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.