How do I get a Covid test in UK if visiting from France?

It is currently complicated and can be costly to obtain a coronavirus test in the UK, especially if you need results rapidly

21 December 2020
By Liv Rowland

I plan to return to see family in Yorkshire, England for Christmas. Will I need to have a Covid-19 test to return to France on Wednesday December 30 and if so how do I obtain one?

France has not yet set out definite rules for travel from the UK after the current 48-hour total ban (which ends tomorrow night) expires, however it is expected that a negative test will become compulsory.

An emergency EU meeting is being held today in a bid to agree a coordinated approach to the emergence of a new strain of the virus in the UK. It is likely that travel from the UK will resume but with a test requirement. Check our website for updates.

If this is put in place, the simplest solution would be if France will permit testing on arrival, with a self-isolation requirement if testing positive.

This is currently permitted for arrivals from some (not all) non-EU countries where the virus is considered to be actively circulating and where travellers coming from the countries need a Covid test. Note that with a few exceptions, tests are required for coming from all non-EU countries, but the UK is being treated as part of the EU until the December 31 due to the Brexit transition period.

If a test on arrival is not permitted then you would need to obtain a test in the UK. This may be challenging, especially in view of your short intended trip.

There is a network of free official testing centres throughout the country, open daily, however online booking is requested first. Results are often available via email the next day but can take up to three days. On writing, it is not possible to book a test because of ‘high demand’.

Importantly, however, access to these public test centres is for people with symptoms only, and the UK government says intending to travel out of the country is not a sufficient reason and such people should take a private test.

The UK now makes use of rapid antigen tests in some circumstances but they are mostly recommended by the UK government for certain limited situations such as visits to care homes. PCR tests, which take longer, remain the standard test.

With regard to the antigen tests, French consular sources for several non-EU countries whose citizens need Covid tests to come to France say they are one of the acceptable kinds, however, confusingly, an advisor on France’s Covid-19 helpline told The Connexion today that PCR tests only are required before flying from countries concerned by tests.

The UK government has a non-exhaustive list of private Covid test centres. The network of Boots pharmacies area among those also offering tests priced €120. 

These may offer either mail-order testing where you are sent a kit to do your own swab, that you return by post, or in-person testing.

An advisor on the French coronavirus advice line said that France does not accept self-administered tests.

We spoke to one private testing centre in York, Stonegate Medical Clinic, which says it offers government approved PCR tests (however the centre itself is still waiting for official approval to be added to the online list).

It has mail-order tests for £120 and in-person tests for €200.

It said the mail-order tests are subject to the potential delays in the Christmas post in both directions. Also they said that cannot issue an IATA-approved ‘fit to fly’ certificate with this which they said some airlines and countries require, due to fact the process is less rigorous.

It said the in-person tests often offer results the next day but are only guaranteed within 60 hours. Also the centre is closed over Christmas until Tuesday December 29.

The likely answer, then, if a negative test is made a requirement, is that you may struggle to be sure of obtaining a test and results in time. You may wish to make your own enquiries with private services as to costs, opening times and turnaround times. 

It should also be noted, that from January 1, a Covid test is, in any case, expected to be required for coming to France, due to the fact the UK will be fully outside the European area for purposes of coronavirus border restrictions.

Britons travelling to the UK and back in coming days should also remember to complete the UK’s Passenger Locator Form before travel.

If there is any chance of your coming back after December, you should bring evidence of French residence status, such as a new Withdrawal Agreement card, the email you will have received in acknowledgement if you have applied for one but not obtained it yet, an EU citizens’ residency card you previously obtained, or other other evidence such as a recent French utility bill.

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