Can You Use A Lateral Flow Test For Travel Abroad? It Depends

You'll need a PCR test for *almost* all trips abroad. Here are the details debunked.

Travel is top of people’s minds as restrictions continue to ease. What do you want to know? Ask your Covid travel questions here.

Can you use a lateral flow test for travel? That’s one of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received from readers via our online form, where we’re inviting you to submit your queries about travel in a time of corona. And we’re sorry, folks, but the answer is “it’s complicated”.

Firstly, each country sets its own rules on travel, so before you leave the UK, you need to research the expectations – and regulations – of the country you’re heading to.

It’s worth noting that the vast majority of countries with testing requirements in place specify that travellers must take a Polymerase Chain Reaction test, or PCR test, before travelling. So no, a rapid lateral flow test won’t cut it.

Unlike lateral flow tests (which can give results in 30 minutes at home), PCR tests must be sent to a lab for analysis and usually take a couple of days. They’re preferred by most countries because they offer a higher level of accuracy than lateral flow tests. The rules get a little tricker when you’re returning to the UK, though.

Pre-departure tests when you return to the UK

Before you leave your holiday destination, you must take a pre-departure test that meets the specificity set out by the government.

The Department for Transport confirmed to HuffPost UK that lateral flow tests are allowed for pre-departure tests, as long as they abide by the sensitivity required (performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml). The jargon is complicated, but do check your test to make sure it meets this requirement

You cannot take an NHS test abroad with you to use on yourself before you return. Instead, the government says you must buy a test from a reputable private company. It’s your responsibility to ensure the test meets the minimum standards for sensitivity, specificity and viral load details.

You’ll need to show evidence of a negative test before you travel. This can be provided as a printed document or an email or text message you can show on your phone (so make sure your device is charged!)

Tests on days two and eight after arrival

Once you’ve arrived back in the UK, you’ll be required to take a test on day two when you arrive from any country (including green list countries), and a second test on day eight if you’ve returned from an amber or red list country. These tests must be PCR tests, the Department for Transport confirmed. Again, you must use a test that meets the government’s minimum standards.

You’re required to book a “test pack” before you travel and leave enough time for tests to be delivered to your address in England. You can find a list of providers that meet the government’s standards for these tests via the government’s website.

If you’re travelling back from a red listed country, you’ll also need to book a stay in a quarantine hotel.