Antigen & PCR tests – What is the difference?

By now, we all know that we need some sort of proof that we are not infected with Covid-19 if we want to travel. One of the many questions we get is, do we need a test to travel, and if so, which test do we need to have? What is the difference between a Covid -19 test, antigen test and PCR test? 

The rules for different countries can change quickly, and the expressions can sometimes be a bit confusing if you are not used to them. Fortunately, there is excellent and updated information at hand from authorities in different countries so that you as a traveller can feel confident that you have the information needed for entry to the country you are on your way. 

What test do I need?

It is always each country that indicates which test is needed for entry to that particular country. But remember that it is essential to follow the updated information because the rules can change quickly. For example, the other week, Spain changed from requiring a negative PCR test for entry to approving a negative antigen test for entry into the country. Two websites have excellent and up-to-date information on the latest requirements. One is Reopen Europe, and the other is Sweden Abroad. These websites have all the information about which test is required to enter the country you plan to travel to and additional necessary information to keep in mind when travelling. 

Which test is required can also depend on which country the person comes from. The countries are divided into different colours on the map:

  • Green if the registration rate of 14 days is lower than 25 cases per 100,000 and the degree of positivity of the test below 4%.
  • Orange if the reporting frequency of 14 days is less than 50 cases per 100,000, but the degree of positivity of the test is 4% or higher or if the 14-day registration frequency is between 25 and 150 cases per 100,000 and the degree of positivity of the test is below 4%;
  • Red, if the 14-day cumulative COVID-19 case reporting rate ranges from 50 to 150 and the test positivity test rate for COVID-19 infection is 4% or more, or if the 14-day cumulative COVID-19 case is more than 150 but less than 500;
  • Dark red if the 14-day cumulative COVID-19 notification rate is 500 or more;
  • Grey if insufficient information is is available or if the test speed is less than 300 cases per 100,000. Source: ecdc.europa.eu

The difference between an Antigen test and a PCR test

In short, both tests show ongoing infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The difference between the tests lies partly in how accurate they are and the methods used to detect the virus.

Antigen test is a rapid test that detects active ongoing infection of the virus that causes Covid-19. Compared to a PCR test, the advantage is that it responds very quickly and is ready within 15 minutes. The antigen test is not as sensitive as PCR but is suitable for situations when you need the test result quickly and when the symptoms have just begun. The antigen test is a convenient examination method when the symptoms have lasted less than five days.

Our antigen test is EU approved and included in the so-called RAT list of EU approved antigen tests.

A PCR test (Polymerase Chain Reaction) can be taken at any time, regardless of whether you have symptoms or not. The test can detect the virus even before you have symptoms, and therefore this test is considered one of the most accurate tests to prevent the spread of the disease.

RAT list – A list of EU approved antigen tests

You may have encountered the term RAT when searching for the test you need. For example, it may look like this when countries describe their requirements.

Negative covid-19 test

“A negative PCR test or antigen in the form of rapid tests (RAT), where the RAT test must be listed in the common list of antigen tests in the form of rapid tests recognised by the Member States of the European Union, published by the European Commission. If the RAT test was performed abroad, the manufacturer’s and trade name must be visible. The test must be performed by a healthcare institution/laboratory and signed/confirmed by a doctor.”

Our antigen test is in the RAT list of EU approved antigen tests and shown in the picture below.

What is a Travel Certificate?

When a negative test is required for entry into a country, be it an antigen test or a PCR test, there are specific requirements for the information that the travel certificate must contain.

The travel certificates contain all the information that is currently required for a travel certificate to be approved:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Social security number
  • Passport number
  • Nationality
  • Where you took the test
  • Date and timing for the test
  • Which test method was used
  • The result of the test
  • Who did the test
  • The doctor’s signature
  • Stamp
  • QR code

Of course, all our travel certificates are issued in English for entry to different countries.

For a relaxing trip 

Follow the rules of the country you are traveling to, as they can change quickly. When you book the test, keep in mind that you will receive an answer to an antigen test within 15 minutes of taking the test. Meanwhile, a PCR test takes longer to analyze, and you will receive a response the same day.  Also, keep in mind that how old the test result may vary for different countries.

Take that and the time it takes to get the answer to the test into account when you book the time for your test. And feel free to have a little margin! Count on the same-day limit for answers and travel certificates for PCR tests, although the answers often come faster! 

Our FAQ page will answer many of your questions, should there still be questions, warmly welcome to contact us!.