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Travel from France to UK: Tips on arranging a second day Covid test

Taking a Covid test in the UK was not as simple as I expected, says Connexion journalist Liv Rowland

A ‘day two’ Covid test is still required for everyone travelling from France to the UK (including if vaccinated) – a process which involves some admin work and expense.

Having recently had a trip to England and back, just before France was taken off the UK’s ‘amber plus’ list, I had to apply for both day two and day eight tests, even though I was not in the UK long enough to take the day eight test.

This cost around £150, which is roughly halved for those visiting the UK now that France is listed as an ordinary ‘amber’ country by the UK (apart from if you are travelling from the French overseas territories Réunion and Mayotte which have moved from amber to red).

Booking your UK Covid tests

You must book your day two Covid test in the UK, before departure.

You can find the UK government list of test suppliers at this link. You can search nationally, or by region of the UK.

There are two options: Either book at a centre which you will visit in person, or book a test to take at the place you will be staying. The latter is the more expensive option, but likely to be more convenient. The test providers list does not show addresses so it is not easy to identify if one is close to where you will stay.

I booked with 1stopcovidshop.com which had appeared near the top of the list in my search on the government site.

The online process to purchase the day two and day eight test kit online was quick and easy. I was able to provide detailed delivery instructions as to where to leave the parcel and it was posted out the same day by a rapid delivery service to a relative’s address where I would be staying in the UK. It was delivered by Royal Mail the day after ordering, though this may be because I ordered in the morning.

In an email received after buying the tests I was instructed to take note of a test booking reference number. This has to be inserted on your UK Passenger Locator Form before travel (see below).

Doing my day two Covid test

The first day after arrival is day zero, so if you arrive on a Wednesday, day two is Friday.

I unpacked my ‘day two’ kit, which was in a separate sealed box from the day eight test, and followed the instructions to take the test.

Slightly unappealingly, these told me I should swab my tonsils on both sides until I feel a gagging reflex and then insert up each nostril until I feel resistance, then swivel the stick five times, which would be likely to make my eyes water…

It was a little uncomfortable but could have been worse.

I then had to insert the swab stick into a plastic tube containing some liquid, break the end of the stick off and then put the cap back on the tube, and insert it in a bag provided for sending back. This then had to be inserted into a pre-paid envelope for fast delivery to the lab by Royal Mail.

Before inserting the test into the Royal Mail envelope I was asked to check a barcode number for the test which was on the tube and also on the packet that the kit came in.

Final steps

The next steps are to register the test online and post it off.

This caused some confusion initially, as this UK government guidance on testing refers to using an official website to register the test. I note this official registration site is not working today.

I tried to use it but it asked for details which I did not have, including a 10-digit 'order ID' from my test order confirmation email (I only had the booking reference) and an 11-digit barcode number from the test, whereas mine was 10, or 12 if stars at the beginning and end were included.

However on checking again, I noticed that the information that came with the test only referred to a requirement to ‘activate’ the test at a specific website for the test laboratory.

An email exchange with the test company, which has an agreement with a specific lab, confirmed that only this ‘activation’ was required (it did not have a phone number: in future I may use one that is easier to contact). 

Information that had to be inputted on the lab’s website included a PIN code that came with the test, and the barcode number from the test tube, minus the stars, as well as details about my trip to the UK.

On completing the final section, the online form closed but I did not receive a confirmation email. I double-checked all was well by trying to start the process again, and the site told me they already had this test registered.

I then noted down the Royal Mail tracking number from under the barcode on the pre-paid label and posted the package at the nearest Post Office, which was listed here among those offering the required ‘priority postbox’ service.  It was possible to post it at any time up to 17:00.

I sent it off on Friday around 14:30 and received the results by email at 00:45 French time on Sunday morning after I had returned to France. I had to put in my PIN number again to read the results.

What else is needed to visit the UK from an amber country apart from the day two Covid test?

All travellers to the UK from abroad need to show a negative ‘pre-departure’ Covid test, even if their departure country is on the UK green or amber lists. This can be either a PCR or an antigen test and should be taken in the three calendar days before departure, eg. if going on a Wednesday, you would take it on the Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.

I obtained an antigen test from a French pharmacy, costing €29. I did not have to book and the results were available in half an hour. See this previous article for more on obtaining a French test.

I would recommend the antigen option as simpler than a PCR test which has to be done by a test laboratory, usually pre-booked, and can take up to two days or more for results.

In theory, an antigen test should meet certain technical standards to be acceptable by the UK however we have not heard reports of any French antigen tests being rejected for entry to the UK.

The UK rules also state that information on the test certificate should include the name and contact details of the test provider and details of the device used for the test if it is not PCR.

The test results that were emailed to me by the pharmacy for downloading off a website did not clearly include either of these. However I also asked the pharmacy to give me a paper certificate and asked that the full details, including the test device, be included on this. I suggest pointing out these rules to the pharmacy.

The other essential item for travel to France is the UK’s Passenger Locator Form which must be filled in online in the 48 hours before you arrive in the UK. Part of this process asks for the (UK) Covid test booking reference number, so book your day two Covid test before filling out this form. I printed out a copy of the completed locator form to take with me.

What was checked on the journey to the UK?

I travelled to the UK via a connecting flight in The Netherlands. I showed my vaccination certificate at check-in in France, as non-vaccinated French residents should carry a form giving an essential reason for travelling to a French amber-listed country such as the UK.

My pre-departure Covid test and Passenger Locator Form for entry to the UK were checked in Amsterdam at a separate desk after passport control and before I could go to the departure gate for the UK.

At UK passport control there were no checks of my paperwork, though the border guard asked if I was vaccinated. I said I was.

Read more: Two jabs post-Covid now possible in France for travellers to the UK 

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