PCR test = polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This test is performed to detect genetic material from a specific organism, in this case, a virus. The test detects the presence of a virus if you are infected at the time of the test. This is considered the best test for detecting Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2, and its variants). The virus can be detected within days of infection, even in people who have no symptoms. The test can be done in a clinic or hospital. They are also often available on a ''drive-through'' basis in many countries.
Turnaround time is generally in the 2-3 day range but results can be obtained in as little as 24 hours.
This test uses a swab to take a sample from a person’s nose or throat.
A negative PCR test is needed for entry into most countries. Generally you need a certificate that is valid within 72 hours prior to travel (in some cases, 48 hours). This needs to be printed out and available to show at the airport both when checking-in and upon arrival at your destination.
All travellers are responsible for the cost of the PCR test.
Rapid Antigen Test = identifies people who are currently infected with the coronavirus. It may be used as a quick test to detect active infections. Antigen tests can identify the virus in the nose and throat secretions. It does this by looking for proteins from the virus (as opposed to the diagnostic test, which looks for genetic material). This test can be done in a clinic, hospital or at an Airport.
Turnaround time for results is usually very quick and in some cases, results can be reported within 15 minutes.
The specimen is collected with a swab that reaches less than 2.5 cm (1 inch) inside the nose.
In some cases these are being requested upon arrival, as an additional precaution (for instance in Botswana, where the test is free).