United Kingdom

Skytrax reveals the huge Covid-test price differences at airports around the world

Having a negative Covid-19 test is now a near-universal requirement for international travel in 2021 – but the prices for them at airports are anything but.

Research by respected UK-based air transport rating agency Skytrax found a $396 USD (£287) price difference between the highest and lowest costs for standard PCR testing at airports around the world and a difference of $212 (£153.55) for rapid antigen tests.

The study covered the published fees of 77 airports that provide testing services for departing passengers in Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America.

Kansai International Airport in Japan has the highest PCR pricing with a standard processing fee of $404 (£293)


Kansai 404 (USD)

Helsinki 317

Stockholm 295

Tokyo Narita 275

San Francisco 261

Nagoya Centrair 256

New York JFK 179

Copenhagen 168

Zurich 162

Amsterdam 154

Munich 152

Chicago O’Hare 145

Luxembourg 142

Oslo 142

Warsaw 136

East Midlands 135

London City 135

London Luton 135

Manchester 135

London Stansted 135

Los Angeles 125

Singapore 120

Dublin 118

Vienna 118

Birmingham 110

Edinburgh 110

Glasgow 110

London Heathrow 110

Ft Lauderdale 106

Vilnius 95

Rome Fiumicino 83

Prague 83

Berlin 82

Cologne 82

Dusseldorf 82  

Frankfurt 82

Hamburg 82

London Gatwick 82

Brussels 80

Bogota 77

Athens 71

Seoul Incheon 71

Malaga 69

Madrid 69

Palma Mallorca 69

Hong Kong 64

Denpasar Bali 61

Sao Paulo 61

Jakarta 54

Muscat 50

Riga 44

Cape Town 42

Johannesburg 42

Dubai 41

Kyiv Zhuliany 40

Kyiv Boryspil 40

Almaty 36

Istanbul 33

Moscow DME 30

Hurghada 30

Sharm El Sheikh 30

Rostov-on-Don 26

Koltsovo 24

Moscow SVO 23

Kuromoch 22

Nursultan 20

Tokyo Haneda 17

Minsk 15

Delhi 11

Mumbai 8 

Rates shown: All the above test costs are shown in US Dollars, and the local rates have been converted to US dollars using currency exchange rates on April 15, 2021. 

Skytrax stressed that in some countries, the testing rate is fixed by the national government and may be subsidised. Similarly, it pointed out, there is a varied policy on taxation of testing. In the UK, for example, 20 per cent of the fee charged is the government VAT tax.

Kansai International Airport in Japan has the highest pricing with a standard processing fee of $404 (£293), with the lowest cost being for domestic departing customers travelling from Mumbai Airport, who can access PCR testing for just $8 (£5.80).

At the higher end of PCR test costs, said Skytrax, ‘most of the airports are in developed markets where factors such as infrastructure, staff, and laboratory costs are high, and some testing providers also report difficulty in achieving the necessary economies of scale due to the restrictions placed on international travel, where testing is generally needed’.

Many US airports do not currently offer on-site PCR test facilities, but amongst those that do, Ft Lauderdale Airport is the cheapest at $106 (£76). JFK charges $179 (£129)

Heathrow, pictured, charges £79/$110 for a PCR test, in line with Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow

Mumbai offers the cheapest PCR ($8/£5.79) and antigen ($2/£1.45) tests in the world

In Europe, Riga Airport was the cheapest at $44 (£31), with many German airports charging around $80 (£57), and in the UK, the airport PCR tests vary between $82 (£59) and $135 (£97).

Many US airports do not currently offer on-site PCR test facilities, but amongst those that do, Ft Lauderdale Airport is the cheapest at $106 (£76), according to the study, through to San Francisco International Airport charging $261 (£189).

In assessing the price versus processing times, Russian airports offer the most passenger-friendly testing regime, said Skytrax, with pricing between $22 (£15) and $30 (£21) for standard processing and results frequently delivered within 12 hours.

Moscow Sheremetyevo offers an express PCR test for $36 (£26) with the result given in under two hours, which is amongst the best overall service available, the agency declared.

A smaller number of airports offer rapid antigen tests, Skytrax revealed, and of the selection studied, the costs range from a high of $214 (£155) at Helsinki Vantaa Airport through to the cheapest of $2 (£1.45) charged at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport.

A smaller number of airports offer rapid antigen tests, Skytrax revealed, and of the selection studied, the costs range from a high of $214 (£155) at Helsinki Vantaa Airport through to the cheapest of $2 (£1.45) charged at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport


Helsinki 214

New York JFK 149

Oslo 142

Chicago O’Hare 120

Stockholm 100

Luxembourg 94

Zurich 86

Amsterdam 82

East Midlands 81

London City 81

London Luton 81

Manchester 81

London Stansted 81

Los Angeles 80

Glasgow 75

Ft Lauderdale 74

Berlin 70

Cologne 70

Dusseldorf 70

Birmingham 69

Edinburgh 69

London Heathrow 69

London Gatwick 69

Dublin 58

Frankfurt 58

Hamburg 58

Munich 54  

Panama City 50

Sao Paulo 49

Milan Malpensa 47

Warsaw 44

Vienna 42

Bologna 42

Vilnius 41

Bogota 41

Copenhagen 40

Prague 38

Moscow DME 35

Riga 29

Malaga 28

Madrid 28

Palma Mallorca 28

Mexico City 27

Kyiv Zhuliany 25

Kyiv Boryspil 25

Rome Fiumicino 23

Istanbul 21

Denpasar Bali 17

Tokyo Haneda 16

Minsk 16

Cancun 15

Seoul Incheon 14

Jakarta 14

Mumbai 2 

Rates shown: All the above test costs are shown in US Dollars, and the local rates have been converted to US dollars using currency exchange rates on April 15, 2021.

Skytrax said: ‘While the airport testing infrastructure has developed significantly in the past six months, the pricing, speed, and convenience of the process in most countries are likely to remain a substantial deterrent to large scale international travel for many customers.

‘Skytrax continues to see a lack of global cohesion in travel testing. Apart from the substantial price differential between the highest and lowest PCR test costs, standard processing times are highly variable, and the required timeframe for results differs per country (e.g 24/48/72/96 hours) and even the terminology for test names can vary from country to country.

‘There is a catalogue of tests available - PCR, antigen, lateral flow, Lamp, nucleic acid amplification [more on this below] - plus many others for which the requirements per country are yet to be standardised.

‘The study analysed the prices for a range of services involving regular and expedited processing times. Standard laboratory turnaround timings were mainly within a 24 to 72 hour period, with some faster premium services being able to give results within one hour.

‘The research recorded the highest and lowest priced available services available from airport test providers. Some airports provide testing from a range of clinics, and for the purpose of this investigation, we did not include any VIP type services.’ 

What you need to know about testing... 

By Denis Kinane, Chief Medical Officer at Cignpost Express Test 

When travel is reopened, what part will testing play?

Currently, most countries say they will require holidaymakers to have a negative Covid-19 test no more than 72 hours before they travel. Most countries say this must be a PCR test, which can detect Covid-19 at an earlier stage as it is more sensitive than other tests, allowing greater confidence.

Will holidaymakers who have been vaccinated need to take a Covid-19 test?

The WHO has indicated that vaccines do not rule out current Covid-19 safety measures, such as mask wearing and testing. We don't yet know whether vaccines stop people getting or transmitting Covid-19, so PCR testing is the most effective way of ensuring a holidaymaker is not carrying Covid-19 when they travel.

Will I need a vaccine passport?

When it comes to travel, the concept of 'vaccine passports' has become a hot topic. Desperate for a return to normality, many countries are contemplating endorsing 'vaccine passports' as part of their plans to reignite international travel over the coming months. Many are unhappy with the idea of 'vaccine passports' however, due to their concern that vaccine passports could lead to discrimination against those who have not been vaccinated for cultural or medical reasons, or because they are not on the government's priority list. In response to this unrest, the EU is expected to draw up plans for 'Green Digital Certificates', which would show whether EU citizens have had the vaccine, a negative Covid-19 test, or have previously had Covid-19. This Vaccine certificate is consistent with the WHO's recommendations.

Does the EU's Digital Green Certificate remove the need for testing?

No. According to the EU's launch announcement, the certificate will be given to any EU citizen who can provide evidence that they have been vaccinated, have recently tested negative or have acquired antibodies after recovering from the virus. Around 24million people in Britain won't receive their second vaccination until late summer and autumn, including many of those aged between 18 to 40 who are in the lowest risk groups, so testing is essential for them to travel abroad this summer. In addition, the WHO has made it clear that being vaccinated in itself does not fully mitigate the risk and Covid-19 safety measures will have to be retained.

What are the different types of Covid-19 tests?

Denis Kinane, Chief Medical Officer at Cignpost Diagnostics, says that the PCR test has an accuracy of 99 per cent (file image)

Broadly, there are two different types of testing. One to find out if a person currently has Covid-19 and the other determines whether they have previously had the virus, been vaccinated and built-up immunity (antibodies).


PCR (Polymerise Chain Reaction) is currently the most common form of testing in the UK and at 99 per cent accuracy, is seen as the most reliable test for viral carriage. If you have been tested by the NHS in a testing centre, or have been sent an NHS test in the post, this will have been a PCR test. A swab is used to collect a sample from the patient's tonsils and inside their nose and this is then sent to a laboratory to test for genetic material called RNA. Bioscientists can then see whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes Covid-19) is present.

SAGE, the government's scientific advisory group, has warned that with mass testing using lateral flow tests, false positives and false negatives could have 'critical implications' for effectiveness

Denis Kinane, Chief Medical Officer at Cignpost Diagnostics

Lateral flow

A rapid antigen test, also known as a lateral flow test, detects proteins on the surface of the virus, called antigens. Inserted into the nose or throat, the swab is then inserted into a tube of liquid. The liquid is then dropped onto a small strip, which will show two lines if it is positive, one line on the top if it is negative or one line on the bottom if the test is invalid. Lateral flow tests use similar technology to a pregnancy test. These tests are the cheapest option and return results within 30 minutes, but are less accurate than PCR tests, as they can only detect a high load of the Covid-19 virus, so they can miss up to one third of positive cases. In addition, because of the low prevalence of Covid-19 in the population at present, they are also likely to have a high level of false positives. Antigen tests are therefore most accurate when used within a few days of the start of your symptoms, when there is a higher viral load present in your body. 

SAGE, the government's scientific advisory group, has warned that with mass testing using lateral flow tests, false positives and false negatives could have 'critical implications' for effectiveness, so follow-up confirmatory tests are extremely important with lateral flow positive results. Given SAGE's advice, lateral flow can only be considered a red light rather than a green light indication, meaning that facemasks, social distancing and viral hygiene will still be necessary.


A similar process to PCR testing, LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) tests are the least common. They require a swab from the nose and throat and give results within 90 minutes. Similarly to lateral flow tests, LAMP tests can only detect a high load of Covid-19 virus, so they can miss people in the early stages of infection. Samples can be processed on-site and are analysed to confirm the presence or not of SARS-CoV-2 RNA.


Antibody testing looks at whether your body has produced any antibodies to fight against the virus. This is done via a blood test and must be taken from a Covid 19 patient whose symptoms ended three to four weeks before. This test then determines whether any antibodies are present. Currently, there are tests in development that would allow a person to submit their own blood test from home.

Which test will holidaymakers need to travel?

For a definitive list of testing requirements, travellers should visit the official Gov.uk website. It is important that holidaymakers check the rules for the destination they are visiting as it will be their responsibility to take the right tests.

What about returning to the UK?

The UK has a testing process that is even more rigorous than the departures process as it requires arrivals to isolate for 10 days and have negative PCR tests on or before day two, and on day eight of their entry into the UK.

Why are testing rules different by destination?

The WHO has indicated that vaccines do not rule out current Covid-19 safety measures, such as mask wearing and testing

These are political decisions based on countries' own experiences of Covid-19, the need to get their tourism industry up and running, and the safety procedures they already have in place.

How can tests be used to open up travel?   

The Government’s traffic light system demonstrates that testing will be a crucial measure in providing a safe pathway out of the current crisis and reopening travel. Although green list countries are yet to be announced, we know that testing will be required for all bands – green, amber and red.

For those travelling from countries in the green category, there will be no need to quarantine on return. However, they will be required to take a pre-departure test as well as a PCR test on arrival back in the UK.

Travellers from amber listed countries will need to quarantine for 10 days in addition to taking a pre-departure test and two PCR tests (on day two and day eight) with the option to take up the test and release scheme to end self-isolation early.

Those arriving from red countries will be subject to the strictest of restrictions and will be required to complete a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, as well as pre-departure testing and two further PCR tests.

It’s clear that the only way to safely open up travel will be to apply the most effective precautionary measures. Although the Government has defended the use of lateral flow tests in the past, the recent Cochrane Review found that they miss up to half the asymptomatic carriers of Covid and show a false positive as much as two thirds of the time. From the measures laid out in the traffic light system, it seems that the Government now recognises that the gold-standard PCR tests will be integral to reopening travel, as it detects the viral load of individuals with high sensitivity and specificity far greater than any other test. By implementing testing procedures based on PCR technology, we can protect our country from importing new and more dangerous variants of Covid whilst ensuring a simple and effective way to reopen travel this summer.

Challenges on testing going forward

One of the biggest hurdles to the reopening of society will be one of confidence, as both consumers and the government must have complete faith in the accuracy of the tests taken to open up all sectors of society safely. Lateral flow tests are fast-acting and cheap, but also miss a significant proportion of positive cases. In comparison, gold-standard PCR tests, whilst costlier, produce significantly more accurate results. This has initiated a debate around how the government finds a balance between protecting lives and the cost-effectiveness of their testing strategy, one which I suspect will continue to rage on until the end of the pandemic.

Is a combined approach the solution?

It's clear Covid-19 testing is going to become a normal part of life, at the very least until the UK's vaccination programme is complete. There are advantages and disadvantages to every type of test, so now, the challenge is to determine the most effective combination of testing. In my view, as long as people understand the limitations of lateral flow testing, using a combination of the different technologies available to us is the best solution.

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