Choosing the right COVID-19 test

There are different types of coronavirus tests available. These depend on whether you have symptoms or not. Not everyone is eligible for every type of coronavirus test. This content will help you understand which test is right for you.

Two types of COVID-19 tests

There are two main types of COVID-19 tests. The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, and the lateral flow antigen test. Both test for coronavirus, and are safe and reliable.

The PCR test is the most common, and the one the majority of people who have had a COVID-19 test to date have taken. It has to be processed in a lab and can take a couple of days.

The lateral flow test is newer, and it is the type preferred for mass testing of people with no symptoms. It is processed on-site, and provides results within 24 hours, though usually quicker.


PCR test = those with COVID-19 symptoms

Lateral flow test = those without COVID-19 symptoms

Which test do I need?

The decision matrix below will help you to understand which test is right for you, and who will provide it. It's extremely important that you choose the correct test, in order to keep others safe and to satisfy any travel requirements. Each category links to a section of this page with more information.

COVID-19 test decision matrix

Have symptoms

(staying in UK)

Have symptoms

(but intend to travel outside of UK)

No symptoms

(staying in the UK)

No symptoms

(travelling outside of the UK)

PCR test via NHS (free if eligible) X X    
PCR private test (paid for by you)       X

No symptoms test (lateral flow test)


PCR (free NHS test)

This is the test you should get if you are sick. It's provided free by the NHS if you meet their criteria. You can access a PCR test on campus in the East Centre Car Park test centre. This is a walk-in clinic. You do not require an appointment before you arrive.

You can also book a local test via GOV.UK if you are eligible.

You must not get a free PCR test if you don't have symptoms, but you need a PCR to travel internationally. You must arrange this privately yourself. If you have symptoms, you will only be able to travel after you have a negative test and/or your self-isolation period is up.

PCR private test

This is the test you should get if you are not sick and intend to travel internationally. You must pay for this yourself via a private provider. This test is available on campus, at the Right Medicine Pharmacy. You can also google private PCR test then your location to find other options in your local area. 

No-symptoms test

If you're not sick and you intend to travel over the winter break within the UK, you need to have two no-symptoms (lateral flow) tests three days apart. These are provided free on-campus, via the no symptoms test centre in the Pathfoot Building. You will need to book an appointment in advance.

You must not get a no-symptoms test if you are sick. You must get a PCR test.