In detail: COVID-19 tests for international travel

Last updated: 16 May 2021

Confused about testing? Here’s some handy information, based on the official guidance from the UK government’s (NHS; and US government’s respective health departments (CDCFDA).

COVID-19 tests are available to test for current infection or past infection.

  • A viral test tells you if you have a current infection. Travel restrictions often require a negative viral test to enter or leave a country.
  • An antibody test might tell you if you had a past infection. Antibody tests should not be used to diagnose a current infection and are not part of common travel requirements.

The two main tests for travellers are:

  1. PCR tests – mainly for people with symptoms, they’re sent to a lab to be checked
  2. Antigen tests – only for people who do not have symptoms, they give a result in 30 minutes using a device similar to a pregnancy test

Use our search results to check which type of test you will need for entry into your chosen destination if needed.

What tests do I need to enter/return to the UK?

To enter or return to the UK you will need to take one test 72 hours prior to departure and a minimum of one PCR test once in the UK. Specific requirements will be based on whether your origin country is classified as green, amber or red under the government traffic light system – see our guide here and the updated list here.

Pre-departure tests to allow you to arrive in the UK must meet strict standards, and you may not be fined £500 or stopped from entering the country if the test does not meet these standards. Unfortunately, it’s your responsibility to ensure you get the right test that meets the above requirements. Unlocked Travel users receive an exclusive 30% discount on your at-home COVID-19 tests at this link with LetsGetChecked which can be used as pre-departure tests.

Where can I book a private test?

In the UK, if you’re not eligible for testing through a local NHS clinic or testing centre (check here), there are a number of places offering testing. Note that any tests available publicly (the free ones!) are only for domestic use and not for international travel which is why private testing is needed.

Get 30% off your at-home test!

In the UK, Ireland, USA or Canada, Unlocked Travel users receive an exclusive 30% discount on your at-home COVID-19 tests at this link with LetsGetChecked. You can purchase in advance and take abroad. Test results should be available within 48hrs, however it can take up to 72hrs from the time the sample is received by the lab. You must be 18+ to use this test.

For more information

For more details please review the websites using the links or your respective national government websites. Links to specific country entry requirements are provided as part of our travel search. You’ll also find more information in our FAQs.


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