Getting tested for coronavirus in Italy has changed over the past year, as the government approved new types of test and authorised more and more facilities to carry them out.
Private tests are now widely available without a prescription and most centres can provide the results in English.
Here’s a guide to how to get 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.
A decree passed by Italy’s government on September 21st updated its rules so that a negative PCR test result can now get you an Italian health certificate or ‘green pass’ that is valid for 72 hours. The green pass is required for a range of travel, leisure, educational and work activities in Italy.
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 the result within half an hour.
It’s less accurate than a PCR test, but is cheaper, faster and can be carried out directly at doctors’ offices, pharmacies, airports or workplaces without the need for a lab.
The antigen test will get you a green pass that is valid for 48 hours from the time of your negative result.
Until at least December 31st, prices for the tests will be capped at €15 for adults and €8 for minors aged 12-18 at pharmacies participating in a government scheme to subsidise the costs of obtaining a green pass. Children under the age of 12 are not required to have the green pass.
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.
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.
As part of the Italian government’s updated rules of September 21st, salivary tests can now be used to obtain a green pass which is valid for 48 hours from the time of a negative result.
Self-testing kits (autotest or test fai da te) are also available in Italy, with kits on sale in supermarkets and pharmacies for around €10. These are rapid antigen tests that involve taking a nasal swab.
The results are not considered official, and if they come back positive you should get another test carried out by a professional.
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.
If you need to show a negative test result for international travel, you should get either a molecular or antigen swab test from a testing centre. Home tests or saliva tests are not accepted for these purposes.
However, as a saliva test is now valid for a 48-hour green pass, it can be used for long-distance domestic travel.
Italy has said that it will also allow people who have recovered from Covid-19 to travel freely, but currently it does not accept antibody blood tests as proof of immunity. (Instead it asks for a certificate from a doctor that confirms you were diagnosed and have since recovered.)
How to get tested if you suspect you have Covid-19
If you have been in contact with someone who is infected with coronavirus, or if you have Covid-19 symptoms (fever, coughing, tiredness, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, headache, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, chest pain), you need to get tested urgently while minimising your contact with anyone else.
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.
How to get tested on arrival in Italy
Travel to Italy from certain countries deemed high risk (currently including Brazil, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) is currently restricted, with only essential journeys allowed and a swab test required on arrival. If you are flying to Italy from one of these countries, you will be tested directly upon landing at the airport and must quarantine for 10 days regardless of the result.
Travellers from any other countries are not required to get tested on arrival, though they may be subject to quarantine if they’re coming from outside the European Union.
See the current rules on travel from all countries here.
How to get tested after quarantining in Italy
People arriving from certain countries will need to self/isolate for their first five or 10 days in Italy, then get a coronavirus test to end the quarantine.
Provided you do not have symptoms, you are allowed to leave your accommodation the day after your quarantine ends (so on the 11th day if it was a 10 day quarantine) to get tested. You will need either a molecular or antigenic swab test, which you can pay to have privately.
Residents who live in Italy and have a regular doctor here can choose to get tested via the national health service: ask your GP for a prescription (ricetta bianca) that will allow you to book a free test at a public facility.
Travellers from these areas are required to inform the local health authority of their arrival in Italy, which may check on you during your quarantine and can ask to see proof of your negative test result. You should therefore get tested by a professional rather than using a home-testing kit.
How to get tested for travel, events or any other reason
If you don’t have symptoms, the quickest and easiest way to get tested for coronavirus in Italy – especially for visitors – is to pay for a private test.
Among test providers not participating in the government’s price cap scheme, prices vary, but are usually capped by the regional health service. Molecular tests are typically more expensive than rapid antigen swabs.
In the Lazio region around Rome, for instance, antigen tests cost around €20 while a molecular test is around €60. House calls or same-day results can cost considerably more.
Where to find test centres near you
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.
How to get tested for free by the Italian Red Cross
Italy’s Red Cross has free, walk-in testing centres at central train stations in 11 of Italy’s biggest cities: Bari, Bologna, Cagliari, Florence, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Reggio Calabria, Rome, Turin and Venice.
Rapid antigen swab tests are available without an appointment to anyone who wants one, with results delivered by email within 30 minutes. You can request the certificate in Italian or English.
Where to get test results in English
While the EU has advised that all test results should be issued in both the local language and English, some test centres may charge extra for a certificate in English. Check the terms with the facility before booking an appointment.
Find a list of test centres that provide results in English here. The service is becoming more widely available, so try searching “tampone Covid certificato in inglese” plus the name of your town to find more places that offer it near you.