PCR Covid test: how to book a test for travel near me, how long do results take - and how much does it cost?
Passengers returning to Scotland from green list countries need to get a private PCR test two days after they return, while those coming from amber list countries are required to take a test on day two and day eight
Sun, sea and sand is on the cards for Scots this summer, as people are able to jet away for international holidays under the government’s travel traffic light system.
Holidaymakers are able to visit a small number of green list countries without quarantine on return to Scottish soil.
And in England, fully jabbed adults arriving from amber list destinations will no longer need to self-isolate from mid-July, while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has not ruled out the introduction of the same rule for Scotland.
Yet passengers returning from international destinations - even those deemed as low-risk - will still be required to pay for and take PCR Covid tests when they return.
Here’s everything you need to know about PCR testing for travel.
What is a PCR test?
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are one of the main ways that people are being tested for Covid in the UK.
They are used to detect the genetic code of the virus - the RNA - by directly finding the presence of an antigen.
RNA is present in the body before antibodies can form.
By detecting viral RNA, PCR tests are able to signal whether or not someone is infected with coronavirus early on, even before symptoms start.
They can detect very small amounts of RNA, meaning they are extremely sensitive and the best test to indicate current infection.
PCR tests are carried out using nasal and throat swab samples.
This type of test was introduced in the UK last year, with the hope of identifying people who are infected so they can isolate and prevent the virus from spreading to others.
PCR testing also allows public health officials to get a clear picture of the prevalence of Covid within a population.
How long does it take for PCR results to come back?
Carrying out PCR testing can be very labour intensive and time consuming as there are several stages.
After the swabs are taken, these are then sent to a lab meaning you need to wait until the results come back.
Most people receive their results the next day, but it could take up to three days.
You’ll usually get a text or email with your result when it’s ready.
Do I need to book a PCR test for travel?
The number and type of test you need to get for travelling depends on the country you are visiting, with each destination having its own requirements for entry.
Most places now need you to have a negative Covid test taken usually within 72 hours before departure, and you will need to present your result before boarding the plane.
Many countries, like Spain, need it to be a PCR test, but some, like France, Italy, Greece and Portugal, will accept a negative lateral flow test for entry.
Then, rules for returning to the UK vary depending on whether the country you are coming back from is on the green, amber or red list.
Green list countries require one PCR test within two days of arriving back in the UK.
Amber countries need a pre-booked package of two PCR tests to be taken on days two and eight after you get back, as well as quarantining for 10 days at home.
Even if the quarantine requirement changes in Scotland for double jabbed people, the day two test will remain mandatory.
Meanwhile, if you’re coming from a red list country you need a pre-booked mandatory 11-night quarantine hotel package which includes two PCR tests taken on day two and day eight of your return.
You need to use a testing facility on the government’s list of providers that meet the minimum requirements.
How can I book a PCR test near me?
You are not able to use NHS tests for the purpose of pre-departure testing before travelling to Scotland, meaning you can’t take an NHS test on holiday with you to use before you come back.
The foreign travel advice pages on the UK Government website tell you where you can buy Covid tests in the country you’re travelling from.
Meanwhile, testing packages are available from some airlines and travel providers, including Ryanair, British Airways, TUI and Jet2.
Boots also sell “fit-to-fly” tests for £85, which are available at more than 200 Boots stores and give results the next day.
You can also find walk-in services at most airports for a bit cheaper.
And you can search for both PCR testing sites near you and home delivery tests.
But you must ensure when booking that the test complies with the requirements for the country you’re going on holiday to, or with the Scottish Government’s requirements for day two and day eight tests.
How much does a PCR test cost?
Holidaymakers flying in from foreign places have to take tests at their own expense.
PCR tests can vary in price, with the cheapest now costing around £60 and the most expensive costing over £300.
Yet tour operators and airlines are partnering with labs to offer travellers cheaper tests, so find out if that’s an option with your holiday provider.
At-home kits are usually much cheaper than those administered professionally.