Travel after having Covid-19 and how to get a proof of recovery

If you’ve tested positive for Covid-19 in the last couple of months, you may find that it impacts your travel decisions in the near future.

The main issue is you’re worried that you’ll test positive in the 90 days after you’ve had Covid-19.

The good news is that just because you’ve had Covid, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll test positive for 90 full days – more on that in a moment.

The other good news is that some countries will accept a proof of recovery instead of a test.

So, let’s get into this!

When do you start testing positive for Covid-19?

First of all, we need to understand the timelines for getting a positive result.

Here’s what the World Health Organisation say about this:

The time from exposure to COVID-19 to the moment when symptoms begin is, on average, 5-6 days and can range from 1-14 days.

So it’s at this point that many people do a test to see if they are positive. Studies suggest that a PCR test will pick a positive case up roughly 1-3 days before the onset of symptoms – which is also when we start to be contagious.

From this point, the virus gradually declines until it can’t be detected by PCR.

How long do you test positive for Covid-19?

The main number thrown out there is 90 days but please know that this is up to 90 days meaning it could be a lot less or, in unfortunate cases, even more.

It’s tough to get firm numbers but here’s some information that I found helpful. 

In general, asymptomatic people may test positive for 1-2 weeks, while those with mild-to moderate disease often continue to test positive for a week or more after this.

I also read the following stat in a Telegraph article but unfortunately, it didn’t link to a source and I can’t find it myself – please let me know if you do!

Despite having shaken the virus, up to 30 per cent of people still test positive on a PCR test 30 days after their initial infection, and some continue to do so even three months afterwards, experts warn.

Whilst I don’t have the specific source for the above, it does back up the point I’m trying to make that you may not test positive for a full 90 days and it may correlate with how strong your symptoms were.

Why have Test & Trace told me that I cannot do a PCR test in the next 90 days?

After you’ve tested positive for Covid-19 and have registered the fact with the NHS Test and Trace, it’s likely that they will tell you that you cannot take a PCR test in the next 90 days as you may test positive.

The important thing to recognise here is that they’re saying you can’t take a PCR test through them – through the NHS.

They are not saying you cannot get one done privately and that you will test positive on it for 90 days straight. It’s just that they – understandably – can’t waste resources on tests that are more likely to come back positive.

What about a rapid antigen or lateral flow test?

Rapid antigen tests – also known as lateral flow tests – are less sensitive and therefore less likely to give a positive result several days after first infection.

Therefore, if you have tested positive for Covid-19 recently and are given the choice of a PCR or a rapid antigen test to do – always choose the rapid antigen!

How do I check to see if I am still testing positive?

Fortunately, it’s very easy to check your status using rapid antigen tests which you can order for free from the NHS here – though these can’t be used for travel.

However, checking on a PCR test is more difficult as you will not be able to book an NHS one for 90 days unless you develop further symptoms.

Therefore, you can either book a private PCR test ahead of time, or wait until you’re due to travel and hope that the PCR test you need to do for your journey comes back negative.

Can I use a proof of recovery from Covid-19 for travel instead?

To check this, you need to go to the FCDO, find your country, click on ‘Entry Requirements’ and read through what they accept.

If you can’t see it as an option, it’s most likely because it’s not one. I list some of those that do below.

Please note – just because you’ve had Covid recently it doesn’t mean you have to use a proof of recovery. You are free to use any other options available to you.

How do I get a proof of recovery from the NHS?

After you have done an NHS PCR test that confirms your positive result, you will be emailed a code to enter your result into your NHS COVID-19 app. Your positive result will then show up in your app.

My sister, who tested positive in January 2022, shared what her’s looks like for us. She was then able to save it into her digital wallet which, in her case, was her Apple Wallet.

The NHS website says that this will be in your NHS COVID Pass for 180 days but my sister’s here is valid for a lot less than that and says her previous positive result (she’s had bad luck!) has since disappeared – so perhaps take a screenshot.

Do I need a letter from my doctor as well?

Some countries – such as the USA – need proof of recovery AND a letter from your doctor. Others accept a letter on its own. But not all do so check with the FCDO.

Whether you’re able to get this or not is dependent on your GP. Some will do is straightaway, some will charge and others have a blanket no policy.

For the latter, there is the option to book a private GP who will provide the necessary documentation for you. This is likely to cost around £100.

I tested positive on a lateral flow and so haven't got proof of a positive PCR test

From 11th January, the UK government said that asymptomatic people with a positive lateral flow test were no longer required to take a confirmatory PCR test.

Whilst I understand this reasoning (less costly), it does unfortunately mean that many will not have the necessary proof to get an NHS proof of recovery.

In this instance, if you do test positive again, you would need to look at going private which will cost you.

Depending on what your destination needs, this may be another PCR test, an antibody test (not the same as a rapid antigen!) to prove you’ve had Covid recently and/or a doctor’s note.

Please do check the requirements for your destination – what’s accepted changes from country to country.

Check travel rules in some of the most popular destinations







Did that help?

I really hope so – I know how confusing all the rules can be at the moment!

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