As Italy moves to relax much of its Covid-19 restrictions from April and May with its decreto riapertura, or ‘reopening decree’, more sites and venues will become accessible with proof of only a negative test.
Private tests are widely available without a prescription and most centres can provide the results in English.
Here’s a guide to getting one.
The types of coronavirus test available in Italy
A molecular test – the most common of which is called a PCR test, or in Italian simply un tampone (“a swab”) – tells you if you are actively infected with coronavirus. It involves taking a nose or throat swab and examining it for traces of the virus’s genetic material. The sample has to be sent to a lab for analysis, which means results take around a day.
It’s considered the most reliable form of testing, even if it’s not 100 percent accurate. A PCR test is usually what you’ll be prescribed if you have symptoms of Covid-19, or it may be needed to confirm the results of a less sensitive type of test.
This is valid for a green pass or certificato verde.
An antigen test (test antigene or test antigenico, or sometimes just tampone rapido, “fast swab”) is also usually conducted via a nasal swab, but the sample is tested for proteins that are found on the surface of the virus – a simpler and quicker process which means you can get a result within 15 minutes of the test being taken. These can be administered in most pharmacies and may not require an appointment.
You can get a green pass with this type of test.
Antibody tests (usually called a test sierologico in Italian) are carried out via blood samples: your blood serum is analysed for antibodies that indicate you have had an immune system response to the coronavirus.
An antibody test does not tell you whether you are currently infected – nor does the presence of antibodies mean that you can’t be infected again. If your result is positive, you’ll have to follow up with a swab test to check whether you’re currently carrying the virus.
This type of tests will not get you a green pass.
Saliva tests (test salivari) use a saliva sample instead of a nose or throat swab, which is analysed using either the molecular or antigen method. They are considered less reliable than swabs.
The saliva tests conducted by the antigen method will not get you a Covid-19 health certificate in Italy. However, molecular tests on saliva samples are accepted – but this is only permitted for some groups of people, such as the elderly, disabled and those with learning difficulties.
Self-testing kits (autotest or test fai da te) are also available in Italian pharmacies, and at around €10 cost much less than other options, though the results are not considered valid for either green pass or travel purposes. If you take one which comes back positive you should get the result confirmed with a PCR test.
They can not be used to obtain a green pass.
What type of test do I need?
It depends on why you want to get tested. If you suspect you have Covid-19, the most accurate way to confirm it is via a molecular test while minimising contact with anyone else.
The Italian health ministry says you should isolate yourself where you’re staying and call a doctor, Italy’s nationwide Covid hotline (1500), or the regional helpline where you are (full list here) for assistance.
They will help you arrange an emergency test. Do not go to a medical centre or pharmacy in the meantime.
If you need to show a negative test result for international travel, you have a few options.
If an antigen test is accepted by your country, you can find these at most pharmacies in Italy.
Look out for signs saying ‘test Covid-19’ in the window.
You’ll be able to walk in to most pharmacies without an appointment, but some, especially the smaller ones, may require booking in advance. You can usually just walk in and make your reservation.
If you need a PCR test you will probably have to book one at a specialist Covid testing centre, a medical lab, health centre or doctor’s office.
Note that for travel into Italy, you can enter the country with just a negative test result. This scraps the previous requirement of both a test and proof of vaccination or recovery.
International travel rules were last updated at the beginning of March, which you can find here.
Getting tested for a ‘green pass’
Although you can get tested for any reason in Italy, the most common reason is to get a ‘green pass‘ health certificate.
Italy has recently eased its health pass requirements meaning those who are not vaccinated can access more venues with only proof of a negative test result.
However, it’s worth remembering the time validity of coronavirus tests, meaning that for longer stays you’ll need to keep getting tested every couple of days to retain access to a valid green pass.
Health certificates issued based on the results of PCR tests are valid for 72 hours (from the time of testing). For rapid tests, the validity period is 48 hours.
From April 1st, the green pass will no longer be needed to access museums, shops and local offices (including bank branches and post offices). So that means there is no testing requirement at all for these sites.
Until May 1st, there are some venues where proof of a negative test isn’t enough, however.
For indoor venues, the ‘super’ green pass remains a requirement (proof of vaccination against or recovery from Covid-19, but not via testing).
This type of pass will also remain mandatory on local or regional public transport (such as city buses and trams) until this date.
Where to get tested
Many international airports in Italy, including Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Bari, Cagliari and others, have on-site Covid testing facilities. Tests are usually rapid antigen swabs, though others may be available, and fees range from around €20 (Florence and Pisa) to €50 (Milan). You can find further details on the relevant airport’s website.
Many Italian pharmacies also offer rapid antigen testing, often in tents outside the building. Ask your nearest pharmacist: even if they don’t do tests themselves, they should be able to direct you to another pharmacy that does.
Facilities need special authorisation to analyse molecular tests: find a list of government-approved labs here. Bear in mind, however, that it only includes places that actually process the sample; other centres or doctors can also take the swab and send it to one of these labs.
Where to get test results in English
Getting test results in English while in Italy is now much easier than it has been in the past, with an ever-growing number of providers now offering this service.
The EU has advised that all test results should be issued in both the local language and English, and many provers are now offering this as standard. However, be aware that some test centres may still charge extra for a certificate in English. Check the terms with the facility before booking an appointment.
You can book directly by phone or email and most, if not all, should now be able to issue the test results in English if that’s a requirement under your home country’s rules.
Find a list of test centres that provide results in English here. Try searching “tampone Covid certificato in inglese” plus the name of your town to find more places that offer it near you.
Staff at the vaccine centre will likely speak some English in tourist areas, but if you want to be prepared, take a look at our guide to Italian testing vocab here.
Find information about Italy’s Covid-19 rules on the Italian health ministry’s website (available in English).