Updated 24 September 2021
With the UK slowly emerging from lockdown and the country seeing life return closer to normal amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, rules and regulations have mostly been replaced with advice and guidance on the practical steps to help manage the risks of the pandemic.
The testing, however, remains vital to help reduce the spread of the virus. With the development of at-home coronavirus tests, testing has now become more accessible, safe and more comfortable.
Keep reading to find more about the home testing kits available in the UK.
What is a self-test COVID-19 kit?
If you need to be tested for COVID-19 and can’t get tested by a healthcare provider, you can consider using either a self-collection kit or a self-test that can be performed by people at home or anywhere else.
Self-tests can be used by anyone who is symptomatic regardless of their vaccination status. Unvaccinated persons with no COVID-19 symptoms can also use self-tests, especially if they were potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Also called a “home test” or an “at-home test”, they are a safe and effective way to get tested without visiting an in-person site and potentially compromising your own or someone else’s health.
Types of home-test COVID kits available
There are two types of tests you can take at home:
The Rapid Lateral Flow Test
The Rapid Lateral Flow Test can only be taken by people who do not have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). The tests give a quick result using a device similar to that of a pregnancy test.
You can also get regular rapid lateral flow tests if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19).
About 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 do not have symptoms but can still infect others. You should do a rapid test twice a week (every 3 to 4 days) to check if you have the virus.
Even if you’re vaccinated, there’s still a chance you can pass on the COVID-19 virus, so you should keep getting tested regularly.
How to take the Rapid Lateral Flow test at home?
If you are taking the Rapid Lateral Flow test at home, you can follow these steps:
Before taking the swab
- Try not to eat, drink, smoke or vape 30 minutes before doing the test as this may affect the result of some tests.
- Check that nothing in the test kit is damaged or broken
- Start the test within 30 minutes of opening the test kit
- Always remember to read the instructions on the test kit.
- Wash your hands with soap or hand sanitiser.
- Layout all the items in the test kit on a clean surface.
- If your test does not come with a pre-filled tube, fill the tube with the liquid provided and do not forget to close the lid.
- Place the tube in the tube holder.
- Blow your nose.
- Wash your hands again.
Taking the swab
In case your test requires a throat swab:
- Open your mouth wide and rub the swab over your tonsils (or where they would have been).
- Avoid the end of the swab touching your teeth, tongue and gums.
- Put the same swab inside your nose (about 2.5 cm up or until you feel some resistance)
In case your test requires a nose swab only:
- Put the swab inside your nose (about 2.5 cm up)
Completing the test
- Put the end of the swab into the tube so it’s in the liquid
- Squeeze the liquid from the tube onto the test strip
- Check the waiting time in the instructions that came with your test kit
- Wait for the time shown in your test kit instructions
- Read your result
- Do not leave it longer than the waiting time specified in the test kit instructions as this may affect the result.
Report your result
It is important to report your result within 24 hours of getting it whether it is positive, negative or void. This helps scientists track the spread of COVID-19 and spot new outbreaks faster.
You can report your result using the NHS online service from here.
In case, you are unable to report the result online, call 119 for help.
Note: Before using this service, you will need:
- The QR code or ID number printed on the test strip (the part of the kit that shows your result)
- An active mobile phone number for them to text you and confirm that they have got your result.
How long will it take to get the Rapid Lateral Flow test results?
Rapid lateral flow tests use a device similar to a pregnancy test to give a quick result. Therefore, you can get your result within 30 minutes.
If you test positive
In case your rapid lateral flow test at home was positive:
- self-isolate straight away – check if people you live with need to self-isolate
- report your rapid lateral flow test result as soon as possible
- get a PCR test (a test that is sent to a lab) to confirm your result
Continue to self-isolate until you get the result of the PCR test. Follow the advice you’re given when you get the result.
If you test negative
A negative result means it’s likely you are not infectious.
But a negative test is not a guarantee you do not have COVID-19 and there’s still a chance you may be infectious. To avoid catching and spreading the virus follow the advice here.
The PCR test is mainly for people with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). The swab is sent to a lab to get the results.
You can order a PCR test kit to be sent to your home or book an appointment at a walk-in or drive-through test site. However, you should not use this service if you’ve received a positive PCR test result in the last 90 days unless you develop any new symptoms.
Who can take the PCR test?
The test is suitable for the following people:
- Adults aged 18 and over: self-test (unless unable to do so)
- Teenagers aged 12 to 17: self-test with adult supervision
- Children 11 and under: adult to test (see instructions on how to test a child)
When to take the PCR test at home?
You should take the PCR test at home if you have these symptoms:
- A high temperature
- A new, continuous cough
- You’ve lost your sense of smell or taste or it’s changed.
Check here to know other situations in which you can order a PCR home-test kit.
How to take the PCR test at home?
Before taking the test
If you do the test at home, you must do the following before you do the test:
- Read these instructions before you open the test kit
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds before you handle the test kit
- If more than one person in your home is taking the COVID-19 test, make sure you have a test kit for each person. You will need to register each person’s test kit
- Find the nearest Royal Mail Priority post box (5 to 10 mins), or book a courier to collect it.
- Register your test kit online (10 to 15 minutes). You must register to get your test results. (In case you cannot register yourself online, call 119 for help)
Note: To register yourself online you will need:
- The 10-digit order ID (see your home test order confirmation email).
- The 11-character test kit barcode. Make sure to check that this barcode is the same on your plastic tube, biohazard bag, and return box
- The 13-character Royal Mail barcode on the prepaid return label. (Enter numbers and letters only and not the # hashtag symbol).
Taking the test
- Wash your hands with soap or use a hand sanitiser.
- Layout all the items in the test kit on a clean surface.
- Blow your nose and wash your hands again.
- Open your mouth wide and rub the swab over your tonsils (or where they would have been). Avoid the end of the swab touching your teeth, tongue and gums.
- Put the same swab inside your nose (about 2.5cm up or until you feel some resistance).
- Put the swab facing down into the tube and make sure to screw the lid tight.
- Put the tube in the bag provided.
Note: Taking a sample may be uncomfortable and make you gag, but it should not hurt.
Posting your test kit
Make sure to post your completed test kit no later than 1 hour before the last collection time on the same day you take your test.
Only use a Royal Mail priority post-box with the label and one of the NHS regional logos.
Do not take it to a Post Office or post it in a non-priority post-box.
When will I get my PCR test-kit results?
You should get your results 2 days after your home test is collected. It may take longer due to the volume of tests being processed.
Your results will be sent via email and as a text to the mobile number, you provided when you registered online.
In case you do not receive your test-kit results after 5 days of posting it
Call 119 (free from mobiles and landlines)
Lines are open every day, 7am to 11pm.
If you test positive
- self-isolate straight away to avoid spreading the infection to other people. Check if people you live with need to self-isolate
- The self-isolation period includes the day your symptoms started (or the day you had the test if you do not have symptoms) and the next 10 full days.
Note: You may be contacted by the NHS or your local council and asked for information to help the NHS alert your close contacts.
If you test negative
You will need to self-isolate for 10 full days if you get a negative test result and:
- you’ve been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace because you’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive
- You had a PCR test (a test that is sent to a lab) to confirm the result of a positive rapid lateral flow test, and there were more than 2 days between the tests (England only)
Note: If you’re going into hospital, keep self-isolating until you go in. You may also need to self-isolate if someone you live with has tested positive.
What is the price of the home-test COVID-19 kit?
Both the Rapid Lateral Flow test kit and the PCR home-test kit can be ordered for free.
How to order the home-test COVID-19 kit?
Before ordering note that you can only order 1 pack of Rapid Lateral Flow test kit per day. A single pack will contain 7 tests.
You can order the Rapid Lateral Flow and PCR home-test COVID–19 kit
For England, Wales and Northern Ireland, call 119 (free from mobiles and landlines)
For Scotland, call 0300 303 2713 (charged at your standard network rate)
Alternatively you can order the kits online.
This service will be open every day, from 7 AM to 11 PM, and 119 provides support in 200 languages.