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I thought travel was supposed to be fun?

There’s not all that much fun about the lead up to the day of travel right now. Although pre-flight covid-19 testing measures in place are vital for the moment, and ultimately a small price to pay, they come with a myriad of new worries, stresses and costs.

For one: you can’t even guarantee you’re going until hours before you leave. And even to reach that point, you need to get a few things right. Which test? Is the testing service reliable and timely? Can I take it from home? Ugh!

These are all questions I bemoaned for days, even weeks before I was due to the travel to the USA, which requires a negative covid-19 laboratory test taken within 3 days prior to the day of flight. After extensive research, I settled on the Halo RT-PCR ‘spit’ test, and between price and ease of use, I am now a big fan.

a person holding a phone

Halo Verify PCR “Spit” Test

Traveling together with my partner, I knew covid-19 testing would be a considerable expense added onto travel right now, with every number at each juncture times two.

After a Google search turned up a large number of PCR tests from £199 and up, mostly from ads, I decided to check out the testing partners listed on the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic websites, which I remembered also often include a discount.

There, I found quite a few options at the £120 price point either for at home test you mail in, or in person clinicians, but one service, Halo Verify, fit the bill in terms of ease, test accuracy and price point. I paused only because it sounded a bit too good to be true.

The Halo Verify RT-PCR “spit” test retails for £89 ($125), and you can take it at home, with 24-48 hour turnaround. British Airways has a publicly available 15% discount code which I took advantage of, bringing cost down to £74 each. All delivery and pickup fees are included.

In my experience, I ordered the Halo Verify test mid day one day and it turned up the next day as promised. I took the test Monday, and my official lab results were returned before 6AM Wednesday.

Taking The Halo RT-PCR Spit Test

Halo’s RT-CPR covid-19 test is a “spit” test, where you spit into a tube, so it’s far less invasive than some others, and purported to be ‘world beating’ in accuracy. That’s a bold statement, but one which seems to be backed up by the scientific community.

You can’t eat, drink, vape or smoke for 30 minutes prior to test, and it advocates to be hydrated beforehand. I had my coffee at 7AM, had some water at 7:29AM and then took my test just after 8AM. Be prepared to do a fair bit of spitting.

After spitting into the tube and removing the funnel, you screw the cap back on, wipe it down and reseal it into the reusable delivery envelop, after noting the barcode details on the box and on the tube.

Pay Attention To Travel Testing Requirement Details

PCR tests are regarded to be far more accurate and sensitive to detecting smaller doses of virus, which is why they’re preferred by most governments as a pre-travel requirement. Some countries demand that testing take place in a lab, and do not allow for tests that are taken at home, but are processed in a lab. Be sure to find that detail before travel.

For my travel to the USA, I confirmed via the CDC website that the Halo PCR “Spit” test would comply with all standards and requirements – it definitely does. The US CDC is currently accepting LAMP or PCR tests, and “at home” tests do qualify.

a stack of passport and coins

The key was the presence of an official lab report, and that the sample be tested in a professional lab, which Halo does. The negative certificate I’ve received for travel says nothing about the sample being taken at home, just a bit about the approved test lab where the sample was processed.

If your travel destinations specifically advises against validity of home test samples, this test obviously does not work, though there’s not much to indicate it’s otherwise. Tools such as the IATA Travel Centre or official government resources from the country you are visiting should spell out specific needs, just like the US Centers For Disease Control site offers.

Why I Chose Halo And An At Home Test

Travel is complex enough right now, without needing to go to an airport a day or two before to take a test. I also live about 45 minutes outside of London, so most locations are relative hassle.

Halo Verify’s PCR test for travel or work is also available nationwide to the best of my knowledge, with next day delivery of the test just about anywhere. That’s super helpful for people who aren’t near a major hub.

The thought of an accurate test arriving on my doorstep and being picked up from my doorstep also felt like the most secure way to get this done, to avoid social contact in every way possible in preparation for flight. But really, it was mostly about not adding time and hassle to the day of travel experience, before a long flight with a 1 year old.

In the UK, pharmacies including Boots have a variety of locations where you can book an in person test for only about £30-£50 more, around £100-£120, but I didn’t want to find a location, drive to location – you get the point. Just mentioning it as an option.

a group of palm trees with the sun in the background

How I Got My Pre-Travel Covid-19 Test Result

The arrival of the test was reliable, the instructions and app to take the test were idiot proof, a test which I regularly put to its limits, and the results were delivered within the timeline mentioned. My sample left Monday, and between midnight Tuesday and 6AM Wednesday results were in for both.

The Halo PCR test result comes via email and in the app and mobile browser in two forms. One is a PDF to present at airline check in, stating the result given, the time the test was taken, the lab it was processed in and the supervising physician of the lab. The other is a barcode, which can be used to scan into things like offices or venues with a green “tick” to confirm the safe result.

Things Halo Could Improve

I’m passionate about one thing right now, and that’s travel getting back on its feet safely, without making it such a hassle that people bow out. I loved my Halo covid-19 testing experience and in retrospect, picking a provider and waiting was the worst part.

There are however a few changes which could make the service without fault. For one, specifying a collection window, rather than being randomly assigned one. Second, a better Android experience. Here’s why that matters.

The USA allows pre-flight tests to be taken in the 3 days before the day of departure, and this is not based on hours. If you fly Friday, a test any time from Tuesday onward is fine. However, many country restrictions are based on a 72 hour clock regarding the time your first flight leaves.

Knowing that my results were absolutely delivered within 48 hours of test, I could’ve tested a day later and avoided this clock window, but only if my flight wasn’t first thing in the morning.

For example, for a Friday PM departure, I could’ve tested and sent off my sample on Wednesday, knowing I should get the lab results back by 6AM Thursday, with a cool 6+ hours to spare for the result to come in before check in. If my flight time was first thing in the morning though, I’d be screwed.

The distinction matters for morning flights, or those who don’t want to stress up until the morning of travel. My partners test results arrived at 535AM, at which point a 6AM flight would’ve already closed its doors, and checkin would’ve been denied without the test result available prior.

With hope, countries will move to the slightly broader 3 day rule, rather than based on a departure time and 72 hour window set from then. If they do, that’ll solve Halo’s test collection time issue, which impacts when you can take the sample.

a man sitting in an airplane

Mobile Experience For Android

The last little issue was the mobile experience on Android. It was almost perfect except that you need to manually enter your barcode on most Android browsers, rather than the Apple app, which uses your camera.

I’m tech savvy enough to know that I didn’t miss a “allow access to camera” option, and it was ultimately fine after triple checking I was entering the correct numbers, but just added a bit of heightened alert to what was otherwise painless.

The “you’ve completed this successfully” wasn’t as clear as it could’ve been, so I tried to reenter the tube number, at which point it said I had already done so successfully. It’s rather meaningless in the scheme of things and had no impact on timing or success, but with everyone on edge adjusting to the ‘new norm’, these improvements could be big time.

Peace of mind: Heathrow has on site covid-19 testing which currently has wide open availability, so I always knew I had a backup plan. If testing failed to deliver a result in time, or due to a faulty sample, I planned to use the facilities either the night before, or the morning of. Fortunately for my time and wallet, it was not needed.

I’ll Use Halo Again For Sure

All in all, between being by far one of the most affordable and accurate options and not needing to leave my house or come in indoor contact with another soul to deliver my results, I’ll do this again without hesitation.

I’d be hard pressed to believe there’s better in the UK right now, and with current £210 testing costs per person for an arrival into the UK right now, I’ll save every penny I can on the way out. Halo is a part of Volt Labs, and appears to have a connection with UCL.

I’m a fan, and I’d recommend the experience whole heartedly to anyone whose travel is to a destination where this type of testing is allowed. In a world of “paid influencers”, I want to mention that GSTP paid full price for the test, and no one at Halo was made aware that the test would receive coverage, or of my identity. See you in the skies.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Not questioning the quality of the test itself, I’m sure that’s fine for self assurance, but how does a home test prove that the person travelling is the person who was tested?

    1. Roger, the home tests are typically monitored over Skype by a representative from the company. They walk you through what to do and make sure you take the test and package it up while they’re watching.

  2. Thanks for sharing. We all run through the same questions in our mind when we need a pre-travel RT-PCR test done.

  3. Agree it’s the best one I’ve done so far. The Sofitel at Heathrow also offers it as part of their rest and test package and only £79 for additional people. Tests are collected at 8pm every eve and I had my results by 6am the next morning.

    The only country i found that doesn’t accept it (back in December at least) was Barbados which stipulates the type of PCR test required in this case a nasal swob.

    I currently have a Halo test kit at home as I need a negative result for an event next week so will test out the home version this Friday.

  4. eMED makes the Abbott antigen tests available for purchase online: A pack of 6 tests is $150. eMED watches you swab your nose, and the antigen test is ready in 15 minutes. Abbott has an app that provides a validated test result accepted by our CDC.

    Cheaper, faster, no shipping, Having the kits on hand with a 15-minute turn around reduces the “test anxiety” to only “Gee, do I have to stay in warm, sunny, Mexico for another 10 days”

    1. Appreciate that and will definitely aim for that in the US, but the UK is a very different market right now for testing. Sadly not a one or the other option for the UK, which is why I wrote about this one.

      1. Interesting. The CDC says that either a PCR or Antigen test are required for returning to the US, which is what I thought you were writing about. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/testing-international-air-travelers.html). Your article, as written, is misleading as antigen tests are clearly allowed.

        The Abbott test, with eMed supervision would have allowed you to take your test(s) along on your trip to the UK, and provide turnaround in 15 minutes vs. 42 hours (per your story) at less than 25% the cost.

        1. I have no clue what you’re trying to say. I wrote about a testing option in the UK, which was not destination dependent. I mentioned America, because that’s where I’m going, and PCR is most accurate at the moment. You are proposing I fly to America to pick up Abbott tests, fly back to the UK to take them, then fly back to the USA. Realize the title of the article, and the content of the article and take my politeness for what it is.

  5. Gilbert, thanks for sharing the HALO resource. It’s certainly a confusing time for testing. You might be interested to know that the rapid antigen tests are acceptable for entry into the U.S. now.

    From the CDC website:
    “What types of SARS-CoV-2 test are acceptable under the Order?
    Passengers must be tested with a viral test that could be either an antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT)….Rapid tests are acceptable as long as they are a viral test acceptable under the Order.”

    The on-site testing centers at Heathrow T2 and T5 are fast and reliable, and the prices are reasonable with the BA discount. Results typically take less than 30 mins. I’ve traveled from the UK to the States with a rapid antigen test several times in the last few months.

    1. Andrew,

      Yes, absolutely! I totally agree it’s a great option I think it’s a nice exception for right now (NAAT). Traveling alone I’d probably do that, though I am slightly weary of false positive rates on rapid testing, and between not taking extra time with our little one, and wanting one good nights sleep not worrying about test results, went with this one. Best, Gilbert.

      1. Makes sense, I understand. Are you a dual citizen? Just curious how you’re able to travel to the States? Thanks again for sharing your wisdom.

  6. Gilbert, thanks for this, very helpful. What will you do for a test in the US on your flight back to England? Do you have any concerns about being stranded there if you test positive on the return? Not that that would be an overly bad thing given the current English lockdown situation. I’m looking at a trip from LHR in mid-March.

  7. Just want to share my poor experience with Halo, after having chosen it based on this review.

    Ordered test on Sunday afternoon, expecting a Tuesday delivery. No notification of delay and only after chasing customer services, was promised delivery on Wednesday. This was not cutting it fine for a Saturday morning flight, but was reassured that Thursday pickup would yield a test by Saturday morning for sure.

    Sampled picked up on Thursday as promised. Again, no contact from Halo but a random text from DX saying my ‘delivery’ would be delayed by 1 day. I called Halo, who tried to be helpful but there was basically nothing they could do and the result is now due on Monday.

    Currently enroute for a walk-in Halo test at Sofitel in the hope of a turn-around by tomorrow morning, which seems feasible. I wish I just did that for £99 in the first place, than to faff around with a home test and all the associated stress.

    Halo seem nice enough, but they will not give a refund for the test, let alone compensation to cover flight rebooking fees/new test (ironically, still with Halo).

    Buyer beware.

    1. That’s awful. I don’t know anyone there but am disheartened by this and will message and ask for statement. Any interesting details, like hard to reach address etc?

      1. Yes, somewhat remote location but still mainland and in England. DPD have never failed to deliver next day before!

        To be fair, they have issued refund now.

    2. Yep, I had a similar experience. Delayed one flight, missed another, courier not turning up, 3 days for the test to be done, lost sample. Absolute nightmare. Zero contact from the company. Trying to get a refund and a letter from them to explain what went wrong so I can show my boss to explain why I missed a pivotal meeting overseas.

      1. Wow, that’s shocking. Sorry to hear. My unfortunate opinion of many of the companies now, is that they’re all bandits, profiteering off this without regulation.

  8. Please can I ask if they paid you to write this? I am currently searching the internet for how I can give this company the worst review possible and I really have no time usually for complaining about companies or service. Absolutely dreadful service. I got my test at home on day 5 for test and release. It was my fault it arrived only on day 5 as I ordered late. However, I didn’t know it is picked up by a courier the next day. Then apparently it is on their website that they only receive it from the courier 24 hours later (?) You then only get the results on what for me is day 8. Meanwhile their app hasn’t been working for 3 days. You can’t register your barcodes. No one answers the phone or emails. You have to queue at least an hour on their website chat feature to talk to anyone. After queuing twice yesterday I had to give my personal emails over chat so they could match me with my results that a courier had already picked up. And then I realised I was supposed to have kept a note of the testtube barcode, having not been able to open the app for instructions. I have no confidence they will contact me or that I will even get a test result. I had bought tests for myself and my children so even though it may have been cheap, it is a complete waste of money. I also hated the spit test thing. I was spitting for 20 minutes to try and fill the amount they needed and it is a nightmare to get kids to do it. In short, I would not recommend Halo.

  9. The CDC state that ALL home tests must be supervised by a medical professional via video with sound. The Halo test is not supervised. Have things changed since this article was written?

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