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.

Written by spunout


Testing for COVID-19 is no longer available to people under the age of 55 for free through the HSE , unless a person meets certain criteria. However, you can still pay for private testing yourself, or take an antigen test at home, if you believe you have 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.

In this article you will find information on:

Taking a COVID-19 rapid antigen test

People under the age of 55 are no longer required to take an antigen test if they develop symptoms of COVID-19, unless they fall into certain categories. However, you can choose to take an antigen test at home if you like.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, it is important to self-isolate until 48 hours after your symptoms resolve. 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.

Can I get a free antigen test kit?

You can only access free antigen tests through the HSE if:

  • You are under 55 years of age with symptoms of COVID-19 and you are absent from work because of COVID-19 and you wish to make a social welfare claim
  • You are a healthcare worker who is a household close contact, does not have symptoms of COVID-19 and has not had COVID-19 in the past 3 months

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

If you do not fall into those categories, you can purchase antigen test kits from pharmacies and some supermarkets. Only use a test that has a CE mark on the packaging. A CE mark means the product meets European safety standards and performance.

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. It’s important to read these instructions fully before taking the test.

To use an antigen test, you will need to prepare the buffer liquid in the tube. You must 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.

Do I need to self isolate?

You must self-isolate if you have symptoms of COVID-19, even mild ones. You will need to self-isolate until 48 hours after your symptoms are gone. If you have to be around other people, you will need to wear a face mask – preferable a respirator or FFP mask. Find out more about different types of face masks.

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 get a PCR test if you have symptoms and you:

  • Have a high-risk medical condition
  • Have a weak immune system (immunocompromised)
  • Live in the same household as a person who has a weak immune system or provide support or care for them
  • Are pregnant
  • Are a healthcare worker
  • Are over the age of 55 and have not had a COVID-19 booster

If you have a positive antigen test, you can book a PCR test if you need a COVID-19 Recovery Cert.

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.

Need more information?

Would you like more information? Maybe you would like to talk through your own situation? Get in touch through our online chat system for 16 to 25 year olds – Monday to Friday 4pm to 8pm.

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