Sofia and Bob from Nature Travels travelled to Sweden in mid-August 2021 – our first time flying since summer 2020 – and, like many travellers, we had to navigate the requirements for pre- and post-trip COVID testing.
Here we tell you how we arranged our tests and our experience of taking them – it may be helpful for your own plans!
Our choice of test providers was entirely personal, based on web searches for reliable providers, reasonable prices, and those with availability for our travel dates and times. There are many other options available.
The information below is for travel from the UK to Sweden. Requirements for entry to Norway, Finland and Denmark, or if you are not travelling from the UK, may be different.
Also, requirements for pre- and post-travel testing change regularly – this article represents our experience of arranging what was required at the time of writing (early August 2021). By the time you travel, it may be very different! Make sure you keep updated on the latest information for your destination – see our blog article on Travel Updates for Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark for more information.
Nature Travels accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of the information below. It is your responsibility to ensure that you make appropriate arrangements for your trip.
What COVID tests did we need for travel to/from Sweden?
Travel from the UK to Sweden:
- As a Swedish citizen, Sofia was not required to take a pre-departure test to enter Sweden.
- At the time of writing, Sweden isn’t currently accepting general entry from the UK, though changes are under discussion. Bob, as a British (i.e. non-Swedish and non-EU) citizen, was permitted to enter Sweden because he’s married to Sofia, but was required to show a negative test less taken than 48 hours before arrival. Sweden accepts rapid antigen (lateral flow) testing for entry. As these are much cheaper than a PCR test and also have a faster turnaround time for results (about 30 minutes), Bob opted for this option for his pre-departure test.
- Sweden is the only one of the destinations we offer which currently has this restriction. Norway, Finland and Denmark all accept vaccinated UK travellers without the requirement for testing.
Travel from Sweden back to the UK:
- We are both fully vaccinated. Sweden is currently on the UK “amber” list. To return to the UK, we both needed to take a rapid antigen test within 72 hours before travelling back to the UK and a PCR test on Day 2 after returning to the UK. This is currently required when returning to the UK from any Amber or Green list country.
What had we expected about the process of arranging COVID testing for travel?
- The choice of testing providers and test types is daunting, with a wide variation in pricing and logistics.
- Knowing exactly what you need and finding a suitable provider for it isn’t easy! Information on government and other official websites is often lengthy and confusing.
What did we discover?
- It worked out cheaper than we thought.
- You must book your tests well in advance – availability is limited and, especially if you need a test during the weekend, you might find slots difficult to find. Sweden requires the test to be taken within 48 hours of arrival at the border, and you must allow for possible flight delays, etc, to ensure your test does not expire before you arrive.
- Once you just get down and do it, it’s not that complicated!
What tests did we arrange and with which providers?
Testing before leaving the UK:
We were flying London-Stockholm at 10.30 in the morning on a Monday from Heathrow Terminal 2. Bob arranged a rapid antigen test for 07.00 at the airport, with results expected in 30 minutes. This was the earliest possible morning slot, but should provide results in plenty of time before check-in for the flight closes at 09.30.
- Cost: £35
- Provider: Express Test – see https://www.expresstest.co.uk/book-a-test/testing-centres/
- Why we chose them: We chose Express Test based on a web search for rapid antigen testing providers at Heathrow.
Ideally, I would have liked to do my test further in advance, but as this would mean testing on a Saturday or Sunday, and no options were available that would not have involved a long drive to a test centre or an overnight at the airport. The virtual appointments with Wren Healthcare (see below) were only possible up to latest mid-afternoon on Saturdays, which would have left only a one-hour margin for flight delay on Monday before my certificate would expire.
Update: Test completed. How did it go?
Very smoothly. I’d done a couple of free NHS home tests in the days before to make sure there were no last-minute surprises with the result!
We arrived at Heathrow Terminal 2 in plenty of time. The test centre is located right in the departure hall. It opened at 07.00 but a queue was already forming by 06.45, so if you have limited time before your flight (ours was at 10.30), getting in the queue early is a good idea. By 07.00 there were 20 or so people waiting, but not much of a queue later on. Your test is done on a “first come, first served” basis within the appointed time slot.
Staff were very friendly. I was directed to a reception desk to check in and then to a booth to have the test. Unlike the NHS home tests, these tests use a nasal swab in both nostrils for 15 seconds, with no throat swab – mildly uncomfortable but no problem. I was asked to wait in the booth for a couple of minutes so they could confirm the test had worked and I was then told the result was negative. As promised, the official “Fit to Fly” certificate (which I needed to show later at check-in) was emailed to me 30 minutes later, so I had my result by 07.45.
So, apart from the inconvenience of needing to arrive a bit earlier than usual at the airport, and of course the extra cost for the test itself, this was really no problem at all.
Testing before coming back to the UK:
We had originally thought we’d need to arrange this as an in-person test in Sweden, but this was not necessary.
We booked virtual appointments with Wren Healthcare. Our test kits were be posted to us before we left, and then we had a virtual appointment (via Microsoft Teams) in the 72 hours before we flew back. We administered the test ourselves, supervised via the internet, and were then emailed the results immediately.
This was both a more convenient and cheaper option than we had expected.
- Cost: £45/person
- Provider: Wren Healthcare – see https://wrenhealthcare.co.uk/rapid-antigen-test-for-travel/
- Why we chose them: From a recommendation of reputable providers in a Guardian article, and because they had virtual testing slots available that were suitable for our return travel dates. See https://www.theguardian.com/money/2021/jul/17/holiday-covid-tests-best-price-trust-time-provider
Update: Tests completed. How did they go?
Also very smoothly! We received email and text reminders of the appointments in advance (don’t forget time-zone difference so that you log on at the right time – the message helpfully said “14.00 UK time” to remind us!). We’d taken a couple of free NHS self-tests with us on the trip and tested ourselves the day before just to avoid any possible surprises!
As instructed, before leaving the UK we had downloaded Microsoft Teams to Sofia’s mobile phone and, as a back-up, to the laptop we had with us, and also registered in advance for accounts at the website where the results are recorded.
When it was time for our appointment, we simply followed the link in the email to start a Teams video meeting with one of the Wren staff. The lady we spoke to was friendly and helpful. She instructed us to open the test kits, log the serial numbers into the website, and then watched while we administered our tests (like the pre-departure test at Heathrow, the tests used a nasal swab in both nostrils and no throat swab).
The results take 15 minutes, so she hung up and we were asked to re-connect to the meeting room a few minutes later. We then showed her the test strips with their negative results and were told to record the results as negative on the online portal (a separate account/email address is required for each person taking the test). Once that was done, we could immediately download the negative result certificates as PDFs and also have a copy sent by email.
We had two consecutive time slots (14.00 and 14.20), but as we were together, we did both tests at the same time and were both finished by 14.25.
All in all, very straightforward. Provided you’re somewhere with a wi-fi/mobile data connection good enough for video calling, there should be no problem at all, and the option to test remotely conveniently avoids the need to make arrangements for testing locally.
The only thing we would recommend is that, if you’re using your phone rather than a computer, it’s probably helpful if you can have a second person with you with another phone (or borrow an extra phone for the meeting!) so that you can have the results recording website visible at the same time, as you need to use the website while you’re on the call.
Also, if you’re travelling for a winter tour, bear in mind that the test kit contains liquid and needs to be stored at above freezing temperature, so don’t bring the kit with you on your activities. Leave it in a nice, warm place for when you finish your tour!
While the process of booking and taking the test itself was very straightforward, we were not required to show proof of having taken this test or of a negative result either when we checked in for our return flight in Stockholm or on arrival at Heathrow when passing through immigration (we were directed to the e-passport gates), which was unexpected. However, this test is still of course an essential requirement and spot-checks may occur to ensure compliance.
Tip: The immigration queue at Heathrow took us about 45 minutes to get through, and may take longer at busier times, so plan for this for any onward travel arrangements. The system isn’t quite as smooth as it needs to be yet!
Testing on Day 2 after coming back to the UK:
As fully vaccinated travellers returning from an amber list country, we were only required to take a PCR test on Day 2. This must be booked and paid for before travel. We opted for a home test as the cheapest option. The test kits are posted out to you on the day you’re due to travel back.
You receive a reference number which you must enter on your Passenger Locator Form, the form you complete before travelling back, to prove you have booked the test in advance.
- Cost: £61/person
- Provider: Assured Screening – see https://www.assuredscreening.com/international-arrivals/
- Why we chose them: From a listing at COVID testing comparison site www.covid19-testing.org – see https://www.covid19-testing.org/questions We made our choice based on price and rating. Be aware, though, that the final price is higher than the first page of the process would suggest (we were quoted £47) as some extras for postage and VAT are added later in the booking process.
Update: Tests completed. How did they go?
Fine. On the day we travelled back from Sweden, we received an email saying that our test kits had been posted out. The day you travel back is Day 0. The test can be taken anytime before or on Day 2.
The test kits arrived the following day (Day 1) – again, we received a message saying what time they would be delivered earlier in the day.
We registered the test numbers on Assured Screening’s website, which records the date and time of the test, took the tests (very similar to the NHS self-tests), packaged them up and posted them in our nearest Priority postbox. We had a tracking code to keep track of their progress and will receive the results by email.
Once we’d found providers who could offer what we needed at a price that seemed reasonable, the process of arranging and taking the tests was very straightforward. Of course, we look forward to the time when testing will no longer be necessary! 🙂
Cost for 2 persons (total 3 tests for Bob and 2 tests for Sofia): £247.
A significant amount to pay, certainly, but rather less than we’d expected. The lateral flow tests are quite a bit cheaper than PCR tests, and the cost of testing is coming down all the time. Once the requirement for testing is removed of course, and proof of vaccination status or recovery from COVID is accepted as an alternative (as it is now for travel within the EU), travel will once again be both simpler and cheaper.
But, for a chance to spend two weeks in the Stockholm archipelago, we were very happy!