PCR COVID-19 tests: What travellers need to know

If you're looking to travel abroad, you're likely going to need a PCR test to prove that you're COVID-free.

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Name Product Test purpose Test type Test location Key benefits Price
 COVID-19 PCR Test for travel
Pre-departure to return
Airport, Clinic, Home
Combined COVID PCR & Antibody Test
Pre-departure to return
COVID-19 testing for travellers
Pre-departure to return
Express PCR Testing
Pre-departure to return
Airport, Clinic
Real Time RT-PCR and IgM Tests for Travel
Day 2
Real-time COVID-19 PCR and IgM Test

Compare up to 4 providers

A PCR COVID test has become a bit of a buzzword lately, and for good reason. One of the first ports of call of any travel plans at the moment has to be, "Do we need PCR tests for travel?"

In a bid to slow and prevent the spread of coronavirus, necessary measures have been put in place to allow international travel to resume. With a PCR test, you can now roam freely – well, more freely than before, and have the confidence to do so.

What is a PCR test?

A PCR is also known as a polymerase chain reaction test.

If you're keen on the science, a COVID PCR is a molecular test that looks to analyse your upper respiratory specimen in search of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Scientists use the PCR test to amplify small amounts of your DNA to detect if the virus is present at the time of the test.

It's an accurate and reliable way to diagnose COVID-19.

How do PCR tests work?

Whether you're doing the PCR yourself at home or getting it done by a professional healthcare provider, it typically follows the same pattern. After ensuring all hands and equipment are suitably sanitised, a swab will be taken either from the tonsils, nostrils or both. It can be uncomfortable, but it's the most accurate way to detect whether or not the virus is in your system.

The swab is then sent away for analysis to a laboratory where they will isolate the RNA (a single-stranded molecule that's taken from your DNA) and mix it with other ingredients to detect the presence of coronavirus.

You'll receive a notification whether or not you have the virus. If you test negative, you'll be fit to fly. If you have a positive response, you'll have to self-isolate and unfortunately reschedule your plans at a later date.

How much do PCR tests cost?

COVID-19 PCR tests for travel can vary in price but typically cost around $150. Some clinics charge an additional fee for weekend appointments.

It's worth shopping around to find the best deal for your airline and destination country's specific requirements for PCR tests for travel. You can also check out the reviews for where you're purchasing from to make sure they're legit.

Where can I get a PCR test?

Private pathology clinics provide COVID-19 testing and result certificates for travel clearance.

We recommend doing your research before you commit to one. Combining location, availability, affordability, timeliness and trust should land you with the best deal. Always shop around and if something feels off, don't be afraid to ask questions.

Finder has put together a useful interactive table of testing locations in Australia, including prices information and turnaround time. All of these clinics offer RT-PCR pre-departure tests and travel certificates.

When do I need to get the test?

Your test must be taken no more than 72 hours before your flight's scheduled departure time from Australia. You will need to show the airline your negative result prior to check-in.

Can I get a free PCR test?

Only those with respiratory symptoms or close contacts of a positive case qualify for government-funded testing. There is currently no Medicare rebate available for the COVID-19 PCR test for international travel.

In any event, community testing centres also aren't able to provide the approved documentation for travel.

Do I need proof of a PCR test to receive my vaccine passport?

No. You do not need to undertake a PCR test to receive your COVID-19 vaccine passport, which is also known as the International COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate (ICVC). The PCR test is only required for actual travel.

The vaccine passport is linked to your vaccination status. To receive your ICVC, simply head to your myGov or Medicare account and select "request an International COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate". Provided you are fully vaccinated, the certificate will be automatically linked to your passport.

Pros and cons of PCR tests

  • Accurate
  • Gives peace of mind
  • Can be done from home
  • Instructions are easy to follow
  • Can be expensive
  • Slightly unpleasant to swab
  • A necessary evil for travel
  • Sometimes delayed turnaround

Need more COVID-19 news? Head to our coronavirus information hub and guide to wearing masks in Australia.

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