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

Updated: 10 January 2022

NEW: Fully vaccinated passengers and under 18s arriving in the UK no longer need to take a pre-departure test. They also no longer need to self-isolate on arrival and can take a day two lateral flow test, instead of a PCR test. Please see below for more information or visit Gov.uk.


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 tests you will need before and after your trip will depend on the country you are visiting and if you’ve been fully vaccinated, which reduces the number you will need to take. 

If you’re travelling with children, you’ll need to check what COVID-19 test requirements apply for your chosen destination and check what tests they need on their return to the UK. Follow the links for more detail for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

All tests for travel must meet the testing requirements for your destination and/or the UK Government for your return to the UK and come from a private testing provider listed on Gov.uk, 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’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, including your departure airport and on arrival at your destination. You 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.

Make sure you research the private testing providers to find the option that works best for you, 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 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. This page will also set out if you need to present your test results as a printed document or letter, or if an email or text message will be accepted.

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

If you do need to take a test, this will need to be booked and paid for using a private testing provider. It’s best to start researching your options and book your tests at least a week or two before your trip to make sure you get your results back in the time frame required before you travel. 

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

If you’re fully vaccinated or aged 17 and under, you don’t need to take a test before you come back to the UK. You’ll only need to take a test if you’re travelling from a red list country.

If you’re not fully vaccinated, you will need to take a test, regardless of where you are travelling from. This test needs to be taken in the two days before you depart for the UK and can be a lateral flow or PCR test. 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 and your results need to be in either English, French or Spanish, so no translations will be accepted.

If you need to arrange a pre-departure test while you’re abroad, you should seek advice from your travel provider, accommodation provider, local doctor or pharmacist as to where you can book and pay for one that meets the UK Government testing requirements. Tests in destination will most likely be available from your hotel or in resort, at a local clinic, or in the airport. You can also check the FCDO travel advice for the country you are visiting to find details of local testing providers.

Pre-departure tests can also be arranged through a private testing provider in the UK, but this will need to be pre-booked before you go on holiday. This is so you can take your test kit with you in your suitcase and take the test on a video call with your test provider so they can watch you take the test and then issue you with your results.

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

Yes, and any tests you need to take once you’re back in the UK will need to be arranged before you come back from your 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’ve been fully vaccinated and are returning from a non-red list country, you no longer need to self-isolate on arrival and can take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test. This test needs to be taken on or before day two of your return, with your date of arrival classed as day zero. If your lateral flow test is positive, you will need to self-isolate immediately and order a free NHS PCR test from gov.uk to help monitor variants. This also applies to children aged 5-17 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and children aged 11-17 in Scotland.
If you’re not fully vaccinated and you’re returning from a non-red list country, there are no changes to the testing requirements. You will still need to take a PCR test on or before day two of your return, and an additional PCR test on day eight of your return. 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.  

If you are returning from a red list country, irrespective of your vaccination status, 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 what you need to do when you come back to the UK and how to find out the entry requirements for your specific destination, visit our webpage Travel requirements to check before travelling abroad. Our webpage COVID-19: Your holiday questions answered also has advice on what to do if you test positive while away. 

If you need further guidance, please discuss your travel plans with your GP 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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