Travel Guide Traveling to Greece

What the US Could Learn from Greece about Covid Testing Practices and Prices

Written by Charlie

The US could learn a few things from Greece about Covid testing and travel protocols – including, cheaper prices and faster turnaround times.

Here we are – approaching two years since Covid-19 first started really making the news. I am sure that no one really thought that we would still be talking about “Covid tests” and such all this time later but we still are – and the US has really not done a good job of advancing that process through like other countries, such as Greece.

US Could Learn from Greece About Covid Tests

“Wait, what?! America could learn about something like this from Greece?” could be what some may think at such a headline. Well, the answer is absolutely yes. See, covid testing has been something that has been required for many things, such as international travel, for a while now. This means that this should have become more streamlined and cheaper as time went on and requirements stayed in place.

But, leave it to the US to not make it quicker or cheaper for something like this! On the other hand, Greece has done both – made it cheaper and quicker. Plus, Greece also has things in place that actually make sense for entering the country vs the US still not making sense when it comes to Americans returning home. Let’s break this down to see what I am talking/venting about.

Covid Testing Prices

First of all, yes, I know there really isn’t a “covid” test but since this is what we have all come to know it as, that is what we will go with!

The US has plenty of places where you can get tested for free – I know that. Unfortunately, these tests do not meet the requirement of speed for many international destinations. When you are not paying for something, you really cannot expect to get it in a timely manner and there is nothing you can do if you do not get it in a timeframe that was quoted to you at the time of the test.

True, there are some free and somewhat fast tests that are available. But, it can still be hard to depend on them for the timing of a trip since things could delay the return of those samples. Plus, there may be some free tests that are not accepted as rapid test samples for trips.

So, paid testing it is! And when it comes to paid tests, they can get very expensive! I have had to pay $165 for a PCR test before (Sameday Health) to get it back in about 36 hours. I have also paid $125 for a rapid antigen test (Sameday Health) that I had the results of in 30 minutes.

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If you want an even faster PCR turnaround, expect to pay much more than that! I mean, we are talking about laboratory testing of these samples so they have to be expensive, right?

Wrong! I have had several rapid antigen tests in Greece as well as a few PCR tests in Greece. Each of these tests have been valid for domestic and international travel and have had quick turnaround (more on that shortly). How much have I paid for these? For a PCR test in Greece from a private laboratory that is sufficient for international travel, I have never paid more than €60 (about $71). That is way less than half of what I paid for a similar test in the US!

Testing price from Bioiatriki in Greece

When it comes to a rapid antigen test, the different becomes even more stark. As of last week, rapid antigen tests are capped at €10 – about $12. But, the most I have paid before for these tests was €20. That is crazy in comparison to the same test when in the US! Yes, you can order the at-home antigen tests that you can use to return to the US (while taking it in front of a tech online) but those still cost like $35 each. Plus, you are dealing with issues that pop up from long wait times, etc.

So, Greece has made it cheaper over time to get tested with PCR tests and the rapid antigen tests while the US still commands high prices for such tests to be done that are adequate in turnaround time and validity for travel. Come on, American companies! We obviously will still have testing requirements for a while so just the order of magnitude on production should have made these become cheaper as well as the laboratory side of things – I mean, if Greece can do it, the US should be able to do it!

Covid Testing Turnaround Time

Fortunately, Greece had recently allowed rapid antigen tests to be used for entering, instead of just PCR tests. So, on a trip from the US to Greece, I opted for a rapid antigen test (at the cost of $125!) over a PCR test because the turnaround time for this $165 test was up to 36 hours. Going by my past two times with this test, it came right at the 36 hour mark and I was departing at 33 hours so I couldn’t risk it.

The rapid antigen test result came back in 30 minutes – so there is no difference between the US and Greece on that front (except for the huge price difference). But, with the PCR test, there is another huge difference. I have had a couple of PCR tests done for travel now in Greece and I had the results in hand in less than 5 hours. This is the same kind of test that had not come back to me in the US for 36 hours.

Given the fact that I paid less than half as much in Greece as I did in the US for a test that came back to me 31 hours quicker than the US company could deliver, it again shows that Greece is way ahead of the US in the ballpark of Covid testing turnaround time as well.

As long as you get tested before afternoon by these private labs in Greece (such as the ones at the airports in both Athens and Thessaloniki), you will get your result back the same day! Try that in the US without paying even more!

Again, the US could certainly learn from Greece about this. Given the number of labs the US companies use vs the number of tests being done, it is probably pretty comparable when compared to the number of tests in Greece vs the number of labs available. So, the US companies could do it – I am sure – but they choose not to, even as international travel has been picking up and these PCR tests are in high demand.

Covid Practices for Travel

Link: Greece Covid Protocols for Travel

Then we get to entry requirements under Covid procedures. Greece allows entry by one of three ways, when it comes to Covid conditions:

  • A negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival or a negative rapid antigen test taken within 48 hours of arrival
  • A certificate showing completed vaccination status (which means it has been at least 14 days since the last required dose of the chosen vaccine)
  • A certificate showing that you have recovered from Covid within the last 30-180 days (which would require a positive test from within that period as well)

That is not all – these requirements are only in force for people over the age of 12.

When you do enter Greece, you can be selected for another test on arrival. This test will be conducted free of charge and you have your results in about 5-10 minutes and then you are on your way.

Contrast that with the system the US has had in place for a while now (pretty much all of 2021). Everyone, regardless of recovery or vaccination status, has to have a test (rapid antigen or PCR) within 3 days of your flight departing for the US. Not only that, you are not tested at all upon arrival and no one even checks your forms when you arrive in the US – this responsibility is left up to the airline.

By the way, this testing requirement is for everyone 2 and older. Speaking of that age, everyone 2 and older on US flights also have to have a mask while many/most flights in Europe only require it for over 6 years of age.

The US is certainly not prepared to open their borders up – not with these covid procedures that choose to ignore science and employ any kind of checks on American soil. This is just one more way that the US could learn from Greece in regards to the covid travel situation – and Greece has been welcoming Americans since May 14 while the US still does not welcome European tourists coming from Europe.

Bottom Line

Covid testing has been around for a while now and will likely still be required for things like travel for a while longer – even for vaccinated travelers. The US companies really need to adapt to this, especially since they have a ton of practice with it now, to get costs lower and turnaround times down. Imagine this – if you needed a PCR test to travel on one of these recent $300 tickets to Europe, you may have had to pay more than half your ticket price for a test!

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

7 Comments

  • I think this depends on where you are. in Seattle area there are several walkup/drive thru locations which are no Cost. PCR tests are returned in 12-24 hours. Lately even faster. The University of Washington lab is processing all tests, valid for travel etc. I guess you just need to push your local government to do more.

    • That’s excellent! I definitely know of some large cities, like Seattle, that do have these and that is fantastic. If it can be done there, it should be done in more cities as well. For instance, my home city of Rochester has the large University of Rochester/Strong Memorial Hospital there as well as what is becoming the massive Unity Health. It could be done but they choose to not do it which means companies like Sameday end up outsourcing to labs as far away as Boston.

  • I’m Athens now. One thing that’s not fast is traffic coming from north Attika to Syntagma. Goodness.

    I believe the government put price controls on the COVID tests in Greece. Not a fan of that. Let the market play out. Costs would most likely come down with greater competition.

    Nobody has asked us for our CDC cards yet going inside a bar, restaurant, etc. here in Athens. Will see in Crete, Santorini and Mykonos

    • Yeah, traffic is an absolute nightmare in Athens. I hate it!
      As to the tests, the government capped the price where it is at just last week in response to their requiring public and private (unvaccinated) employees to get tested every week. I agree with you on it, other than that. The price before (and the current price on PCR) was not capped (to the best of my knowledge).
      Interesting that they haven’t asked for it yet! I know all the places say covid free but I haven’t been inside one since the new rule came down because it is too nice out :). Will definitely be interested to hear of your experience at the other locations.
      Have fun!

  • It was very sad to see the devastation left by the fires in north Attica yesterday when we visited a couple of wineries. Mountainsides completely burned. It reminded my of areas in Napa and Sonoma I had seen previously or Malibu a couple of years ago after their fire.

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