How to find the cheapest Covid tests for overseas travel

How to find the cheapest Covid tests for overseas travel

If you're travelling abroad this year, you'll need to pay for at least two coronavirus tests before you can return home – though rules are changing for fully vaccinated travellers in England next month. Some destinations will also require you to take a test before you leave the UK. These tests could add up to over £1,000 for a family of four. Use our tips below to bring costs down for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This is a controversial market where firms don't always advertise true prices. We've checked as far as it's possible for us to go in the booking process to make sure the providers included in this guide offer the tests and prices stated. We've also checked reviews, but service quality can change rapidly, as can prices, so do your own checks too. Please give feedback.

illustration

MSE weekly email

FREE weekly MoneySaving email

For all the latest guides, deals and loopholes simply sign up today – it's spam-free!

Overseas travel Covid test need-to-knows

Whether you're returning to England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, right now everyone in the UK needs to take a test before flying home, and get tested again at least once after getting back.

Depending on where you travel, you may need to:

This is a rapidly changing area with hundreds of providers now registered with the Government. Bear the following in mind when booking travel:

  • If you're travelling back to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you can use a private provider, but it needs to be on the UK Government's approved list. We've seen some testing packages costing as much as £575 for two tests. But there's no need to pay these prices – see our cheap test tables below for help.

    Until recently, those arriving back to Scotland or Wales were restricted to using the Corporate Travel Management (CTM) portal to book tests, costing £68 for a day two PCR test and £136 for both day two and day eight tests. Now, wherever you are in the UK, you've got full choice.

  • You're not allowed to use the free NHS rapid lateral flow tests for travel purposes. You'll have to pay for any required tests when you return to the UK. With some providers in England charging £100+ per test, this could be a hefty addition to your travel costs. A family of four (with children over 11) could end up paying over £1,000 all-in.

  • A number of countries (including Greece) now allow you to visit without taking a test, if you're fully vaccinated. For others, you'll need to prove you've received a negative test result. The rules vary depending on where you go – check exactly which test you need to take, as there are different types.

    Some destinations, such as Spain, won't accept results from the cheaper rapid antigen test (commonly known as lateral flow). However, a number of popular destinations will now accept this test (including France). You can find each country's requirements within the Government's foreign travel advice.

    You'll also need to make sure you have documentation (often called a 'fit-to-fly' certificate) which your destination country will accept as evidence – not every test will provide this. For example, Lloyds Pharmacy says it doesn't recommend you use its test kit for travel purposes, as your results won't include the information some airlines and countries require, such as your passport number.

  • The rules for this test are the same across the UK – it can be a rapid antigen (commonly known as lateral flow), PCR or LAMP test. But it needs to meet certain standards, so make sure the provider says the test is suitable to be used as a 'pre-departure' test.

    Rapid antigen tests tend to be the cheapest option. For example, you can order one from Chronomics for £28. And Easyjet Holidays customers can get a discounted test for £23*. See more rapid antigen providers below.

    You'll need to take the test within the three days before you travel back, and you'll need to show proof that you've received a negative result at the airport, or you won't be able to board the plane home.

    If you've taken a test with you, it may be that the provider requires you to send it a photo of your result as proof, or it may want to see the test's outcome via video-call – the supplier can then provide you with a document to print or an email/text to show as evidence of your negative result.

    What standards does the pre-departure test need to meet?

    The Government has set out minimum standards for pre-departure tests, relating to their 'sensitivity and specificity' – these factors roughly define how reliable the tests are at identifying positive and negative results.

    The rules say that: "The test must meet performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml."

    Crucially, it's your responsibility to ensure that the test meets these minimum standards – so check this with your test provider.

  • Countries have been placed into one of three categories, as set out below, though bear in mind these lists are subject to change.

    However, the Government has announced it is overhauling this system for those travelling to England, and from Monday 4 October there will be a single red list of destinations. No changes have been announced yet for the rest of the UK. See full info in our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide.

    Traffic light system – summary of the rules for those returning to the UK

    🟢 Green list – 43 destinations, incl Australia, Austria, the Azores, Barbados (1), Canada, Croatia (1), Denmark, Finland, Germany, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel (1), Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland and Taiwan (1). See full Eng list / NI list / Scot list / Wal list
     

    Rules on returning

    • Must take pre-departure test before returning

    • Must also take PCR test within two days of returning to the UK

    • DON'T need to quarantine on return, unless you get a positive result

    🟡 Amber list – 120+ destinations, incl much of Europe (eg, France, Greece, Italy, mainland Portugal, Spain incl Balearics), India, UAE and the USA. See full Eng list / Scot list / Wal list (no separate NI list)


    On Wednesday 22 September, the following eight destinations were moved from the red to the amber list in Eng, Scot, Wal: Bangladesh, Egypt, Kenya, Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey.  
     

    Rules on returning

    Those fully vaccinated in the UK, US or most of Europe (or under-18s who normally live there) can follow the green rules above. Otherwise:

     

    • Must take pre-departure test before returning

    • Must also take PCR test on day two AND day eight after arriving back in the UK

    • Must self-isolate for 10 days after arrival – can be at home

    • You can end self-isolation early on day five by taking extra test (Eng only)

    🔴 Red list – 54, incl Brazil, Cuba, Indonesia, Mexico, Montenegro, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia and Uganda. See full Eng list / NI list / Scot list / Wal list

    Rules on returning
    • Must take pre-departure test before returning
    • Must also take PCR test on day two AND day eight after arriving back in the UK
    • Must undergo 10 days of managed quarantine in hotel, which could be pricey (currently single adult travellers are charged £1,750)

    Day two/eight tests and managed quarantine packages must be booked before departure. See help booking hotel quarantine packages in EnglandNorthern IrelandScotland and Wales. (1) These countries are on England's 'green watchlist' and so could change to amber at short notice.

    Under-11s DON'T need to take a test before returning home... but might need to once they're back

    Children under 11 don't need to take a pre-departure test before flying back to the UK. In Scotland they also don't need to take any tests once they're back home.

    In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, children aged five and over WILL still need to take a day two test (and day eight if necessary) once home.

  • The Government has an approved list of providers for each test, and says each scheme has different standards. If you need a day two test for your return to the UK, don't just get any PCR test – make sure the provider says it's suitable for day two testing.

    You may think there's some repetition in the tables below, but although two tests may be labelled as 'PCR', don't assume they're the same test.

  • You'll need to fill in a passenger locator form online, any time in the 48 hours before you arrive in the UK. It will ask for a booking reference to prove you've booked the necessary testing package for your destination, though you won't need to prove that the tests have been delivered to you – only that you've booked them.

    You'll need to show your form when you check in or board your plane, train or ferry.

  • Many private test providers have dropped their prices since we first wrote this guide, so while we do our best to keep the tables below up to date, it's well worth doing price comparisons before you order a test.

    Check reviews online (Trustpilot is a good starting point), as some cheaper providers have struggled with the sheer number of tests ordered, and there have been recent reports of delays.

    It's worth checking whether your travel provider offers flexibility if your test results are delayed. For example, Jet2 says you can change your booking for free if this happens.

    This week, the Government has removed a number of providers from its official list which it says were misleading and not giving accurate prices, but we've checked the providers included in this guide do offer the prices and tests stated. And while we've checked reviews, we can't vouch for service so doing your own research before buying is a very good idea.

  • We've scoured lots of test prices and found they're often cheapest via airlines and tour operators where they've negotiated discounts with private providers, but you need to be travelling with them to get the deals. For example, British Airways and Easyjet told us these deals should be used by their customers only.

  • As you're reliant on couriers to deliver home testing kits, it's safest to book your tests well in advance of your trip, so they ideally arrive before you go away. The Government says arrangements for booking in advance vary between providers. Many of the provider websites we checked are encouraging travellers to book tests as early as possible.

    Earlier this month there were many reports (including this BBC News story) regarding one of the biggest test providers, Randox Health, and its returned test kits being piled high in overfilled drop boxes, with people worried their samples weren't being checked. In response, Randox said it was adding more drop boxes and extra collections.

    As Randox is one of the cheapest big providers, we're keeping it in this guide for now, but we're monitoring its Trustpilot and if you've had issues with it, please let us know.

MSE weekly email

FREE weekly MoneySaving email

For all the latest guides, deals and loopholes simply sign up today – it's spam-free!

Cheap tests for UK departures (if the country you're travelling to requires it)

Some countries will require proof of a negative Covid test, and may accept a PCR or rapid antigen test – for both, always check the standard that your destination country requires. If given the choice, rapid antigen tests are generally cheaper and you'll get the results quicker. For each country's requirements, see the Government's foreign travel advice.

Important: Some destinations don't accept results taken from a home testing kit, so check requirements carefully. Even where home testing kits are accepted, they're risky, as it may take longer to get the results as you've got to wait for your sample to arrive at the lab. You may want to consider paying a bit more for a test at a clinic.

Cheap PCR tests for UK departures

Here are the cheapest prices we could find for a PCR test if needed before leaving the UK. We've focused on tests with well-known providers, which are widely available across the UK – you may be able to find a cheaper test provider locally, though it's important to check it's on the UK Government's approved list, and has decent reviews.

We've split the table into three different options – via airline/holiday operator discounts, private test providers, and airports.

Cheap PCR tests for UK departures

LOCATION/PROVIDER COST
Airlines and holiday operators
British Airways – home testing kit or in person at various locations, incl Birmingham, Cambridge, London, Manchester £40 (home test) (1)
£70 (in person) (2)
Easyjet* – home testing kit or in person at various locations, incl Manchester Airport, Gatwick and Heathrow £43 (home test) (3)
£55 (in person) (4)
Easyjet Holidays* – home testing kit or in person at various locations, incl Manchester Airport, Gatwick and Heathrow £43 (home test) (5)
£55 (in person) (6)
Jet2* – home testing kit or in person at various locations, incl Manchester Airport, Gatwick and Heathrow £43 (home test) (7)
£55 (in person) (8)
KLM* – home testing kit or in person at various locations £43 (home test) (9)
£55 (in person) (10)
Tui flights* – home testing kit £43 (11)
Tui package holidays* – home testing kit £60 (also includes rapid antigen & day two test for UK return)
£90 (also includes rapid antigen, day two & day eight tests for UK return)
Private test providers
Eurofins – home testing kit £45
Randox Health – home testing kit £48
Collinson – London (O2 Arena & St Pancras station)
£55 for Amex cardholders (12)
£69 full price
Boots* – home testing kit £65
Boots* – selected stores (see full list) £79
Project Screen – home testing kit £79
Express Test* – various locations, incl Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Reading, Southampton £80
Airport testing
Belfast £60
East Midlands (13), Manchester (14) & Stansted (15) £60
Edinburgh £80 (airline passengers)
£99 (general public)
Gatwick – drive-through & terminal £59
Heathrow £59
London City (16) £66
Luton £82.50
Newcastle £99

(1) Eurofins via code BA2021. (2) Screen4 via code BACT. (3) Randox Health via code easyjet2021. (4) Collinson via code EASY20OFF. (5) Randox Health via code ejh2021. (6) Collinson via code ejh2021. (7) Randox Health via code Test21. (8) Collinson via code HOLIDAY21. (9) Collinson via code KLM20OFF. (10) Randox Health via code KLM. (11) Randox Health via code TUI2021. (12) Via code AMEX20. (13) Randox Health via code EMATEST. (14) Randox Health via code MANTEST. (15) Randox Health via code STNTEST. (16) Collinson via code LCYTEST.
Discount codes for private testers via airlines are only for their own passengers.

Cheap rapid antigen tests for UK departures

Here we've listed the cheapest prices we could find, split into three different options – via airline/holiday operator discounts, private test providers, and airports.

We've focused on tests with well-known providers, which are widely available across the UK – you may be able to find a cheaper test provider locally, though it's important to check it's on the UK Government's approved list, and has decent reviews.

Cheap rapid antigen tests for UK departures

LOCATION/PROVIDER COST
Airlines and holiday operators
British Airways – home testing kit £22.40 (1)
Easyjet Holidays* – various locations £32 (2)
KLM* – London (O2 Arena & St Pancras station) £32 (3)
Virgin Atlantic* – home testing kit £26 (4)
Private test providers
Chronomics – home testing kit £28
Project Screen – home testing kit £30
Collinson – London (O2 Arena & St Pancras station) £32 for Amex cardholders (5)
£40 full price
Medicspot* – home testing kit £39
Qured – home testing kit
£39
Airport testing
East Midlands (6), Manchester (7) & Stansted (8)
£32
Edinburgh £50
Heathrow (9) £35
London City (10) £59
Luton £40

(1) Chronomics, automatic discount. (2) Collinson via code ejh2021. (3) Collinson via code KLM20OFF. (4) Prenetics, automatic discount. (5) Via code AMEX20. (6) Collinson via code EMATEST. (7) Collinson via code MANTEST. (8) Collinson via code STNTEST. (9) Qured via code HEATHROW10. (10) Collinson via code LCYTEST.

Discount codes for private testers via airlines are only for their own passengers.

Cheap tests for before you return to the UK

Here you have the choice of a PCR test or a rapid antigen test (for both, check they meet the required standard), which you'll need to take in the three days before returning to the UK. Rapid antigen tests are generally cheaper and you'll get the results quicker.

If you're travelling to an area you know well, it might be worth checking prices of tests locally to see if you can find one cheaply while you're out there. If you're not confident doing this, to save sourcing a test abroad, you can buy a rapid antigen test before you go on holiday and take it with you providing you'll be able to use a home testing kit while abroad. See more info on taking a test before you fly home.

Cheap rapid antigen tests for before you return to the UK

We've listed the cheapest prices we could find. We've split the table into two different options – via airline/holiday operator discounts and private test providers.

We've focused on tests with well-known providers, which are widely available across the UK – you may be able to find a cheaper test provider locally, though it's important to check it's on the UK Government's approved list, and has decent reviews.

Cheap rapid antigen tests for before you return to the UK

LOCATION/PROVIDER COST
Airlines and holiday operators
British Airways – home testing kit £22.40 (1)
Easyjet Holidays* – home testing kit £23 (2)
On The Beach – home testing kit
Free for selected destinations (3)
Virgin Atlantic* – home testing kit £26 (4)
Private test providers
Chronomics – home testing kit
£28
C19 Testing – home testing kit
£29
Project Screen – home testing kit £30
Medicspot* – home testing kit
£39
Qured – home testing kit £39

(1) Chronomics, automatic discount. (2) Collinson via code ejh2021. (3) For 2021 travel to Cyprus, Greece & Spain (incl Balearic, Canary & Greek Islands), booked by Thursday 30 September. (4) Prenetics, automatic discount. 
Discount codes for private testers via airlines are only for their own passengers.

Cheap tests for UK arrivals

Depending on where you're arriving back to the UK from, you'll need to take a day two or a day two AND a day eight PCR test. See a reminder of the current rules.

Cheap day two PCR tests

Here are the cheapest prices we could find, if you only need a day two test. See the table underneath if you also need a day eight test. We've split it into the three different options – via airline/holiday operator discounts, private test providers and NHS, and airports.

We've focused on tests with well-known providers, which are widely available across the UK – you may be able to find a cheaper test provider locally, though it's important to check it's on the UK Government's approved list, and has decent reviews.

Cheap day two tests for UK arrivals

LOCATION/PROVIDER COST
Airlines and holiday operators
British Airways – home testing kit £43 (1)
Easyjet* – home testing kit £43 (2)
Easyjet Holidays* – home testing kit £43 (3)
Jet2* – home testing kit £43 (4)
KLM* – home testing kit £43 (5)
On The Beach – home testing kit
Free for selected destinations (6)
Ryanair – home testing kit £43 (7)
Tui package holidays* – home testing kit £20 (also includes rapid antigen for journey home)
£60 (also includes outward-bound PCR & rapid antigen for journey home)
Virgin Atlantic* – home testing kit £68
£117 (also includes outward-bound rapid antigen & rapid antigen for journey home)
£153 (also includes outward-bound PCR & rapid antigen for journey home)
Private test providers & NHS
Eurofins – 'sampling stations' at various locations, incl Bristol, Glasgow, London, Swansea £39
Randox Health – home testing kit £48
Testing for all – home testing kit £48
Collinson – London (O2 Arena & St Pancras station) £55 for Amex cardholders (8)
£69 full price
Eurofins – home testing kit
£55
Boots* – home testing kit £68
CTM (NHS Test & Trace) – home testing kit £68
Express Test* – various locations, incl Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, London
£69
CityDoc – home testing kit £70
Qured – home testing kit
£75
Project Screen – home testing kit
£79
Airport testing
Gatwick
£69
Heathrow £69
Leeds Bradford £90
Manchester Stansted £60
Newcastle £95

(1) Randox Health via code BritishAirways43. (2) Randox Health via code easyjet2021. (3) Randox Health via code ejh2021. (4) Randox Health via code Test21. (5) Randox Health via code KLM. (6) For 2021 travel to Cyprus, Greece & Spain (incl Balearic, Canary & Greek Islands), booked by Thursday 30 September. (7) Randox Health via code FLYRYANAIR. (8) Via code AMEX20.

Discount codes for private testers via airlines are only for their own passengers.

Cheap day two & day eight PCR tests

If you need a day eight test then you'll always need a day two test as well, and getting them together is sometimes cheaper, so you might as well get them as a package. Here are the cheapest prices we could find if you require both tests, split into three different options – via airline/holiday operator discounts, private test providers and NHS, and airports.

We've focused on tests with well-known providers, which are widely available across the UK – you may be able to find a cheaper test provider locally, though it's important to check it's on the UK Government's approved list, and has decent reviews.

Cheap day two & day eight tests for UK arrivals

LOCATION/PROVIDER COST
Airlines and holiday operators
British Airways – home testing kit £86 (1)
Easyjet* – home testing kit £86 (2)
Easyjet Holidays* – home testing kit £86 (3)
Jet2* – home testing kit £86 (4)
KLM* – home testing kit £86 (5)
Ryanair – home testing kit £86 (6)
Tui package holidays* – home testing kit £50 (includes rapid antigen for journey home)
£90 (includes outward-bound PCR & rapid antigen for journey home)
Virgin Atlantic* – home testing kit £132
£167 (includes outward-bound rapid antigen & rapid antigen for journey home)
£207 (includes outward-bound PCR & rapid antigen for journey home)
Private test providers and NHS
Testing for all – home testing kit
£89
Randox Health – home testing kit
£96
Eurofins – home testing kit £99
Collinson – London (O2 Arena & St Pancras station) £110 for Amex cardholders (7)
£138 full price
Express Test* – various locations, incl Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, London £129
Boots* – home testing kit £136
CTM (NHS Test & Trace) – home testing kit £136
CityDoc – home testing kit
£140
Qured – home testing kit £150
Project Screen – home testing kit £154
Airport testing
Gatwick £129
Heathrow £129
Manchester Stansted £120

(1) Randox Health via code BritishAirways43. (2) Randox Health via code easyjet2021. (3) Randox Health via code ejh2021. (4) Randox Health via code Test21. (5) Randox Health via code KLM. (6) Randox Health via code FLYRYANAIR. (7) Via code AMEX20.
Discount codes for private testers via airlines are only for their own passengers.

Cheap 'Test to Release' day five PCR tests to cut short your quarantine in England

If you've arrived in the UK from a country on the amber list, you must self-isolate for 10 days after arrival, unless you're fully vaccinated or under 18. But in England, you can end self-isolation early by taking an additional test on day five – this is known as 'Test to Release'.

Below are the cheapest Test to Release PCR tests we could find, split between airline/holiday operator discounts and private test providers. We've focused on tests with well-known suppliers, which are widely available across the UK – you may be able to find a cheaper test provider locally, though it's important to check it's on the UK Government's approved list, and has decent reviews.

Important: We've included home testing kits and in-person testing, though it's important to note that ordering a home testing kit is risky, as it may take longer to get the results as you've got to wait for your sample to arrive at the lab. You may want to consider paying a bit more for a test at a clinic.

Cheap 'Test to Release' PCR tests: End quarantine early in England

LOCATION/PROVIDER COST
Airlines and holiday operators
British Airways – home testing kit or in person at various locations, incl Birmingham, Gatwick Airport, Heathrow Airport, London, Northampton, Reading, Southampton £43 (home test) (1)
£66 (in person) (2)
Easyjet Holidays* – home testing kit £43 (3)
KLM* – home testing kit £43 (4)
Ryanair – home testing kit
£43 (5)
Virgin Atlantic* – home testing kit £68
Private test providers
Randox Health – home testing kit or in person at Liverpool One, Chavasse Park £48 (home test)
£60 (in person at clinic)
Express Test* – in person at various locations, incl Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Reading, Southampton £69
Qured – home testing kit £75
Collinson – in person at the O2 Arena or St Pancras station, London £76 for Amex cardholders (6)
£95 full price
Boots* – in person at about 170 stores (see full list) £79
Medicspot* – home testing kit £89
Chronomics – home testing kit £99
CityDoc – in person at Moorgate, London, or London Bridge
£125

(1) Randox Health via code BritishAirways43. (2) Express Test via code BA21. (3) Randox Health via code ejh2021. (4) Randox Health via code KLM. (5) Randox Health via code FLYRYANAIR. (6) Via code AMEX20.
Discount codes for private testers via airlines are only for their own passengers.

Competition watchdog calls for Government action over PCR travel tests

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said the Government must intervene in the PCR travel test market to improve the experience for consumers.

The call for action is the outcome of a review of the market launched last month, amid mounting concerns over the price, reliability and quality of service provided by some firms. Complaints from customers included paying high prices for poor service, test kits and/or results arriving late or not at all, and there being no way to contact a firm when things went wrong. 

For more details, see our MSE News story Government must step in to address problems with PCR travel test market, says watchdog.

Spotted out of date info/broken links? Email: brokenlink@moneysavingexpert.com