Types of covid tests
What do the different types of Covid tests mean?

Covid-19 requirements vary by country, and not every country uses the same terminology to refer to tests and methods of sampling. The Covid-19 testing market in the UK also uses different names for often the same things. At CTN we understand the importance of getting the tests you need, conducted in exactly the way that's needed for the country you're travelling to, to avoid any problems when travelling.

Below we have compiled a list of the most common terms you might encounter when researching for your upcoming trip. Our site guides you to the providers who can supply the sampling techniques you need.



PCR tests look for viral genetic material inside a sample. In order for this to happen, the sample needs to be sent to a lab for analysis. Results are usually given within 24h to 72h, although there are providers that offer faster turnarounds. 

CTN Tip: For the fastest result time we recommend you go to a clinic, as then the sample does not have to spend any time in the post.

A RT-PCR is a type of PCR test. Most Covid PCR tests are RT-PCR, as it is the standard method used for detecting the genetic material of the virus. There is not an agreed naming convention for PCR tests, which means that some providers might shorten it to PCR even if the method used is RT-PCR. 

CTN Tip: Always check with the provider before you purchase the test, as some countries specifically ask for RT-PCR tests.

Antigen test 

You may have also seen it referred as: Rapid antigen test, LFD (lateral flow device), LFT (lateral flow test)

Antigen tests look for a certain protein present in the Covid-19 virus. They work by using a lateral flow device, a bit like a pregnancy test. Antigen tests do not need to be sent to a lab and results are provided in as little as 15 minutes, which is why they are sometimes called a rapid antigen test.

Antigen tests are considered to be less sensitive than PCR and therefore not all countries accept them for entry. It is important to remember that free NHS tests are not valid for travel purposes (see more info here).

NAAT, molecular test

NAAT stands for Nucleic Acid Amplification Test. This refers to the method used to check for Covid-19 in PCR tests. They work by making millions of copies of any potential virus genetic material in the sample. They are also called molecular tests. 

It is important to remember that rapid antigen (or lateral flow) tests are NOT NAATs and therefore unsuitable for any countries that require NAATs. 



You may have also seen it referred as: self-sampling, self-administered

This means you can take the test yourself, either at home or at a clinic. 

CTN Tip: a home test might be a good idea if you want to take the test on your own time instead of having to go to a clinic. You can check if your destination allows self-sampling by using our simple destination checker: 

Professionally administered

You may have also seen it referred as: clinician administered

Professionally administered means a healthcare professional will need to take your test. If the country you are travelling to asks that the test be administered by a professional, you will need to go to a clinic. Not all clinics offer this service, as some just have a healthcare professional advise you while you take the sample itself. 

CTN tip: we have written an article further explaining the difference between supervised and professionally administered tests here.

Professionally supervised

Professionally supervised means you can take the test yourself as long as a healthcare professional supervises you while you do it. This means you can also take the test at home, with telehealth supervision.


You may have also seen it referred as:  telemed, e-consultation, video consultation

This is a method of sampling that involves a consultation with a healthcare professional over live video. This counts as a supervised test. This is a useful method for some countries, like the US and New Caledonia, which require a supervised antigen test, but who have a tight deadline (1 day for the US). This allows you to do the test at home at your convenience and get the results quickly.

CTN Tip: you can see further requirements and recommendations for travelling to the US here



F2F is the common shortening of Fit to Fly, also known as Fit to Travel.


This refers to Turnaround Time, or the amount of time it takes to receive your results. 

CTN Tip: always check on the provider website when the time window for results starts, as it can be ‘from sample taken’ or ‘from arrival at the lab’.

Written by Isabel Barrios Pérez-Coca

Published on 11/02/2022


Isabel is a Data and Research Specialist and is involved in the operation, research, data management and logistics of running the website.

The information within this article is accurate at the time of publishing.

Information about testing requirements, entry requirements to the UK and travelling abroad during Covid-19 is CTN’s understanding of the requirements from multiple sources including the UK Government website at the time of publishing - always check full requirements including mandatory documentation and quarantine rules before you travel! By using our site, you confirm that you accept our user terms and conditions and you agree to comply with them. We amend these terms from time to time. Every time you wish to use our site, please check these terms to ensure you understand the terms that apply at that time.


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