What is the difference between a self-test and a supervised test?

Wondering which tests you need to travel abroad? You’re not alone!

The last 2 months have seen numerous rapid changes to entry requirements across the world, making it difficult to work out which departure tests you need for travel, and when. Not only does every country have different testing requirements for entry, they also have varying standards in terms of which tests and testing methods are accepted. As well as simple distinctions like PCR or Rapid Antigen, there can be more to consider such as test provider, accreditation and sampling technique.

In this article we are going to explain the distinctions between self-tests and supervised tests and why this could be important for your journey. 

What is a self-test and when can it be used?

As the name suggests, a self-test is a test where the sample has been taken by yourself, or in other words, that has not been professionally administered. This can either be in the case of a home test or if you visit a clinic but the sample is not taken for you. 

For entry to some countries such as Barbados, Iceland and Sweden, self-tests are not accepted. This means that in order to travel to one of these countries, you will not be able to take a home test and must make sure the provider you choose offers in-person appointments during which a clinician will take the sample for you.This distinction can impact the cost of your test so it’s important to carefully check the requirements for the country you wish to travel to before booking. 

At CTN we present guidance for travel testing as you work through our comparison tool. 

You can find out more about testing requirements (including where self-tests are not accepted) by following the button below:

What is a supervised test? How is this different from one that has been professionally administered?

Another distinction that can be made when it comes to testing is the one between supervised and unsupervised tests. This is similar but not to be confused with professionally administered. 

For travel to countries like the United States (USA), your test must be taken or supervised by a professional in ‘real-time’. This means that a clinician has seen you take the test. You are of course free to visit a clinic to take your test and in this case, as long as someone is supervising your technique, you are able to take the test yourself. When it comes to home tests, you are able to choose this option however, the test must be supervised via a live video call, or telehealth as it’s sometimes called. A number of providers offer this option for antigen tests (which are often cheaper than PCR tests) so this could be the preferred choice for many, in order to minimise costs. 

Our comparison tool now enables you to filter providers by those that offer supervised home tests. 

You can find out more about testing requirements by following the button below:

What else should I be considering?

There can be a number of other requirements in terms of testing, such as lab accreditation, test sensitivity and so on. For example, some countries like Barbados or Trinidad and Tobago will only accept test results where the sample has been taken via nasopharyngeal technique, or in other words where the sample is collected from the back of the nasal cavity (this means that throat and nose samples will not be accepted). 

Always make sure to check the testing requirements and all other country regulations before booking with a provider. 

Written by Maeve Sally

Published on 13/01/2022


Maeve heads up the Provider Listings and Delivery Team handling all things operations, research and logistics as well as project managing website developments.

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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