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Day 2 tests for the UK are cheaper and easier if you know this trick

Sign for testing centre in airport terminal
Sign for testing centre in airport terminal   -   Copyright  AP Photo
By Sarah Palmer  & Ruth Wright

Many people aren’t travelling at the moment because they just don’t want to deal with all the hassle and expense of COVID-19 tests. The UK’s rules can be confusing, especially as the government often changes them at short notice.

But don’t let that stop you from getting away for a last-minute summer break. Read on to make sure you know the rules, and how to follow them.

What you need to know about day 2 tests

Everyone arriving from green and amber list countries, whether they are vaccinated or not, must do a day 2 test.

But, despite the name, you can actually do the test on or before day 2. This rule is stated on the government website here.

This means that you can get tested as soon as you land in the UK. Most airports have testing centres, and getting it done when you arrive means you don’t need to worry about doing it on your actual day 2. You could also do it on the way home from the airport, or the next day.

Don’t forget: day 0 is the day you arrive into the UK, then the next day is day 1, and so on.

Wherever you do the day 2 test, you must book it before you travel, as you’ll need your booking reference for your Passenger Locator Form.

You can find government-approved testing providers here.

Who carries out day 2 tests?

There are lots of different companies that you can book a test through. But not all test providers are created equal.

Recently, the government came under fire for tests being ‘expensive and unreliable’. Since, the cost of NHS Test and Trace tests for international arrivals has been cut by £20 (€23) and a review of private providers has been launched to crack down on "excessive pricing or misleading claims".

In terms of private providers, some companies offer at-home options sent by mail, or in-person testing. The government has a handy guide about which test might be right for you here.

How do I know which countries are green and which countries are amber?

The UK government website has a list of what category each country is here.

AP Photo
Travellers arriving into the UKAP Photo

What do I need to do if I’m travelling from a green list or amber list country?

Non-vaccinated amber list arrivals

Before you travel to the UK you need to:

  • Take a COVID-19 test in the three days before you travel - this can be antigen or PCR
  • Book and pay for COVID-19 tests to be taken after arrival in England
  • Complete a passenger locator form
  • Quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days. If you use Day 5 Test to Release and get a negative result, you can leave quarantine early. Take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

It is not clear what a traveller should do with their test results. We have asked the Department for Transport for clarification on this and will update shortly.

Fully vaccinated amber list arrivals

Note that the UK government only views you as fully vaccinated if you had your second jab at least 14 days before the day you arrive into the UK. To qualify, both doses must also be from the same company, for instance both Pfizer.

Before you travel to the UK you need to:

  • Take a COVID-19 test in the three days before you travel - this can be antigen or PCR
  • Book and pay for COVID-19 tests to be taken after arrival in England
  • Complete a passenger locator form
  • Take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2

Green list arrivals

Regardless of vaccination status, before you travel to the UK you need to:

  • Take a COVID-19 test in the 3 days before you travel to the UK - this can be antigen or PCR
  • Book and pay for a day 2 COVID-19 test – to be taken after arrival in the UK, on or before day 2
  • Complete a passenger locator form

Who do I contact for more information?

The UK’s Citizens Advice Bureau can provide support via their website.

You can also email dhsctesttrace.customerfeedbackteam@nhs.net for more advice.

Frequently asked questions

Many of our readers have questions about the UK's travel requirements.

We put these questions to the government departments responsible for the rules. Their answers are below.

The Passenger Locator Form (PLF) only has space for one testing reference number. What is the advice to a traveller who has used more than one provider?

The government's press office says, "The guidance is clear: travellers should book their tests as a package and only have one booking reference.

However, a few private test providers have offered separate Day 8 tests in the event of a country changing from amber to red on the traffic light system [when] passengers [would] need an additional test."

I wasn’t asked for proof of a negative test, PLF or day 2 test booking when I arrived in the UK. Who is responsible for checking this?

According to the government, airlines are responsible for checking that passengers are following the guidance.

What am I supposed to do with the results of my day 2/5/8 tests if they are negative?

"There is no specific guidance on reporting as this is done by laboratories, but passengers must self-isolate for 10 days if they receive a positive test result," says the spokesperson.

Do you have questions about UK travel requirements? Get in touch on Twitter or Instagram.