Italy doesn’t have a blanket testing requirement for all travellers – so entering the country doesn’t automatically require a nasal swab.
Instead the rules are based on which country you’re arriving from and which region of Italy you’re going to, as well as all the other restrictions on who can enter Italy in the first place and whether they have to quarantine.
We’ll try and answer the big questions about how it all works.
Which travellers have to get a coronavirus test in Italy?
Since August, it has been mandatory to get tested if you’re travelling to Italy from Spain, Greece, Croatia or Malta. That rule remains in force until at least October 7th.
Travellers can either get tested before they travel – both molecular (PCR) and rapid antigen tests are accepted, so long as they’re carried out no more than 72 hours before your journey – or within 48 hours of arriving.
Provided your test comes back negative, you won’t have to quarantine upon entering Italy from one of these four countries (though it may depend which region you’re going to: some regions have different quarantine and testing rules, so be sure to check with the local authorities first).
How do you get tested upon arrival?
The easiest way to get tested is at the airport, port or station you arrive into: several of Italy’s main transit hubs, including Fiumicino and Ciampino airports in Rome, Malpensa and Linate airports in Milan, Marco Polo airport in Venice, the ports of Civitavecchia and Livorno as well as Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence, have set up rapid testing facilities for passengers.
The procedure varies depending on where you arrive: in most cases it’s drop-in and free of charge, but it may be limited to passengers arriving from Spain, Greece, Croatia or Malta, or require registration in advance.
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The process typically involves giving your contact details, getting your nose swabbed and agreeing to self-isolate while you wait for the results – which, in the case of the antigen tests being used for most mass screening in Italy, should come within hours.
You may or may not be required to wait around for the results (a drive-through centre will probably tell you to leave, but facilities with more space may have you wait). If you head off, plan on self-isolating as a precaution until you get the result.
You will be contacted the same day by local health authorities if you test positive, but may not hear anything at all if you’re negative. You should be able to call or email for confirmation of your result: ask at the test centre who to contact.
Drive-through testing at the port of Civitavecchia. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
Alternatively, you can opt to arrange a coronavirus test within 48 hours of arriving in Italy (that's the national government's rule, but some regions suggest 24 hours or less).
Depending on the facilities available in your region, you may be able to go straight to a drop-in centre, or you might have to make an appointment with your usual doctor or via the regional health service. Find out how to contact each Italian region’s coronavirus helpline here.
What happens if you test positive?
The main concern for travellers is that they could be asymptomatic, test positive upon arrival, and end up spending their long-awaited Italian break in a quarantine facility.
If you test positve, the regional health authoriity will contact you and explain the next steps and your options. The rules vary by region, but if you decie to stay in Italy you will be asked to quarantine for 14 days.
Hotels are unlikely to allow you to quarantine on their premises, so if you can't go to a private address the health authority will arrange quarantine facilities.
These can range from confortable – such as a hotel that has been requisitioned for this purpose – to far less inviting: for example, the island of Sardinia's quarantine facilities include disused army barracks.
You are also expected to quarantine until you have taken the test and been confirmed negative.
Does Italy waive travel and quarantine restrictions if you test negative?
No and no. Apart from for travellers from EU members Spain, Greece, Croatia and Malta, in most cases Italy does not accept a negative test result as a substitute for quarantine.
So if you’re entering from outside Europe or from a designated ‘high-risk’ country, you will have spend your first 14 days in Italy in isolation whether you get tested or not. Find out which countries are currently on Italy’s quarantine list here.
Nor can you evade Italy’s ban on non-essential travel from outside Europe by showing a negative test result. In other words, tourists from the United States, India, Russia or any other country on which Italy has travel restrictions can’t hope to enter by getting a coronavirus test before leaving. Read more about Italy’s travel rules here.
What about travellers from other countries?
As Italy ramps up testing, other travellers may be able to claim a free coronavirus test too.
Many regions are offering voluntary tests to residents who return from the holiday hotspot Sardinia, after hundreds of cases on the mainland were linked to trips to the island.
The region of Tuscany is offering free testing to any resident who returns from another country, regardless where, while at Florence train station you can get tested upon showing a ticket for any interregional train.
Meanwhile some testing centres at ports and airports are open to all passengers: Rome’s Fiumicino airport, for instance, has a drive-through centre in its car park.
Presso il parcheggio Lunga Sosta dell’aeroporto di #Fiumicino dalle 15 del 1° settembre sarà attivo il nuovo drive-in della @RegioneLazio per eseguire i tamponi rapidi antigenici #Covid19. E' la struttura più grande del Lazio, aperta 7 giorni su 7, con ampia copertura oraria. pic.twitter.com/puGo5RrlkG
— Aeroporti di Roma (@AeroportidiRoma) August 31, 2020
As well as walk-in and drive-through centres, you also have the option of asking your GP to prescribe you a coronavirus test (that you can take for free) or getting one done at a private laboratory (which you’ll have to pay for).