How to get tested for COVID-19

Find out how to get a rapid antigen test or a PCR test, which COVID-19 test you should take, and what to do next.
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Illustration of person getting swabbed by a technician for a covid 19 test

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 such as a fever, a cough or fatigue, it is important to do a test. It is also important to get tested if you are a close contact of somebody with COVID-19.

There are two types of tests: PCR tests and antigen tests. A PCR test is done at a test centre and sent to a laboratory for results. An antigen test can be carried out at home.

How you should approach getting tested for COVID-19 depends on your situation.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, it is important to self-isolate and arrange to take a test. You should also wear a medical or respirator mask if you have to be around other people, but try to avoid all contact with others.

If you are a close contact, the steps you need to take depend on whether you have been vaccinated or not. Find out what to do if you are a close contact.

Taking a COVID-19 rapid antigen test

Currently, most people are being asked to take rapid antigen tests at home and log their positive test result online. Certain groups of people are eligible for a PCR test.

Who should take an antigen test?

The majority of people are currently being asked to take antigen tests at home instead of booking a PCR test. This includes people who:

  • Have symptoms of COVID-19 and are aged between 4 and 39
  • Are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19

If you fall into either of these categories, you can book a free antigen test kit from the HSE.

How to take an antigen test

A COVID-19 antigen test kit should contain a sterile swab, a liquid known as a buffer, a tube to hold that liquid in, a test card and detailed instructions. 

To use an antigen test, you must first use the sterile swab to take a sample from both of your nostrils. You then place this swab into the buffer for the amount of time stated on the instruction leaflet before closing the lid on the tube. The last step is to put some of the buffer/ swab sample mixture into a well in the antigen test card and wait.

The HSE have created a video on how to carry out an antigen test at home.

Before carrying out an antigen test, it is very important to read the instructions carefully. Find out more about rapid antigen tests.

Taking an antigen test when you have symptoms

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and are aged between 4 and 39, you will need to take three antigen tests at home for three days in a row.

If any of your antigen tests are positive, you will need to report your positive antigen test result online and provide your close contacts. You do not need to take any more antigen tests, and you don’t need to book a PCR test.

If all three of your antigen tests are negative, you must continue to self-isolate until you have had no symptoms for 48 hours. You can report your negative antigen test result online after you have received three negative results.

Taking an antigen test when you’re a close contact

If you are a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you should get a text message from the HSE to let you know.

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, you will need to self-isolate and follow the advice above.

If you are not experiencing symptoms, you will need to take three antigen tests over seven days. Follow these steps:

  • Take the first test as soon as you can
  • Take the second test three days after the first one
  • Take the third test on the seventh day

If any of your antigen tests are positive, you will need to report your positive antigen test result online and provide your close contacts. You do not need to take any more antigen tests, and you don’t need to book a PCR test.

If all three of your antigen tests are negative, you must continue to self-isolate until you have had no symptoms for 48 hours. You can report your negative antigen test result online after you have received three negative results.

Do I need to restrict my movements as a close contact?

You may or may not have to restrict your movements if you are a close contact. This will depend on whether you have been vaccinated, have received a booster shot, or have had a positive PCR test in the previous three months. Find out what to do if you are a close contact.

Booking a PCR test

Most people are being asked to take antigen tests at home and log their results online. Some groups are eligible for a PCR test.

Who can book a PCR test?

You can book a PCR test if:

  • You are a healthcare worker
  • You are booking for a child under the age of 4 with COVID-19 symptoms
  • You are over the age of 39 and have COVID-19 symptoms

If you fall into any of these categories, you can book a PCR test via the HSE portal.

You will get your test result via text message at the number your provided when booking your test.

People with underlying health conditions

If you have an underlying health condition that puts you at greater risk of COVID-19 and you are experiencing symptoms of the virus, you should self-isolate and contact your GP as soon as possible.

They will be able to book a PCR test for you and will advise you on the best steps to take.

Getting tested before travelling

If you are planning to travel abroad by flight or ferry, you might need to get tested for COVID-19 before departure. You cannot use HSE (PCR or antigen) or home antigen test results for travel. You will need to have a negative test result from a private company. 

The type of test you will need to take and when you must take it depends on your country of departure, the country you are planning to visit and whether you are fully vaccinated. Find out more about travelling during COVID-19.

Do I need to get tested for COVID-19 before returning to Ireland?

From January 6 2022, you will not need to provide proof of a pre-travel COVID-19 test to travel to Ireland if you are fully vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. You will be asked to provide your EU Digital COVID Certificate to prove your vaccination/recovery status, or other acceptable proof that you have been fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine.

If you are not fully vaccinated and have not recovered from COVID-19 within the last six months, you must provide a negative RT-PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival.

All passengers must fill out a Passenger Locator Form before departure. You are also advised to take a daily antigen test for the first five days upon arrival in Ireland. Find out more about the requirements for travelling to Ireland.

Feeling overwhelmed or anxious around the current pandemic?

It is normal to feel worried or anxious about what is going on. Following the Government’s instructions on how to stay safe and help slow the spread of the virus can help to make you feel more in control of your current situation.

If you feel overwhelmed by the current situation and need someone to talk to, our anonymous, 24 hour text line is always open. You’re worth talking about and we’re here to listen and support you.

If you are a customer of the 48 or An Post network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.

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