Testing for COVID-19

Introduction

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, your GP may arrange a test for you free of charge.

If you don't have a GP, any GP can arrange a test for you. GP out-of-hours services can also arrange testing.

COVID-19 tests for the purpose of travel abroad are not provided in the public health system. Tests are available from commercial providers. Read more about private testing for COVID-19 and antigen testing.

Read about the restrictions and testing requirements that apply if you are travelling into Ireland.

Who can get tested?

A GP may arrange for you to be tested for COVID-19 if you have developed at least one of these symptoms:

  • Fever (high temperature)
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of taste or smell

Close contacts

If you are a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19, you need to get tested for COVID-19 and restrict your movements. GPs cannot arrange tests for close contacts. They can only arrange a test if you have symptoms of COVID-19.

If you are a close contact, you will get a text message with a link to book a test online. If you do not book a test online, the contact tracing team will ring you to arrange testing. Most close contacts will need 2 COVID-19 tests.

A close contact can be if:

  • You had face-to-face contact within 2 metres of an infected person for more than 15 minutes
  • You live in the same house or accommodation as an infected person
  • You sat within 2 seats of an infected person on an airplane
  • You spent more than 2 hours in a closed space with an infected person, such as an office or a classroom

If you think you may be a close contact but have not been contacted, you can call the COVID-19 helpline and tell them you have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Read about contact tracing and how the COVID Tracker app works.

Walk-in testing centres

You can get a free test in a walk-in testing centre if you do not have symptoms. You do not need a GP referral or an appointment.

You must bring photo ID and provide a mobile phone number so you can be contacted with your test results.

You can use the free walk-in testing service if you:

  • Are aged 16 years and over
  • Do not have symptoms of COVID-19
  • Live in the same area as the walk-in test centre
  • Have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 6 months

You can find the locations of the current walk-in testing centres and their opening times on the HSE website.

Tests for recent travllers to Ireland

If you travel to Ireland from a designated country, you must complete a mandatory hotel quarantine. You will be tested for COVID-19 during your hotel quarantine.

If you travel to Ireland from a country not on the designated country list, you must home quarantine for 14 days after you arrive. You can stop quarantining if you get a negative or not-detected PCR test result at least 5 days after you arrive. You can book a free COVID-19 test through a GP. If you do not have symptoms of COVID-19, you can get a free test at a COVID-19 walk-in test centre.

What to do if you have symptoms of COVID-19

If you think you might have COVID-19, you should phone your GP. Do not go to the GP clinic. If you do not have a GP, any GP can arrange a test for you. You can find a GP in your area.

Your GP will carry out an assessment over the phone. This assessment is free (including for non-medical card holders). If your GP thinks you need a COVID-19 test, they will arrange a free test for you.

You will get a text message with the time and location of your test. The text will include a reference number. You will need to bring this to your appointment.

You should self-isolate while waiting for your appointment. This means that you stay indoors and avoid contact with other people. The people in your household should restrict their movements.

If your GP thinks that you do not need a test, you should stay at home until you have had no symptoms for 48 hours. But if you are a close contact of someone with COVID-19 you should restrict your movements for 14 days.

Getting tested

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

If you are medically unable to attend a test centre, you may be tested at home.

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

When you arrive at the test centre, a healthcare worker will:

  • Confirm your identity and contact details
  • Give you a face mask to wear
  • Explain what will happen next

If you are at a drive-thru test centre, you will be asked to stay in your car. A healthcare worker will come to the vehicle and do the test through the window.

The test

A healthcare worker will use a swab (similar to a long cotton bud) to take a sample from the back of your throat and nose. You may feel some discomfort during the swabbing, but it is not painful.

Children under 13 only need a nose swab. They do not need a throat swab.

The healthcare worker will send your sample to a lab where it will be tested for COVID-19.

Waiting for your results

You should continue to self-isolate while you are waiting for your results. If you were tested because you are a close contact and do not have symptoms, you should continue to restrict your movements.

You should also make a list of everyone you had close contact with in the 2 days before you developed symptoms (or the day before your test if you have no symptoms). If your results are positive, a contact tracer will ask you for their names and contact details.

Call the COVID-19 helpline if you are waiting more than 2 days (48 hours) for your results.

If you are offered regular testing because you work or live in a place where infection is more likely, this is called serial testing. If you are getting tested in this way, you can go to work or school as normal unless you get a positive result or develop symptoms.

Test results

Your test results will be sent to you by text message. If you have tested positive, you will get a follow-up phone call. The HSE website explains what your test results mean.

If you had symptoms of COVID-19 and do not get a negative test result, you should continue to self-isolate until:

  • You have had no fever for 5 days and
  • It has been 10 days since you first developed symptoms (or 14 days if you are in long-term residential care or you recently left hospital after treatment for COVID-19)

If you had symptoms of COVID-19 and you get a negative test result, you should restrict your movements until you have not had any symptoms for 48 hours.

If you have no symptoms but have tested positive because you are a close contact of a confirmed case, you should self-isolate for 10 days from the date of your test.

If you are a close contact of a person who tests positive, you should restrict your movements for 14 days from when you were in contact with the person. You can stop restricting your movements if you have a negative test at least 10 days after your last contact and you do not have any symptoms.

Read more about when you can stop restricting your movements.

If you recently came to Ireland, you should follow the advice on what you need to do if you travel to Ireland.

If the test results are for a child, read about COVID-19 testing for children.

Page edited: 6 May 2021