a person in a protective suit looking out a window
Image by lukasmilan from Pixabay

When all is said and done, I’ll have spent over $900 on this trip – just in mandatory covid-19 testing. If I wanted to shorten my quarantine when the fun comes to an end, I could add to that figure, too.

That’s not accounting for a singular flight booked, accommodation, meal, transfer or anything else. If my child was over the age of two, it’d be even worse.

I fully recognize that $900 is more than most people spend on their entire trip budget, and I’m absolutely not complaining, but it’s the reason I can’t see meaningful amounts of international travel from some global markets recovering, until testing becomes affordable, or better – free.

a person in a protective suit looking out a window

Mandatory Testing At Both Ends

First – I’m all for covid-19 testing in travel right now and the cases for and against travel today aren’t necessarily relevant, because if things remain unchanged, a time will come when that question isn’t a factor at all, and there will still be issues getting people to dive back in.

I think science and data analysis are vital to just about everything in life, and if we have a way of mitigating risks with a simple test, I don’t see why you wouldn’t. The issue is around the costs of testing in some countries, particularly now that testing is required on both ends of the trip, for most destinations right now all over the globe, from the Maldives to the United States of America.

From the UK, where this trip originated it’s also about lack of choice and opportunity in testing, which raises serious questions about the true efficacy of these anti-competitive programs.

Travel is largely ‘essential’ in function right now – I recognize that – but if countries want to keep, or earn visitors as travel rebounds and borders begin to reopen, much must change in places where solutions remain expensive.

In many areas, including the UK, there’s been no clear word on whether travel testing requirements will change, or how costs may come down in the future.

For this trip, a simple, extended trip from the UK to the USA (I’m a US Citizen), I needed to supply all the following tests, just to be eligible to board my flights, or hand over my passport.

  • a pre-departure test taken within 3 days of travel to the USA.
  • a pre-departure test for return to the UK from the USA.
  • 2 subsequent tests pre-purchased from UK GOV for arrival into UK.

I could additionally purchase a ‘test to release’ test for the UK at my own expense, and could also obtain further testing in the USA after arrival for free, or further added cost, depending on the details. Fortunately, even most PCR tests in the USA are completely free, but that may not be true everywhere.

Here’s where it gets a bit weird.

a screen shot of a phone

The UK currently requires ALL arrivals outside of those from ‘red list’ countries which require supervised quarantine, to pay £210 per person for arrival testing, in addition to any pre-flight testing costs before travel to the UK, at the passengers own expense. But for the arrival tests in the UK, they only allow you to buy “their” tests, which are not competitively priced in the current market.

For example, I purchased a RT-PCR ‘spit’ test online for my pre-departure test to the USA at a cost of £74. Two of those would be circa £150, not £210. And yes, the £75 test was for a mail in RT-PCR kit, with round trip delivery and doorstep collection from my house once the test was completed.

The tests, administered by UCL in partnership with bio-firm Halo are purported to be the ‘world beating’ standard, and the most accurate to date. Why aren’t they accepted?Making matters even more confusing, the Halo “spit” Test is allowed as part of ‘test to release’ option offered by the UK.

a cityscape with a river and a body of water
Image by Selim Mohammed from Pixabay

Positive Developments

The point of articles like this is to point out pain points in the rebuilding of an industry which everyone, literally everyone holds near and dear. Travel connects families and creates gainful opportunity all over the world and the age old cliche of being the “only thing which makes you richer” isn’t misplaced.

The good news is that some destinations and travel industry businesses are leading the way with simplifying these ever changing testing barriers. Hyatt, for example, has on-site covid-19 testing in all of resorts across Latin America, including the Caribbean, Mexico, Costa Rica, and South America, and includes two PCR tests in most rates.

Barbados, Dubai and the Maldives were also early adopters of quick and efficient covid-19 testing delivered to “your door”, and rapid airport testing solutions. Sri Lanka now offers streamlined testing as well. Each destination has benefited from an influx of visitors, choosing an experience they know won’t involve hours of Googling.

Added Stress Before Departure

I’ve certainly never booked a trip where I didn’t know for sure I’d be going until the day before departure when test results turned up negative. Though it’s absolutely a first world problem, I found a serious sense of anxiety in the days leading up to travel, even though I’d taken every precaution.

That’s a stark contrast to the stress free travels most people yearn for, and those which I’ve always felt. With false positives and negatives still between 1-2%, you just never quite know right now, and I felt odd that I might miss out entirely, despite having everything booked.

In my opinion, in markets where covid-19 tests are not free, it’s going to be a very long time before international travel requiring tests on departure and arrival ever recovers in a mass consumer way. The costs, currently at least £300 per person leaving the UK are astronomical, and as noted from the outset – more than most would budget for a trip entirely.

I’m looking forward to a time when testing costs are slim to nil, and the process for each destination is better laid out with mobile passport style apps, which confirm you are all clear before you ever hit the airport.

I’ll relish the day when testing is even more accurate and the world can get moving again safely, and without too much added stress. Until then, markets where covid-19 testing remains a high cost will see a drain of interest, as travelers look for more viable options elsewhere.

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. i felt the same pain having travelled recently with 2 adults and 1 5y/o we we on £1400ish for our family… the only good news is we didnt have to do 10days in a holiday in.

    3 x £150 PCR required for destination £450
    2 x £USD 150 PCR required by UK (under 5 not required) $USD 300
    3 x £210 day2/8 tests required by UK now (unsure why child doesnt need one for entry, but does for day2/8 – that’s the UK gov thou.. £630

    But we needed to travel, so at least we had the choice/option. Im pretty sure the UK gov is using these costs/hotels as a big stick to drive behaviour, vs trying to legally stop people travelling.

  2. The costs associated with testing are absurd but even more so is the lack of technology use around the world. Why can’t I just flash my phone to show a negative test or vaccination and just move on? A year in and this is all still a joke on how it’s being handled.

  3. I’d imagine that it’s not meant to recover like this and the current high costs are part profiteering, part deterrent. Costs will come down once the risk goes down and travel opens up again.

  4. I spent $566 dollars overall for my trip from the U.K. to the USA and back… worst think is that the 2 mandatory test that I had to pay for (£210) never got mailed to me so I will be demanding my money back..

  5. The whole COVID response has become politicized. Masks = virtue signalling and fear, emotion, and hysterics all beat science.
    Also, vaccinated people can likely still carry/spread the virus, so requiring a vaccine to travel so as to protect those at your destinations is illogical. Also, many people don’t want to take what is supposed to be a relaxing vacation or visit a new and exciting place while wearing a mask 24/7.
    Common sense has also surrendered to politics. Hysterical health officials, despite their fingers in the Twitter wind, just need to admit that the virus is a new, endemic virus (the 5th one in our world), to make vaccines widely available to all who want them (but not coerced to those who don’t), and let everyone get on with their lives and businesses, plenty of which are travel-related.

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