Which COVID-19 tests do I need for my holiday and how do I get one?

Update: 17 September 2021

From Monday 4 October, a simplified system for international travel and relaxed measures for fully vaccinated travellers and children will make it easier to go on an overseas holiday. Read more on our webpage: What you need to know about foreign travel from October.


With growing numbers of holidaymakers heading off on their much-anticipated overseas breaks, the UK and destinations around the world are using testing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and open up international travel as safely as possible.

The number and types of tests that you will need before and after your trip will depend on which country you are visiting and your vaccination status. Each country has its own requirements for arrivals, while the tests you’ll need when you come back to the UK will vary depending on whether the country you’re returning from is on the green, amber or red list. If you’ve been fully vaccinated, this reduces the number of tests you need to take when coming back from an amber list country, but does not mean you won’t need to get any tests at all. Generally speaking, children aged four and under do not need to take any COVID-19 tests for travel and there are some further testing exemptions for older children which we outline below.

Any tests you need for travel need to meet the UK Government’s testing requirements and come from a private testing provider, so you can’t use one of the free tests currently being offered by the NHS. You may have heard that each test costs more than £100, but many providers have cut costs to around £60 for a PCR test, even less for lateral flow or antigen tests, and some travel companies are also offering their own competitively priced testing packages.

You can use the Government website to find a travel test provider, but it’s also a good idea to ask a travel professional to help you find an approved provider that offers tests that meet the UK Government’s testing requirements at a reasonable price.

Ready to head off on your next break? Here’s everything you need to know about tests for travel.

Do I need to get a test before I leave the UK?

Whether or not you need a test when leaving the UK will depend on where you’re going, as each destination has their own entry requirements for travellers arriving from other countries. You can find out if you need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test for your destination, when you will need to take it, which test types will be accepted (eg a PCR test or an antigen test) and what the requirements are for children by checking the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) travel advice page for the country you’re visiting. 

Some destinations don’t require you to take a test if you can show proof that you’ve received both doses of an approved vaccine, and you can find this information on the FCDO country travel advice pages too. 

If you do need to take a test, this will need to be booked and paid for using a private testing provider, and it’s best to book your tests a week or two before your trip to make sure you get your results back before you travel. 

You’ll need to show proof of your test results via a printed document, an email, or a text message at various parts of your journey in order to be allowed to travel. This may include your departure airport, on arrival at your destination and at your accommodation.  ou may find that having printed copies or screenshots of your COVID-19 test results, particularly if you are travelling as a family and therefore have more documentation to present, saves you time and makes things easier.

Do I need to take a test before I come back to the UK?

Yes, you will need to take a ‘pre-departure test’ up to 72 hours before your journey home, which can be an antigen test, a LAMP test or a PCR test. Once again, you’ll need to show proof of your results via a printed document, an email or a text message in order to be allowed to return to the UK. The results need to be in either English, French or Spanish, so no translations will be accepted.

If you’re travelling as a family, children aged 10 and under do not need to take a pre-departure test to travel to England, and children aged 11 and under do not need to take a pre-departure test to travel to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

You can arrange your pre-departure test either through a private testing provider in the UK before you travel or by getting a test in your chosen destination that meets the UK Government testing requirements. 

If you choose a testing provider in the UK, you’ll need to pre-book your test before you go on holiday, take your test kit with you in your suitcase and take the test on a video call with your test provider within 72 hours of your return home. This is so they can watch you take the test and then issue you with your results. 

If you choose to get your test in destination, these will most likely be available from your hotel or in resort, at a local clinic, or in the airport. Make sure you do your research before you travel. and check the FCDO travel advice for the country you are visiting to find details of local testing providers.

Do I need to take a test once I’m back in the UK?

Yes, though the number of tests you need to take will vary depending on whether the country you are returning from is on the green, amber or red list and if you have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

If you’re returning from a green list country – or an amber list country, and you’ve been fully vaccinated in the UK, Europe or the US at least 14 days beforehand, or are 5-17 years old - you’ll need to take a PCR test on or before day two of your return, with your date of arrival classed as day zero. If this test is negative, then you won’t need to take any further tests.

If you’re returning from an amber list country and haven’t been fully vaccinated, you’ll need to take a PCR test on or before day two of your return, an additional PCR test on day eight of your return and you’ll also need to quarantine at home for 10 days. If you’re in England, you have the option to use the Test to Release scheme on day five.  

Any tests you need to take once you’re back in the UK will need to be arranged before you go on holiday, as you’ll need to include the reference number on your ‘Passenger Locator Form’ that needs to be filled out up to 48 hours before your journey home. 

If you are returning from or have transited through a red list country in the 10 days before you arrive in the UK, you have to pre-book a mandatory 11-night quarantine hotel package, which will include two PCR tests, taken on day two and day eight. You will not be able to use the Test to Release scheme.

Where can I find more information?

As always, if you have any queries or if there is something you are unsure about, speak to your ABTA Member travel provider. They will be able to explain which tests you need for your holiday and make sure you have the most up-to-date information and advice so you can get ready for your trip. 

More information on the traffic light system, including links to further advice on testing on the Government websites for England, Wales, Scotland and NI, can be found on our webpage Government requirements for travel. Our webpage COVID-19: Your holiday questions answered also has advice on what to do if your pre-departure test is positive. 

If you need further guidance, please discuss your travel plans with your GP, pharmacist or a travel clinic to get the latest advice regarding COVID-19 tests. NaTHNaC have some general advice for travellers on the TravelHealthPro website, so please click here for more information.

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