Covid tests are a hidden cost of post-pandemic travel

Mandatory Covid testing will add hundreds to the cost of an overseas solo business trip, and thousands to a family holiday.

By David Flynn, November 3 2021
Covid tests are a hidden cost of post-pandemic travel

Australians can once again fly overseas – at least from Sydney and Melbourne – and, even better, return without quarantine.

But there’s a new factor in the international travel equation: the cost of Covid-19 testing.

And it will boost the price of a solo flyer’s journey by an average of several hundred dollars, while adding thousands to the budget for that long-awaited family getaway.

Pre-departure Covid tests

As the world begins to reopens, many countries make it a condition of entry that visitors show a negative result from a Covid-19 PCR test taken 48-72 hour before your flight to that country.

That list includes Singapore, Thailand, Canada, Ireland, the UAE, Italy,  Denmark, Switzerland and over a dozen other European countries.

This isn’t the same test done at your local clinic, or using one of the new DIY rapid antigen self-testing kits now on sale at chemists and supermarkets.

It’s a Covid-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test administered by a pathology clinic – one generally listed by clinics as an ‘international travel Covid test’, and which provides the results as a document that’s recognised both at the airport checkin desk and on on arrival at your destination.

While being highly accurate, PCR tests are also highly expensive. In Australia, regardless of which pathology service you use, the tests all cost around $150 per person.

Not all countries require a Covid test to enter; and some will accept a cheaper antigen or lateral flow test, including the United Kingdom (which last month switched from PCR testing) and the USA.

“Australians who are travelling overseas are not required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test at check-in to meet Australian outbound travel requirements,” advises the federal Department of Health.

“However, some countries and airlines do require the presentation of a pre-departure test result at check-in before you will be allowed to board your flight. Travellers should check the entry requirements of the country to which they will travel and their airline requirements.”

On-arrival Covid tests

On top of the pre-departure Covid test, your destination may also require that a test to be taken on arrival.

Singapore, which opens to Australian visitors from November 1, presents a good example of this as the island-nation seeks to keep the pandemic contained.

Priced at $160 (although that drops to $125 from November 18) and bookable in advance, the test is done at Changi Airport by the Raffles Medical Group.

Travellers must then head straight to their hotel or other accommodation and self-isolate until receiving a negative result, which is within 12 hours and typically much faster.

Another Covid PCR test before you fly home

Even when visiting a country which doesn’t need any form of Covid testing to enter, you’re still up for a test before returning to Australia.

The Australian Government currently requires that all travellers from overseas – including fully-vaccinated Australian citizens, residents and their families – take a Covid-19 PCR test 72 hours before the departure of their flight home.

“Passengers travelling to Australia must be tested for Covid-19, 72 hours or less before the scheduled flight departure, and display evidence of a negative test result at the time of check-in,” the Department of Health says, specifying that “Covid-19 PCR testing is required.”

The cost of Covid-19 PCR tests varies not only from country to country, but in some cases depends on how quickly you need the results.

For example, test centres at San Francisco airport can charge US$90 for a 24-hour turnaround to $250 for a result in 90 minutes.

In London you could be looking at £65-85, and upwards of $120 in Singapore.

The cost of Covid testing for international travel

In a three-test scenario, with tests needed for flights there and back, as well as on arrival at your destination, the cost of Covid PCR testing can be close to $500 per passenger.

If that’s not enough of a whack for a solo trip, a holiday for a family of four would see almost $2,000 added to the bill – all before airfares, accommodation, meals, activities and general spending money are taken into account.

The more common two-test scenario – one ahead of the flight there, another before the flight home – could be close to $300 per passenger.

(Executive Traveller has sought advice from the Australian Taxation Office as to whether the costs of Covid-19 tests on a business trip could be considered as deductibles, and will update this article on the ATO’s response.)

It’s obviously hoped that 2022, with increasing vaccination rates around the world backed up by booster shot programs and a continued drive for travel to bounce back, will see many PCR tests replaced by rapid antigen tests which are both quicker and less expensive.

But, at least for now, the cost of Covid testing looks to be an unavoidable part of the new norm in post-pandemic travel.

Good article to help people realise the hidden costs. When rapid antigen tests replace PCR tests or when PCR test costs get reduced further like they have at Changi airport, then I'm sure even more people will be taking to the skies such as myself

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jan 2015

Total posts 76

A family of 5 going to US then to UK with a stop in Singapore on the way home...Yikes  

03 Nov 2021

Total posts 1

Is there an up-to-date resource on which countries will accept an rapid-antigen or lateral flow tests on arrival? 

I think "up to date" is the catch as things can change so quickly. I was looking into a trip to the USA and had to do a lot of searching and reading online to work out that they'll accept an antigen test as an alternative to a PCR test, while an article published in one mainstream newspaper recently said the UK needed a PCR test on arrival, which is no longer the case.

for USA antigen test is fine. At chemist today ... 2 antigen tests $20 (so can we do them at the airport ?)

All getting a bit stupid.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Jun 2014

Total posts 212

The sooner the testing red tape is removed the better.

No testing is required after being in a packed supermarket with plenty of unvaxxed people among the crowd. So really testing people travelling between two living with COVID cities makes no sense if we are truely 'living with it' especially with risk of transmission on board the aircraft incredibly low.

That, alongside allowing foreign nationals back in will help get the airlines back to 2019 economies of scale faster as well.

26 Mar 2020

Total posts 45

Even interstate travel will add up - Pre Depature Covid test will be required upon on arrival into QLD from 17th December onwards.

Family of 4 from Sydney to Gold Coast is looking at $150 x 4 ($600 to enter QLD before your holiday even starts)

travellz, that's today. Could be completely different tomorrow.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1026

According to the QLD opening plan, they want pre departure inbound domestic travelers to have PCR tests at least until the state reaches a 90% 16+ vax target.

The states plan is inbound domestic by air travel only between 70 and 80% with the land border to open at 80%.

They are currently at 65.3%.

At least QLD appears to be the only state thus far to demand PCR pre departure testing for domestic travel.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 509

@Himeno

TAS as required predeparture PCR test of vaccinated arrivals as part of reopening in mid Dec

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 509

Aaaaannnnddddd TAS has just revised this rule of predeparture PCR test today for mid December opening …. No need for test if coming from low risk area.

Jeez all these changes can be hard to follow 

Hope QLD will see the light too

21 Sep 2011

Total posts 69

NSW government website says there are 2 PCR tests required arriving at SYD from an international flight. One witin 24 hours and another after a few days. Does it need to be the paid test or any free test will do?

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1409

Toby that should be at a government testing centre which is free.

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 205

Question for domestic travel, Queensland specifically post 17th Dec 

A- does the state run PCR test and text message satisfy the “negative covid test” requirement.

Or 

B - require a lab $150 test. Which is extremely costly and inconvenient for travellers especially a family of 4.

I’m hoping the domestic rule set does not require the international ruleset of testing requirements applied, we are all one country aren’t we.

so as of today going to USA

 will accept a cheaper antigen or lateral flow test (how much ?)

& a PCR test on return.

Seems to be a lot of price gouging going on.

If going in month or 2, much of that requirement might disappear. It has to, as a disincentive to travel. Airlines should get their own testing centres. It's not rocket science.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 496

Yes that's true. Actually, Richard Barrow who is a well known Thailand travel blogger from Britain with high up connections in the government and travel industry suggests that the Thai government may consider switching from PCR testing to lateral flow or antigen tests at the airport as early as next month, along with scrapping pre-departure PCR tests.

I do believe that moving into 2022, we'll see less and less testing as countries continue opening up.

so it might cost me $200 in tests if go to USA today (probably cheaper or not necessary at all in month or 2). Airfares have never ever been cheaper. That $1000 return airfare, just became $1200. Big deal.

looking online some of the cheaper tests only cost $10

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 23

Question : if transiting to Krabi from Singapore airport the same day is that possible or do you have to do a test then transit after results ??

This would be a pain !

Mike

I think you'd be better off doing your own research into this via Government websites, eg Singapore's Ministry of Health and maybe also Changi Airport's website, they have plenty of FAQ information on Covid and travel, and if there's not an answer for your specific question you can always try to contact them. Asking a bunch of anonymous people on a travel website might not be the best way to get a definitive 100% accurate answer.

QF

04 Apr 2014

Total posts 196

living in the US the departure PCR test, to meet AU requirements, is covered by insurance.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jan 2017

Total posts 16

For my wife and I to travel to NZ from SA, cost of void testing = $1500!!! A test each @ $150 on Adelaide departure ($300); a test each at approx $150 on Auckland departure ($300); and upon return to SA, another test on Day 1 (actually, day 2 after return), Day 5 & Day 13 ($900).  A staggering $1500.  Flying friendly skies - I don't think so.  And won't be happening for us for the foreseeable future.

Air Canada - Aeroplan

28 Feb 2015

Total posts 71

Are you sure you have to pay for the Day 1/5/13 tests on return to Adelaide? Unless things have changed since June, I was required to do these tests after being allowed into the state directly from two weeks' quarantine in Melbourne (overseas arrival), and I simply went to the testing site at Adelaide airport for all three - no charge. This may be because I'd done five tests in the 17 days before arriving in Adelaide, but it would be worth double-checking your info.

DownSouth

Question for domestic travel, Queensland specifically post 17th Dec:  A- does the state run PCR test and text message satisfy the “negative covid test” requirement.

I'd also like to know this.  Can anyone help pls?

29 Jan 2020

Total posts 33

The other issue to consider, is if you catch Covid while overseas.

You will need to self isolate, probably no need for Hospital, but then your PCR test to return will be positive.

In this scenario according to Government Health website, you will need to be symptom free for at least 14 days, and obtain a medical certificate stating you have recovered.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1409

Indeed Boeing that is why I will wait a while until treatments are improved and costs drop. As it is the tests plus a dose of Covid would certainly kill any holiday.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 509

@boeing727

Which is why it does make some sense that places like TH and SG requires some health insurance cover for COVID-19 for non citizens.

Looking at some quotes in SG authorities website for SG cover, pricing looks reasonable and probably cheaper than quotes from AU insurers but of course the issues will be the small print exclusions which I hadn’t bother to look closely at atm esp with scenarios of positive-but-not-require-hospital-stay

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 509

I agree that it will be best to get a ruling from the ATO regarding preflight testing but I will be interested to know what kind of reasoning (although they don't necessarily are obliged to give any) why any costs incurred from a business travel, (particularly a compulsory cost which will prevent the business trip) is not tax deductible

08 Jul 2017

Total posts 30

4Cyte Pathology based around Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne will do Travel PCR tests for $120.

Note that China also requires a pre flight IgM Antibody test which increases costs further.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

Good points to note, thanks Serfty!

for USA think you only need the antigen test, but where to get it ? Sullivan & Nic pathol don't do it as probably no money in it.

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

20 Apr 2015

Total posts 29

Some good news just released by the Singapore government, incoming passengers from Category II and III countries (including Australia) can now use an antigen test to travel to Singapore. 


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