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Getting tested for COVID-19

9-minute read

If you develop severe symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

When should I get tested for COVID-19?

You should get tested for COVID-19 if:

You may also need to get a test for travel purposes. Check state and territory travel restrictions.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

Which COVID-19 test should I use?

There are 2 types of tests used to diagnose COVID-19 in Australia: Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests and rapid antigen tests (RATs).

A PCR test is the most reliable way to diagnose COVID-19. PCR tests are done by healthcare workers who take a swab from the back of your nose and throat. The swab is then sent to a laboratory for testing, and you should have a result within 1 to 3 days.

RATs can be done at home, and usually give a result in 15 to 20 minutes. Like PCR tests, RATs require a nasal swab done using a cotton bud. However, RATs are not as accurate as PCR tests.

You should get a PCR test if:

  • you have symptoms of COVID-19
  • you tested positive on a RAT and you need a PCR test to confirm your result — this requirement doesn’t apply to all states and territories, check their rules
  • you are a close contact and don't have symptoms, but can't access a RAT

You should use a RAT if:

  • you’ve been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 (not a close contact) and don’t have symptoms
  • you want to check if you have COVID-19 before attending a large event or visiting vulnerable people
  • if required as part of a screening program by your school or your employer

How do I get tested for COVID-19?

To get a PCR test, contact your GP or visit a COVID-19 testing clinic near you (see 'Where can I find a COVID-19 testing clinic?' below).

Aged-care facilities can request on-site testing for residents and staff. Specialised COVID-19 collection teams will collect samples from all staff and residents.

If you can’t leave your home because you have a disability and need a PCR test, you can call the Disability Gateway helpline. Call 1800 643 787, Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm (AET), except on national public holidays.

The call handler will tell you whether you’re able to have a COVID-19 test at your home. For more information, visit disabilitygateway.gov.au.

RATs can be purchased either online or from pharmacies and retail outlets. For a list of tests approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and instructions on how to use them, go to tga.gov.au/covid-19-rapid-antigen-self-tests.

Where can I find a COVID-19 testing clinic?

Find a COVID-19 clinic in your area:

You can also search for a testing clinic in healthdirect's Service Finder:

Use the Service Finder to find COVID-19 testing clinics and other health services, such as doctors, pharmacies and hospitals.

How much does a COVID-19 test cost?

If you get a PCR test at a public health facility, mobile testing centre or GP medical practice that offers bulk billing, you won't have to pay for the test. You might have to pay to see your GP if they don't offer bulk billing, but the test itself is free.

Rapid antigen tests usually cost between $10 and $15 per test, but may be free in some cases.

What do I need to do before I get tested?

The COVID-19 test is done by taking a swab of the back of your throat and your nose. You don't need to fast beforehand or take any samples with you.

If you are getting a PCR test, you might need to make an appointment, so it's best to call ahead. However, most mobile or drive-through testing clinics don’t require an appointment. If you are visiting a private pathology clinic for a test, you may need a referral from your doctor.

You will need to bring your Medicare card with you — if you don't have a Medicare card, bring at least one form of identification, such as your driver's licence or student ID. You'll also need to provide your contact details so you can get your test results.

If you get tested at a GP practice, ask the staff how you will receive your results.

After your test, you should follow the instructions of your doctor or the healthcare professional at the testing clinic. In most cases, you will be instructed to go straight home and wait for your results. Don’t go out in public, including going to work or school. Practise good hand and cough hygiene, and avoid close contact with other people, including members of your own household.

When will I get my COVID-19 PCR test results?

Your GP or the staff at the testing clinic should tell you how long it will take to get your test results — typically, it takes 1 to 3 days.

If your test result is negative, you will receive an SMS text message or a phone call from the doctor or clinic that took your test. If your test result is negative but you have a history of close contact with a case of COVID-19, you must follow the isolation directions of the state or territory you are in. Check their website for more information.

If your test result is positive, you will receive a phone call or SMS text message from a doctor or a Public Health Unit to let you know what you should do next. You might also be asked about contact tracing.

The National Coronavirus Helpline does not receive test results. If you have any questions about your results, contact the clinic, GP practice or hospital where the test was carried out.

What happens if my test is positive for COVID-19?

If you test positive for COVID-19, you must immediately self-isolate. Your isolation period will usually be 7 days from when you received your positive test result. However, you should check the rules for your state or territory.

If you tested positive using a rapid antigen test, you may be required to register your results or confirm your result with a PCR test. Contact your state or territory’s health department for advice.

People who have had contact with you, including family members and people you live with, may also need to isolate themselves. The Australian Government has developed rules for what you need to do if you are a close contact. You should also check the rules of your state or territory.

Learn more about managing mild to moderate COVID-19 at home.

Should I get tested if I’ve returned from overseas?

If you have returned from overseas and are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you will be quarantined in state or territory-designated accommodation. This will be in the city where you first entered Australia, even if this is not your final destination.

If you develop symptoms, advise the staff where you are being quarantined so you can get medical assistance.

Depending on which state or territory you are quarantining in, you may be required to have a PCR test during your stay and again before you can leave.

Fully-vaccinated travellers who’ve arrived in Australia and don’t need to quarantine should still be on high alert for symptoms.

Visit the Australian Government Department of Health website for information for travellers arriving from overseas (also available in other languages).

RESTRICTIONS — Use the COVID-19 Restriction Checker to find out what you can and can't do in your state or territory.

What if my GP won’t see suspected COVID-19 patients?

If you have symptoms and your own GP won't see you, consider contacting another doctor or a COVID-19 clinic in your area.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Looking for more information?

Visit healthdirect's COVID-19 information hub for more answers to questions about the coronavirus, including vaccinations and restrictions.

Resources in other languages

COVID-19 resources in other languages are available from the Department of Health, as well as from the ACT, NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic and WA health departments.

Information is also available in Aboriginal languages (NT).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2022


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