Types of COVID-19 tests

Find out about the types of COVID-19 tests used in New Zealand. Anyone can get a free COVID-19 test.

COVID-19 tests are free

COVID-19 tests are free.

This includes if you:

  • are told to get a test by a health official
  • have symptoms
  • come under mandatory testing, for example, if you work at the border or are a contact of a confirmed case
  • require a test for domestic travel.

When you should get a COVID-19 test

You will not have to pay for your care if you test positive.

When you may need to pay for a test 

  • Surveillance testing by the business sector, which is outside the mandatory requirements, is not part of the public health response and is not free.
  • You may need to pay for a test if it is to enter another country.

Getting a pre-departure COVID-19 test

You do not need to be a citizen or resident

Everyone can get tested — you do not need to be a New Zealand citizen or resident. The test is still free, and you will not have to pay for care if you test positive. 

No information will be shared with Immigration New Zealand even if you test positive.

If you are asked to pay for a COVID-19 test, please report it to your district health board or primary health organisation.

3 types of tests

In New Zealand there are 3 types of tests for COVID-19.

High levels of testing is one way we can keep Omicron out of the community.

If Omicron spreads, tests will be focussed on people who are:

  • symptomatic
  • vulnerable
  • essential workers
  • close contacts.

PCR test 

The most common test is a swab of the back of your nose — this is often called a nasopharyngeal test, or PCR test. A swab is like a small cotton-bud but with a longer stick. Another way is to swab the back of your throat and nose. 

It can be done at community testing centres, hospitals and medical centres. Results can take 2 to 5 days.

Saliva test

This testing is available for border workers. Saliva samples can be self-collected and dropped off at a collection point or observed by health care worker.

Rapid antigen test

A rapid antigen test (often called a RAT) is generally taken with a front of nose swab. It can be done in hospitals, medical centres, pharmacies and at home.

Rapid antigen test results are available much faster than a PCR test — about 15 minutes compared to 2 to 5 days. RATs will be used more widely if Omicron spreads.

If you get a positive result, you will need to get a follow-up PCR test immediately from your doctor or community testing centre.

Rapid antigen tests are not:

  • as accurate at detecting COVID-19 as nasal and saliva PCR tests
  • used for diagnosis of people with COVID-19 symptoms
  • a replacement for existing nasal and saliva PCR tests
  • mandatory for businesses
  • acceptable for mandatory surveillance testing under the Required Testing Order (RTO)
  • a replacement for vaccination. 

Free rapid antigen tests

Free rapid antigen tests are available at selected community pharmacies until 31 January 2022.

The tests are available for travellers from any part of New Zealand who:

  • are not fully vaccinated, and
  • are over the age of 12 years and 3 months, and
  • do not have COVID-19 symptoms, and
  • need a negative test result to travel with a transport company, for example Air New Zealand.

Find pharmacies offering supervised RATs | healthpoint.co.nz (external link)

Testing after vaccination

Even if you have had your vaccination, you should still get tested for COVID-19 if you develop symptoms or if you are subject to regular testing.

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