Borders open for international travel on 17 May, with Brits preparing to brave the Kafkaesque nightmare of the traffic light system to visit their favourite summer sun destination. But to travel to many countries, passengers will require a PCR – polymerase chain reaction – Covid test, which must meet performance standards of at least 97 per cent.
These tests, which are different from the free ones you can order through the NHS, must be undertaken through a private company and can cost £200 or more, adding a sizable chunk to the cost of your holiday. But there are a few ways of knocking that fee down a notch or two.
The best way to book your PCR is to find out if your airline or travel agent has any links to testing companies. British Airways is offering hugely discounted rates for tests with government-approved providers, with prices starting from £39. The tests, which can be done through providers including LetsGetChecked, Qured, Medicspot, Randox and Halo can be completed at home in the days before flying, at testing centres or at major airports. There is an app called VeriFLY that results can be downloaded onto, proving your Covid status.
Gatwick airport is among the most advanced Covid screening hubs in the travel industry, having converted a South Terminal car park into a testing centre and setting up a walk-in express service in the North Terminal. Both can carry out government-approved PCR swabs, which will cost just £60 for passengers and £99 for non-flyers. A group discount is also available, with 30 per cent off for four or more people. Tests cannot be taken on the day of flying, with a minimum of 48 hours required prior to take off.
Other airports have their own packages and its worth checking their website at least 96 hours before you fly to make sure you are compliant. Should you arrive in your destination without the correct test, you could be turned away and be liable for the cost of your return flight.
Ryanair may be famous for charging a premium for everything from choosing your seat to jumping the queue but it has a healthy discount on PCR tests, offering 50 per cent off Randox tests, with passengers paying just £60 for both pre-departure and on-arrival tests. Unsurprisingly, arch rival EasyJet has matched the offer.
Holiday agent Tui, meanwhile, is offering a lateral flow test on departure (the one you can do yourself through the NHS) and a PCR test on arrival – generally sufficient for green list countries – for just £20, with more comprehensive tests costing £50 or £90, depending on the test required.
The “green list” countries announced two days ago consist of Portugal, Gibraltar, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, plus several British Overseas Territories. For most travellers half of these are academic, with entry severely restricted to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Island.