Updated 8 April 2021

What would air travel be like post-pandemic? Experts and industry players have their guesses, but one thing’s for sure: testing will be a fixture in the travel process for a while. In some countries, quarantines and tests are already requirements for arrivals, even.

Do I need a COVID test to fly?

If you’re looking to travel internationally, more and more countries are requiring travellers—particularly tourists or non-residents— to submit a negative RT-PCR test report from an accredited or approved laboratory conducted within a specific time window. 

Similarly, travelling domestically means adhering to rules that may or may not be less stringent depending on which country you’re in and the policy of the individual airlines themselves.

So to reiterate, the need for pre-flight COVID testing depends on where you are and where you’re travelling to.  

To find out if you’re required to take a pre-flight COVID test, please consult the following:

Middle East & North Africa

Africa

Asia

Europe

North America

South America

Oceania

Some countries allow for quarantine-free travel experience provided travellers arrive with a negative COVID-19 test result.

What kind of COVID test should I take?

The most common and reliable form of testing is the RT-PCR (Real-time Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction) test. While rapid antigen tests along with antibody tests are also available, they may not be accepted due to issues with false positives/negatives occurrences.

As of now, the primary method is a nasopharyngeal swab, which is a swab through the nose and the back of the throat. However, some tests are being developed so the test can be administered using saliva sample.

Where can I get tested?

You can get tested in a number of places including pharmacies, clinics, hospitals and even airports. However, in most cases, contacting your healthcare provider is the recommended course of action as they would be able to provide you with the latest local information on testing and what you would need to do in order to acquire the negative certificate required for flying.

For a comprehensive list of all testing centers in the UAE, please do refer to the following.

How long until I get my result?

If you’re planning on flying somewhere, do take into account the fact that most domestic and international destinations allow a 72-hour window from the time of testing until the time of arrival.

That said, turnaround time varies depending on the method of testing where you took the test. While an RT-PCR test is notoriously fast and is capable of producing results within 30 to 40 minutes, it may take a day or two for the results to be available and delivered.

All in all, the time needed to complete a COVID test on average should be between a few days and a week.

How much does a COVID test cost?

Etihad Airways is offering discounted COVID-19 tests in Abu Dhabi. If you’re flying from Abu Dhabi, you can save on the cost of your COVID-19 PCR test with discounted testing at G42 and LifeDx clinics across the UAE. If flying in First or Business class, you can also arrange for your sample to be collected from home.

The cost of COVID tests arranged with LifeDx is as follows:

  • Testing in Abu Dhabi: AED 55
  • Testing in Dubai and other emirates: AED 65
  • Home testing for First and Business guests in Abu Dhabi: AED 105
  • Home testing for First and Business guests in Dubai: AED 115

Arranging a test with G42

  • Contact G42 clinic at 02 205 5999
  • Testing across the UAE: AED 55
  • Home testing for First and Business guests: AED 105

Emirates Airline is also offering passengers COVID-19 PCR tests before departing on their flight priced at AED150. Passengers looking to get tested can do so at the American Hospital Dubai Media City Clinic, American Hospital Al Barsha Clinic and American Hospital Al Khawanij Clinic.

To be available for the special price, passengers would need to produce their Emirates tickets or boarding passes complete with the departure date no longer than a month from the test date. Emirates is also offering the option of at-home or at-office testing in Dubai for AED 250 for a minimum of two passengers.

You may need to perform your due diligence to find out which PCR testing locations that offer the best price and turnaround time. Take into consideration that delays are to be expected as the rise in demand means slower delivery times.

Will I need to get tested if I’ve been vaccinated?

The UAE is issuing COVID vaccine cards as proof that Emiratis have taken one or both doses of any vaccine approved in the country. If you’ve been fully vaccinated, the card displays complete details of your vaccination status including which vaccine was taken, on what dates, and which vaccination centre.

For now, there haven’t been any official rulings on whether or not vaccinated travellers would be exempted from getting tested prior to flying out. However, in a bid to encourage more and more people to take the jabs, several businesses and institutes in the UAE are handing out incentives to holders of the vaccine card. Some of which include restaurants and hotels discounts, complimentary taxi rides as well as driving lessons discounts.

Recently, an announcement was made by the Dubai authorities requiring all education sector employees who are eligible for vaccination but decide to opt-out to take a PCR test every seven days. The new regulation is effective from April 11 and applies to all private education institutes in Dubai, including early learning centers, schools, universities and training institutes.

PCR tests are also mandatory if symptoms of Covid-19 are present.

As the UAE COVID vaccine cards become more and more widespread, there’s always the chance that the perks being offered will eventually extend to no-testing flights somewhere down the line.