Where to get a COVID-19 pre-departure test
Australians need to get a COVID-19 test before travelling to some destinations. Image: Russell Tate.

If you’re travelling overseas over the coming months, your destination country may require you to get a COVID-19 test before departure. Some Australian states, including Queensland, may also require evidence of a negative COVID-19 test before you can travel interstate.

The pre-flight COVID-19 testing rules are different for each destination. Some countries require a PCR test, while others may only require a rapid antigen test – or no testing at all.

You’ll also need to be aware of any pre-flight test requirements for any countries you may be transiting through. For example, while the UK does not require vaccinated travellers to get a pre-flight COVID-19 test, you would still need a test if transiting via Singapore or Abu Dhabi en-route to your destination.

The cost of COVID-19 tests from private pathology clinics varies significantly in Australia. They range from less than $50 for a rapid antigen test, up to around $200 for a PCR test. It is generally the traveller’s responsibility to pay for their own pre-flight tests.

Rapid antigen tests are cheaper and faster to process, but are considered to be slightly less reliable than PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests which are more expensive and take longer to process.

As well as checking what tests are required, it’s important to take note of the time that the swab needs to be taken. Some countries require tests to be conducted within 72, 48 or even 24 hours prior to your departure from Australia. Other destinations might require tests to be taken within a certain period of time prior to the departure of your last international flight before arriving in the country, or even based on the time of your arrival at the destination.

Which countries require pre-flight COVID-19 tests to enter?

Some of the countries that do not currently require Australians to get a pre-departure COVID-19 test if they have acceptable proof of vaccination:

The following countries accept both PCR and rapid antigen pre-departure tests:

  • Brazil (PCR test within 72 hours or rapid antigen test within 24 hours of first flight departure)
  • Italy (swab taken within 72 hours of entering Italy)
  • Singapore (within 2 days prior to departure of the first flight in the itinerary)
  • UK (required from 7 December 2021 within 2 days of the flight departing for the UK; you also need to pre-book a Day 2 test to take after arrival)
  • USA (within 1 day prior to departure of the first flight in the itinerary)

The following countries accept only PCR pre-departure tests:

  • Canada (within 72 hours of departure for Canada; NAT or RT-LAMP tests also accepted)
  • Fiji (within 3 days before travel)
  • Hong Kong (within 72 hours of the flight departing for Hong Kong)
  • India (within 72 hours before travel)
  • New Zealand (within 72 hours of the first international departure on your ticket)
  • South Africa (within 72 hours before travel)
  • Thailand (within 72 hours before travel)
  • UAE (within 72 hours before travel)

The following countries require both a PCR test and IgM antibody test:

  • China (within 48 hours of the flight departing for China)

You may also require a pre-flight COVID-19 test to transit through airports including Singapore, Abu Dhabi or Nadi. See our guide to COVID-19 transit requirements for key international airports for more information.

If in doubt about the current COVID-19 testing requirements (and entry rules more generally) for your destination, there are some useful websites where you can check. A few options include:

You’ll also need to get a pre-flight PCR test within 72 hours before the departure of your flight back to Australia. The cost and availability of PCR tests in other countries varies greatly.

Note that this information is subject to change.

Free public tests are not accepted for international travel

While free public tests are accepted for interstate domestic travel, most other countries and international airlines specify that your COVID-19 test results must be in the form of a certificate with certain information listed. For example, the New Zealand government requires a laboratory result form or a dated report that includes at least the following information:

  • Traveller’s name
  • Traveller’s date of birth and/or passport number
  • Date and time the test was conducted
  • Name of testing lab
  • Test type
  • Test result

The New Zealand government would also accept a “Fit to Fly Certificate”, as long as it meets their requirements. Other countries may have different requirements, so be sure to check if you’re unsure.

Free community COVID testing clinics, including public drive-through stations, do not generally provide an acceptable level of documentation for overseas travel. Normally, you would only receive an SMS with your “positive” or “negative” result and not a certificate.

Most free public testing sites will turn you away anyway if you’re requesting a COVID-19 test solely for the purpose of international travel.

Public COVID-19 testing sites do not provide travel clearance certificates.
Most free public COVID-19 testing sites do not provide travel clearance certificates. Photo: Matt Graham.

Where to get a COVID-19 test for international travel

You can go to any private pathology clinic that conducts COVID-19 tests for travel. There are multiple providers with numerous locations in each Australian state and territory.

You can check on the relevant state government websites for a list of pathology clinics in your state or territory:

Note that the state government websites list both public and private testing sites. The New Zealand government helpfully has a list of private testing providers that offer COVID-19 tests for travel in each Australian state & territory on its website. (Scroll down on that page to “Find testing locations overseas” and “Australia”.)

The easiest (and cheapest) place to get tested for international travel

If you’re departing from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, the easiest (and likely also cheapest) option is to use Histopath Pathology. As well as various community testing locations, Histopath offers express COVID-19 PCR and rapid antigen tests at the international terminals of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports.

This is where you’ll find Histopath’s airport locations:

  • Sydney: International departures levels, across the road from check in row H
  • Melbourne: In the departures area, in the internal walkway between terminals 1 & 2
  • Brisbane: Shop 4B-41 in the international departures area (landside), between Corretto Café & Bar and the News Travels store
The Histopath testing site at Melbourne Airport Terminal 1
The Histopath testing site at Melbourne Airport Terminal 1. Photo: Matt Graham.

Histopath offers a range of travel testing services and recently adjusted its prices. Until last week, rapid antigen tests were available at Sydney & Melbourne airports for $50 and express PCR tests with a 1-hour turnaround time were available in Sydney for $150. Now, the following tests are available at all three airport locations:

  • Rapid antigen test (30-minute turnaround) for $59
  • Express PCR test (90-minute turnaround) for $79
  • Express PCR test + blood antibody test (required for travel to China) for $120

Histopath has so far received good reviews for its fast and convenient service. But if you don’t want to wait until you’re at the airport to get your pre-departure test done, there are other options in all major Australian cities.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Where to get a pre-flight COVID-19 test?

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]