive. However, the rules are being relaxed in many places for those who have had both vaccinations (with your second coming at least a fortnight before your holiday). If you’re returning from a country on the Government’s amber list, they require you to take another PCR test within three days of returning home.

Why do I need to take a PCR test to travel?

For nearly every country, it’s one of the entry requirements for all visitors. Unfortunately, lateral flow tests aren’t valid for travel – this is mainly because they’re not as accurate as PCR tests, which are often seen as the ‘gold standard’ of coronavirus testing.

Where can I get a PCR test and how much does it cost?

The NHS does offer free PCR tests but these are only available to those who are experiencing symptoms. Naturally, you can’t request PCR tests to use for testing prior to a holiday. Instead, you have to book a PCR test through a private health clinic and the price of these greatly varies – they roughly start anywhere from around £75 per person and can rise up to around £150, depending on where you book your test and whether you self-administer or have it done by a professional (the latter option is regarded as providing more accurate results). If you’re unsure as to where to book your PCR test, your travel specialist will be able to help with some recommendations of suitable clinics. Just bear in mind that many destinations will require you to provide a negative test result within 72 hours of departure, so you may need to book an express test.

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