Testing for COVID-19

Introduction

There are two ways to test for COVID-19:

  • PCR tests are done by a healthcare worker in a test centre. They send your sample to a lab where it is tested for COVID-19.
  • Antigen tests are tests you can do yourself at home. The test sample does not have to go to a lab and you usually get your results in 15 minutes. Antigen tests are quicker but less reliable than a PCR test. In some cases, they may not detect the virus. The HSE provides free antigen tests to some people and they are also widely available to buy in pharmacies and supermarkets.

Do I need a COVID-19 test?

Many people do not need to get a COVID-19 test in the public health system.

You do not need a COVID-19 test if you are:

  • Aged under 55 with symptoms of COVID-19 and you are otherwise healthy
  • Aged 55 or over and you are fully boosted, even if you have symptoms of COVID 19

You can read about what you should do if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and do not need a HSE test

You should contact your GP if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and an underlying condition which puts you at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Who should book a PCR test?

You can book a PCR test if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and you:

  • Are 55 or older and have not had a booster vaccine
  • Have a high-risk medical condition
  • Have a weak immune system (immunocompromised)
  • Live in the same household or provide care and support to someone who is immunocompromised
  • Are pregnant
  • Are a healthcare worker

You can also book a PCR test if you have a positive antigen test result and need a COVID-19 recovery certificate.

COVID-19 tests for travel abroad are not provided in the public health system. Airlines will not accept a HSE test result for travel. If you need a letter for travel, you need to have a negative test from a private company.

Booking a test through a GP

If you are assessed by a GP and they decide you need to be tested for COVID-19, they can arrange a PCR test for you. If you do not have a GP, any GP can arrange a test for you. You can find a GP in your area. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 do not go to the GP clinic. Your GP will carry out an assessment over the phone. This assessment is free.

Getting a COVID-19 PCR test

The COVID-19 PCR test is simple and usually takes about 15 minutes.

If you are medically unable to attend a test centre, a GP may arrange for you to get a PCR tested at your home.

If you cannot drive yourself to a test centre, you can ask a family member or friend to drive you. You can read about precautions you can take if someone is driving you to a test centre.

How a PCR test is done at a test centre.

You should continue to self-isolate while you are waiting for your results. You will get your result by text message.

COVID-19 PCR test results

Test results are given 7 days a week up until 9pm.

Your test results will be sent to you by text message. The HSE website explains what your test results mean. You can read what to do if you get a positive or negative test below.

If you are waiting more than 2 days (48 hours) for your results you can fill in the COVID-19 Delayed PCR Test Results form.

You can also contact the HSE.

When to request HSE antigen tests

Most people no longer need to order HSE antigen tests if they have symptoms of COVID-19. If you have symptoms, self-isolate until 48 hours after your symptoms are mostly or fully gone.

You can book free antigen tests online if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and you:

If you are a healthcare worker and you have symptoms of COVID-19,you should get a PCR test.

After you order your antigen test from the HSE they will be delivered to your home by An Post in 1 or 2 business days. If you do not receive them, phone the COVID-19 helpline on 1800 700 700.

If you do not qualify for HSE tests, you can buy antigen tests in most pharmacies and many supermarkets if you wish to take a test.

How to do an antigen test

Use a swab to take a sample from your nose to do an antigen test. The HSE has instructions on how to do an antigen test at home and a video on how to do an antigen test with a child.

Positive COVID-19 test result

If you get a positive PCR or antigen test result, you should:

  • Self-isolate (stay in your room) for 7 days
  • Wear a medical grade or respirator face mask for 10days if you have to be around other people

You may need to list the people you live with

If you get a positive antigen test, you need to report it on the HSE website. If you have a positive antigen test, you can book a PCR test if you need a COVID-19 recovery certificate.

Negative COVID-19 test result

If you have a negative antigen test result, you can report your negative antigen result online.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and you get a negative antigen or PCR test result, you should self-isolate until you have not had any symptoms for 48 hours.

Your negative PCR or antigen test result does not mean that you’ve never had COVID-19. It just means that the virus was not found on the sample that was taken.

Children and COVID-19 testing

Children do not need to get a PCR test unless they have symptoms and:

  • Have a condition that puts them at higher risk
  • Live with someone who has a weak immune system

Children under 16 must have an adult with them if they are getting a PCR test. A parent or guardian must give consent for a child under 16 to have a test.

Children under 13 only need a nose swab. They do not need a throat swab. If your child is aged 3 months or less, phone your GP for advice.

Antigen tests are not recommended for children under the age of 4.

If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in your child's class, the school principal or childcare manager will give you the details needed to order antigen tests online from the HSE. The tests are only available for children aged 4 or older who are in pre-school, primary school or childcare.

You can read advice on how and when to use antigen tests with your children and how many antigen tests you need on the HSE website.

You can read about when to keep your child home from school or childcare and when they can return after isolation. If your child has symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive you can read about caring for young children who cannot self-isolate.

COVID-19 Recovery Certificate

You may need to prove that you have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 6 months if you wish to travel abroad.

You can apply for a free EU Digital COVID Certificate (DCC) based on your recovery from 11 days after a positive COVID-19 PCR test result. You must have had the positive test within the past 6 months to apply.

When you apply online to the Self Service Portal, you will get your certificate by email within 5 days. Your certificate remains valid for 180 days after the day you tested positive.

If you need help with the Self Service Portal, you can call the DCC helpline on 1800 807 008 or +353 1 903 6437 from outside Ireland.

A positive antigen test cannot be used as proof of recovery to get a COVID-19 recovery certificate. If you have a positive antigen test, you should book a PCR test if you need a COVID-19 recovery certificate.

Page edited: 1 April 2022