This summer, holidays could be a testing time if you are travelling overseas – many countries including the UK are demanding proof that you do not have Covid-19 before you arrive, which could mean taking tests on the way and the way back.

The good news is that prices for the tests are falling. The bad news is that trying to get your head around the complex rules and multitude of options is no easy task.

There are two things to think about: the test(s) you may be required to take before you travel from the UK; and the test(s) you must take before you return and after you get back.

Before you start your holiday you need to check whether your destination requires you to provide evidence that you are Covid-free.

The government says that from 17 May, people in England who have had both jabs will be able to demonstrate their vaccination status via the NHS app when travelling abroad. But with not many countries currently accepting proof of vaccination, for the time being most people will still need to follow other rules, such as getting a negative pre-departure test. You will need to monitor the UK government’s travel advice, and that of your destination country.

This is a fast-moving situation. For example, at the time of writing, Spain required all passengers arriving from the UK to present a negative PCR test carried out no more than 72 hours prior to arrival. There were widespread media reports that Spain will ditch this requirement for Britons from 20 May – but it is currently not on the green list, so the return trip is a different matter.

The new traffic-light system outlined by the UK government, with destinations placed on green, amber and red lists, relates to the requirements for people arriving in Great Britain from abroad.

Anyone arriving from a green list country will need to take two tests – whether they are a resident or a visitor. First, you must have a negative pre-departure Covid test – this must be done in the 72 hours before your flight back. Children under 11 do not need to take a test.

If you test positive, you may have to move into a quarantine hotel or extend your stay at your accommodation, depending on the other country’s rules. If you test negative you can travel. Then you will have to take a PCR test on or before day two after your arrival in the UK.

A lab worker holds a test tube before running a PCR test
PCR tests involve a sample being sent to a lab for processing and analysis. Photograph: Aziz Karimov/Getty Images

The PCR tests required by most countries are not the same as the free quick-result lateral flow tests you can order online or pick up from pharmacies. With PCR tests, the sample is sent to a lab for processing and analysis. It takes longer to get the results and tests can be pricey – £120 each or more – but holiday companies, airlines and airports are starting to offer much cheaper deals.

The cheapest way to get a test is if your airline or holiday provider offers a discount to its customers, says the consumer body Which?. Many airlines and holiday companies include links to Covid test providers on their websites.

Tui offers two kits that include outbound PCR tests if required by your destination country, costing £60 a person for countries on the UK’s green list and £90 for those on the amber list. The £60 kit contains one PCR test for the journey to your destination, with courier costs included, one pre-departure lateral flow test for your journey back, and one PCR test for day two after you return home.

For those travelling to green list countries that don’t insist on a negative result before letting you in, Tui’s kits start at £20 a person for a pre-departure lateral flow test for your journey back from your destination, and a PCR test on day two after their return. Needless to say, these kits are only available to the firm’s package holiday customers.

Ryanair and easyJet are offering reduced-price PCR tests – £60 for UK-based customers instead of £120, for example – as a result of linkups with the testing provider Randox.

The British Airways website highlights a range of options, including five PCR home test firms where discounts are available.

BA also offers deals on services at testing centres and airports. It has negotiated discounts with CityDoc and ExpressTest.

Which? says testing centres at airports are often cheaper than those on the high street, so check what deals the airport you are using is offering. For example, there are several testing providers based at Gatwick, including ExpressTest drive-through and walk-in facilities offering PCR tests for people travelling from the UK for £60. They aim to give the results by 10pm the next day but say it could take up to 48 hours.

ExpressTest offers testing at Gatwick airport’s north terminal
ExpressTest offers testing at Gatwick airport’s north terminal. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

However, you can’t just do the test and hop on your flight a couple of hours later, so for many people this won’t be a convenient option.

In terms of big retailers, Boots has launched an at-home PCR test kit costing £65 that is available online and in some stores, and which promises results within 24-48 hours of the lab receiving the sample. It also offers an in-store PCR testing service for £99.

With the window for having a test and travelling very tight, you may prefer to choose a service that does not involve posting your te so you know it should get to the lab in plenty of time.

If you are stuck overseas because of a positive test, your insurer may pay out to cover any extra accommodation bills. Check the policy details before you book.

This content first appear on the guardian

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