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Testing in Portugal: My experience getting a COVID-19 test to return to the US

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 7/23/2021 Chris Dong
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Eager travelers will go to great lengths to see the world again. Count me as one of them.

Between packing eight rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits to navigating an array of ever-changing restrictions, my trip to Portugal has truly been, well, a test of the traveler’s spirit.

But despite the inconveniences of going abroad during the COVID-era, I loved my time in Portugal — and savored it even more than I expected to. After nine days in the country, my trip is now coming to an end.

However, that meant I needed a COVID-19 test for travel back to the U.S.

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In the days since arriving in Portugal, I received numerous messages about what it has been like. (In fact, I answered 10 of the most frequently asked questions about my visit.)

Here’s everything you need to know about testing in Portugal — and what my experience was like to get one before entering the U.S.

In This Post

How to get a COVID-19 test in Portugal

There are several ways to get a COVID-19 test while in Portugal. The process isn’t that different from the U.S., but most of the information about testing in the country isn’t available in English.

Related: Reopening Europe: When can you visit again? A country-by-country guide.

Pharmacies

a sign on the side of a building: (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

First, there are hundreds of official pharmacies that can provide one of the following tests that are valid for travel to the U.S:

  • A PCR test with lab report
  • A rapid antigen test with lab report

Any pharmacy in Portugal can also sell you an at-home rapid test kit. While the results of an at-home test kit purchased in Portugal aren’t valid for entry to the U.S., they are valid for checking in to accommodations or indoor dining on weekends (as of July 23, 2021).

Related: Why I packed 8 COVID-19 tests to fly to Portugal — and what it’s like to enter now

Most pharmacy locations offer a PCR or rapid test with a lab report (for entry to the U.S.) for about 25-50 euro ($30-$60), but you may need to book an appointment in advance. Walk-ins are possible if there is availability.

Here’s a list of pharmacies and COVID-19 testing centers in Portugal (in Portuguese). You can also call the mainland Portugal hotline: (+ 351) 808 24 24 24 (Press 9 for English).

Important note: Most rapid self-test kits with a negative result are not valid for re-entering the U.S. Here are the only CDC-approved at-home rapid kits that the U.S. accepts for reentry. These must be purchased prior to leaving the U.S. 

Hotels

Officially, Portugal requires a COVID-19 test or EU Digital Health Certificate to check in to any accommodation.

Information current as of July 22: 

  • Within 72 hours of check-in time: Negative PCR test
  • Within 48 hours of check-in time: Rapid antigen test with lab report
  • Within 24 hours of check-in time: Rapid antigen test (must be in the presence of a health or pharmaceutical professional who certifies result)
  • No time requirement:
    • Rapid antigen self-test carried out at the door of the establishment (must be under the supervision of a person in charge of premises)
    • EU Digital COVID Certificate

Depending on where you’re staying, some hotels will provide (or sell) a rapid at-home COVID-19 test. Again, this type of test is not valid for entry to the U.S.

Related: What to do if you test positive for COVID-19 overseas

Airports

graphical user interface, website: Porto Airport testing (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Porto Airport testing (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

In addition, all the major Portuguese airports — including Lisbon (LIS) and Porto (OPO) — offer rapid antigen COVID-19 testing that you can take prior to your flight to the U.S.

However, you should arrive at the airport early (about four hours is a safe bet) since tests are done on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost for the rapid test at the airport is 30 euro ($35) and is valid for entry to the U.S.

My pharmacy experience

First, the bad news: All of the pharmacies in Portugal operate independently so there isn’t one central database or website where you can book appointments or know the actual testing cost beforehand.

Portuguese residents also have access to free testing and have priority at walk-in testing locations.

My last night in Portugal was at the lovely Intercontinental Porto, a 5-star property in the heart of town.

There were a number of nearby pharmacies that offered COVID-19 testing. However, I had to check with each pharmacy individually to determine appointment or walk-in availability. The concierge was able to assist with this.

a sign on the side of a building: (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Instead of dealing with the stress of a walk-in, I scheduled an appointment at Farmacia Moreno for the morning of my flight to the U.S.

The pharmacy is only about a five-minute walk from the Intercontinental Porto and main Porto train station (São Bento). Once I arrived, I checked in and scanned a QR code to fill out an online form with basic health and contact information.

text, logo, company name: (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

I was immediately whisked to an upstairs room where a nurse conducted the most thorough (and unpleasant) nasal swab out of the 20+ tests I’ve taken to date. Thankfully, it was only in one nostril.

Note that the nurse who did my test said that she’s heard Portugal typically tends to put the nasal swab deeper in the nostril than tests done elsewhere.

On the plus side, 15 minutes later, I got my negative test result with both a physical paper copy and emailed copy.

My airport experience

Porto Airport is a pleasant, one-terminal facility that’s easily accessible from the city center, less than seven miles away.

COVID-19 rapid testing is available at the center of the check-in pillars and is very easy to find upon entering the airport.

a group of people standing in front of a building: COVID testing at Porto Airport (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy COVID testing at Porto Airport (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Since I already had my test in hand, I went straight to check in. At both check-in as well as at the gate, I had to show my negative COVID-19 test result.

With Portuguese souvenirs and snacks packed away in my luggage it was time to board my flight to Newark (EWR).

Bottom line

Getting a COVID-19 test in Portugal — either for travel to the U.S. or to comply with local restrictions — will require a bit of advanced planning.

Scope out where the closest pharmacies are from your accommodation and determine whether or not you’ll need an appointment.

Airports in Lisbon, Porto and Faro also have on-site, rapid antigen testing available — but arrive early. Finally, one of the most convenient options may be bringing your own test from the U.S. with you. (Remember, this is the only one that is accepted.)

Featured photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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