May 21, 2021

How to book a COVID-19 test before you travel

Travel guidelines and how to book a test before you travel.

International travel can be tricky at the best of times, but during a global pandemic is downright stressful. Ollie Health has put together some guidelines which will hopefully give you some clarity, in addition to facilitating hassle-free online Covid-19 testing. Whether you’re travelling for essential work, or you’re finally getting the opportunity to tick a destination off your bucket list, Ollie Health will get you tested, comfortably.

Where can I get tested?

Ollie Health’s testing partner, Next Pathology, will come and collect swabs from the safety and comfort of wherever you are. Hotel, Airbnb, home. You can safely isolate before your flight, without having to worry about going anywhere to get a test, lowering your risk of exposure. Next Pathology is currently servicing a 50km radius around their lab in Midrand, Johannesburg, but can service the greater Gauteng area upon request. We are working with Next Pathology to expand their mobile testing service to Cape Town and Durban soon.

How soon before my flight should I book my test?

Next Pathology works hard to have PCR test results within 24 hours, but it is recommended that you get tested at least 36 hours prior to departure. Ollie Health cannot guarantee availability of slots at the time you require, so book a slot for 36 hours before your flight, a few days in advance.

Will I need to quarantine?

Certain countries require travellers to quarantine upon entry, normally for a duration of 7 - 10 days, regardless of the result or type of Covid test. This is to account for the possibility of inaccurate testing or exposure during travel. The costs of quarantine is for the responsibility of the traveller, as are the costs of any subsequent Covid tests that may be required. Ollie Health asks that you are up-to-date on all of these stipulations in order to avoid surprises and disruptions to your travel plans. Emirates Airlines has put together a comprehensive list of requirements by country.

PCR or Rapid Antigen test?

Which test you go for is a very important aspect of your travel plans. Countries and airlines don’t all have the same criteria for testing, and the terminology and science can make the whole process all the more confusing.

So, briefly: Rapid Antigen tests (sometimes just called a Rapid Covid test or an antigenic test) test for the specific proteins that exist on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus. When a sample containing the virus is exposed to a special antibody-treated paper, a reaction occurs, indicating a positive test. The results are available within 60 minutes. 

A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, on the other hand, involves heating and cooling the sample, converting the RNA to DNA and making millions of copies of the DNA to enable identification under a microscope. This is a far more involved process, but is more accurate in identifying the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Next Pathology aims to have results within 24 hours, but other laboratories have different turnaround times. 

There’s only a handful of airlines operating flights to and from SA, so travellers should consult the stipulations laid out by their airline carrier and their destination country. Qatar Airways has created a useful search filter which is updated regularly with testing requirements for destination countries. 

Ollie Health and Next Pathology cannot be held liable if results are not released in time for a scheduled flight, and travellers need to take responsibility for ensuring they’re requesting the correct test.

Travel certificates

Next Pathology provides travellers with an official travel certificate to accompany their negative results. This is a signed certificate by a medical professional attesting that you have tested negative for Covid-19, and that at the time of testing, you displayed no symptoms. Certificates are supplied in English. Although different countries have differing regulations around travel certificates, it is advised to travel with an official travel certificate, your negative results and any other additional documentation your airline and destination country may require. Updated requirements can be found here

When leaving SA, travellers will need to complete an Exit Health Form, and an Entry Health Screen Form, upon entry to SA. Children leaving South Africa must travel with an unabridged birth certificate, or equivalent document, and when travelling with only 1 parent, a written and signed declaration of consent from the other parent.

Travelling with children

Making sure that your family is safe while travelling is paramount. In addition to Covid-19 regulations, families should ensure that all members are up-to-date with their routine vaccinations. 

Children under 2 are not required to wear face-masks in public or on airplanes. The regulations around whether they need to be tested, however, varies. 

In South Africa, children under 5 do not need to undergo a PCR test, but those over 5 need to present a negative PCR test to enter the country, so bear that in mind if you are going to be returning to SA. Please consult your destination country regulations for specific details for what kind of test your children require.

Our team is here to help 🤗

We know this is a difficult time. As the COVID-19 situation evolves, we’ll keep you informed about how to take care of yourself and your loved ones, and how Ollie can help provide safer, and affordable testing for all South Africans.

For the latest updates on Covid-19 in South Africa visit:

Healthcare has a distribution problem, we aim to accelerate closing the gap between patients in need and reliable care. Every South African deserves access to healthcare. If you have feedback on our service, or are looking to partner with our team to help us on our mission, please, feel free to reach out directly: