COVID-19 travel tests: Government confirms lateral flow can be used from 24 October for arrivals

Posted: 15 October 2021 11:15 am
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Young Man Wearing Mask Standing At Airport

Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in England from 24 October can ditch pricey PCR tests for lateral flow for day 2 COVID-19 checks.

Families could save around £70 on the cost of COVID-19 tests when returning to England from holidays abroad, after the government confirmed that from 24 October, cheaper lateral flow tests could be used for the day 2 check.

The change applies to fully vaccinated travellers, and most under-18s, arriving from countries not on the government’s red list from 24 October, which is the start of the half-term holidays for many schools in England and Wales.

All adult travellers must take a test on or before day 2 after they arrive, with the arrival day treated as day zero. Currently, only PCR tests, which cost from around £40 up to around £100, can be used for day 2 tests. Travellers must use tests from private providers for travel – free NHS tests can’t be used.

From 22 October, vaccinated travellers arriving from non-red countries will be able to book day 2 lateral flow tests for use from 24 October. These tests (also called “antigen” tests) are used for other checks, such as “fit to fly” certificates, and cost from £22 to around £45 per person.

A family of 4 with 2 teenagers could cut their day 2 test bill from £160 to £88, saving £72.

New government list of providers

Travellers will need to upload a photo of their test to verify the result. If it’s positive, they’ll need to self-isolate and take a free NHS PCR test to confirm the result.

The government says it will publish a list of providers meeting minimum standards for day 2 lateral flow tests on 22 October. Finder will publish a comparison of day 2 lateral flow tests as soon as the list is available.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can set their own rules for travel testing. Scotland has said it will align with England on post-arrival tests. Wales has said it is opposed to the change, but, like Northern Ireland, has yet to announce whether it will follow England.

The rules for under-18s are generally in line with those for fully vaccinated travellers. Children aged under 5 (in Scotland, under age 11) take no tests when returning from non-red countries.

Travellers who aren’t fully vaccinated with an authorised vaccine arriving from a non-red list country must still take a pre-departure test, a PCR test on day 2 and day 8 and complete 10 days of self-isolation (with the option to end this early on day 5 with an extra test under the Test to Release scheme in England).

Rules relaxed twice in October

“We want to make going abroad easier and cheaper, whether you’re travelling for work or visiting friends and family,” said health and social care secretary Sajid Javid.

“This change to testing is only possible thanks to the incredible progress of our vaccination programme, which means we can safely open up travel as we learn to live with the virus.”

The change is the second relaxation of travel rules this month. On 4 October, the UK government announced it was scrapping the need for fully vaccinated travellers to take a pre-departure test before coming to the UK from non-red countries. All 4 UK nations are aligned on this.

We’ve covered the travel testing rules in detail in our guide to COVID-19 tests for travel.

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