Istanbul Airport’s Impressive Coronavirus Testing

Filed Under: Travel, Turkish

I’m not sure how I missed this, as apparently this service has been offered for a few weeks now, and it sure is impressive.

A travel industry recovery relies on testing

In order for the travel industry to recover, we need better coronavirus testing (among other things, including a vaccine, ideally):

  • We need more frequent tests
  • We need more convenient tests
  • We need more affordable tests
  • We need faster test results

Obviously more testing is needed in general, but this is a travel blog, which is why I’m focusing on the impact this has on the travel industry.

We’re slowly starting to see some airports offer coronavirus testing, though rarely is it a great solution on a large scale. In some cases it’s really expensive. In some cases it takes days to get results. In some cases it doesn’t scale.

Increasingly we’re seeing destinations require proof of a negative PCR test within 48-72 hours, though the reality is that in many parts of the world it takes way longer than that to get test results.

Better testing is needed for a travel recovery

Istanbul Airport’s COVID-19 testing

If the testing program at Istanbul Airport is as good as is sounds, then the airport really is in a league of its own. In early July, Istanbul Airport started offering coronavirus testing:

  • The airport has 50 booths where passengers can be tested, for an hourly capacity of around 2,000 tests, and a daily capacity of around 40,000 tests
  • The samples are analyzed on the airport premises
  • Results will be provided within two hours, by email in both English and Turkish
  • Testing can be done either on departure or arrival
  • Testing costs 110 Turkish liras, or around $16

Here’s a video highlighting the process:

There are simply no two ways about it — if the airport’s claims are true, then Istanbul Airport is unrivaled when it comes to testing. And not just in one way, but in literally every way — the testing capacity, the time it takes to get results, and the price.

This is seriously impressive, but…

This is seemingly by far the best testing effort we’ve seen from any airport in the world. However, it’s not without risks, assuming you’re traveling to a country that requires a negative PCR test either for entry, or to skip quarantine:

  • You need to make sure your layover is long enough to get tested; any flight delay or other complication could get in the way of that
  • You need to be confident that there’s not going to be a line a couple of hours long to get tested; based on the capacity I would imagine that’s not the case, but who knows
  • You need to be confident your test results will actually be delivered within the timeframe promised, especially if your entry into another country is contingent upon that

New Istanbul Airport

Bottom line

Istanbul Airport’s coronavirus testing is extremely impressive. The airport offers tests for $16 each, with the capacity to handle 40,000 tests per day and to deliver results within two hours.

At least that’s what the airport promises. I wouldn’t necessarily count on everything going as smoothly as advertised, but even if it’s half as good as what’s promised…

Has anyone experienced Istanbul Airport’s new coronavirus testing facility?

  1. I used the one at Vienna Airport and it was seamless, easy, and fast. No wait, quickly check in, walk into office, nurse does a throat swab, and done…total time was about 10 minutes. The results were emailed in three hours. It did cost €198, so doing the same in Istanbul for $16 is a steal.

    I had made an appointment but there was no one there or any wait and she said most can just walk in now without any issues.

  2. Sound impressive if true

    Does anyone know if one is in transit in Turkey ( not leaving airport ) do they need to be tested ?

  3. So I’m going to be that person… What happens when you test positive? Does everyone with you have to quartinine with you as well even if they test negative? Would the passengers on the flight you were on have to quarintine as well?

  4. Are we sure they aren’t using the Chinese made tests that several countries complained about being mostly defective? Czech republic had said 80% of those tests were defective.

  5. Geoff, throat swab. It was much more comfortable than the nose. Just a momentary gag and it’s over.

  6. @ Sean – you have identified my biggest concern with all these ‘test on arrival’ plans. Is nobody release until everybody tests clean? Testing should happen on departure, end of story.

    Only issue is that would require competence at all inbound airports. I don’t know how many G2 staff you’ve met in T4 at LAX, but I sure wouldn’t trust them with a swab in my brain.

  7. In case you are in international transit and get a positive result, what happens?
    Any information on that? I assume you get blocked from boarding the next flight (at least I hope so), but what next? Quarantine in a hotel, or what?

  8. Just one fly in this ointment. Testing someone that does not have symptoms will result in up to an 80% false negative rate. So, why bother?

  9. Also need to know what test they are using. Even the best PCR test is only about 80% accurate and can have about 2% false positives on average. Also John Hopkins reports that even a week after infection 20% of people have a false negative.

  10. Test Facility at Istanbul airport sounds good, but you need a loooot of time to do the Test. Long queues and they might have 50 testing booth but only 2 guys who take the cash.
    My friends tried their luck in IST before returning to FRA, but they gave up as they didn’t want to miss their flight.

  11. Testing in the US is simply broken. In AZ it can take 7-14+ days for results. Mine took 7 days (I had no symptoms and was negative but had contact with someone who had it), my friend is quite sick and still no results after more than 10 days.

  12. First sounds great and a big step forward. My questions are:

    1) Required for outbound flights? People on flight may already have had a test as required for the destination requirement, but is it being required to show they have had one and if not can they get it at the airport?

    2) if one tests positive upon arrival what is the procedure? Do the passengers on that flight go to testing area together and not allowed to leave airport till all tests for that flight are known? If someone tests positive at a minimum the people seated around that passenger should know that so they can test later as COVID-19 can take 14 days to develop.

    3) is US requiring negative test before returning?

  13. I know that they say they can do testing on arrival, but shouldn’t the departure airport verify that there is a negative covid result before letting the passenger board.
    I would think in practical terms the vast majority of the testing is departure based and only done on arrivals if there is any questionable symptoms, etc.

    This setup, if true, is already very impressive on its face. Lucky’s concerns seem to me passenger-dependent and not the responsibility of the airport. If you don’t care about your trip to show up a couple of hours early or plan for a longer connection, it’s not IST’s fault.

  14. @Rob many of our test kits has Chinese origins too, perhaps you are suggesting that the CCP sent us kits that default tested positive to make us look bad? Grow a beard man.

  15. @EC2 and Andrew. I can only speak for what I saw in Vienna…

    1. On Austrian you were required to fill out a contact form in case of a reported case from the flight. So they can notify you.
    2. On arrival you first passed a health screening and filled out another form for Austrian officials. Where you are staying, if you have ben tested in the past 72 hours, quarantine rules. At that point they take the info and tell you to quarantine until you receive a negative test.
    3. Walk across the street from the airport and got my test in 10 minutes. Results in three hours via email.
    4. Was informed at the time of testing that should I test positive the information will be sent to health authorities. They said, “you would then be required to remain in your quarantine location and isolate until you recover.” As well, and this was odd, they said, “You may also choose to leave the country to receive treatment without delay.” Not sure if that’s a good idea or if this is even accurate.

    That’s basically it.

  16. And are these trustworthy tests and results? Turkey has been fast and loose with honest information for a long time now….

  17. @EC2 Are you asking whether USA will refuse a passenger entry if they didn’t get a test before flying to USA? That’s easy to answer. USA has no restrictions whatsoever upon entry, for US citizens, permanent residents, and many others. Also, USA has no COVID-related requirements for air passengers arriving. USA uses nationality and recent travel destinations to identify those it will allow in.

  18. This is all nice, but unless you get tested at just the right point in time after being infected, you’re very likely to get a false negative. What’s the point of these tests? What’s the point of quarantines? Better just to ban travelers from high-risk countries (e.g. United States, India, Bangladesh) until the overall risk of infected travelers coming from those countries is low.

  19. @Pete. While that seems to be the sensible approach and how things SHOULD work, it is actually the opposite in practice. Most in Vienna I saw were arriving passengers getting tested. In the case of the U.S. I would have loved to get a test at 72 hours prior to flying. I took one before, yes. Within that time frame. However, the results came eight days later and long after I arrived in Austria….which is why I tested there again the moment I landed. It’s almost impossible, at least around the DMV area where I live, to find a rapid test unless you are a health care worker or in the hospital. Now the results are taking as long as 10-14 days.

    I’m not saying this is the correct way. What you say should be the norm. But the system is broken, especially in the U.S.

  20. It is interesting that the video has a logo of the Xinhua news agency. It looks like the Chinese produced the video.

  21. Thanks for the info Ben. I have been following your recent travels as I have a trip scheduled to Jordan in October. This is another step out of several that would make the trip possible.

  22. Does no one care about the quality of the tests? For example, false-positive and false-negative rates, and difficulty to administer properly? Those should also be disclosed as they’re extremely important…

  23. @Stuart. Thank you. I was completely unaware that a test of that ilk even existed. Would MUCH prefer over that javelin up my nose towards my (tiny) brain.

  24. Are they using a reliable testing method? I am only asking because the tests Emirates was using were very unreliable, and I am wondering how reliable a $16 test can really be. The Dutch government pays around $60 per test. To me, it seems that unless the cost of the test is higher, but isn’t passed on to the passenger this would probably be an unreliable test. If it’s not an unreliable test, and it does just cost 16 euros to execute, can someone inform the Dutch government, please? 😉

  25. The only issue with this is that those tests are most likely “rapid result tests”, which more and more countries are no longer accepting, since their detection rate seems to be under the “normal” tests.

  26. How accurate are these tests, give that even regular tests have accuracy issues (people with severe symptoms sometimes requiring 3+ tests several days apart before finally testing positive) and quick turnaround tests seem to be even less accurate? The issue is less whether destination countries will accept these test results, but rather, whether you are willing to put yourself at risk and accept these results, given that there is no certainty, even among younger people regarding who will develop a severe illness with potential lifelong side effects. Travel is still a bit too much like playing Russian roulette.

  27. @Stuart…. I agree with your post, specially the last sentence ” the system is broken, especially in the United States”.
    Until there is ONE worldwide proven, trusted, accurate covid-19 test, false negatives ( and positives) will abound everywhere. This in turn helps the pandemic spread as when there are false negative results and the person is totally asymptomatic , then you have a walking spreading individual. No easy answer, until an effective vaccine is available worldwide for free. (Polio was virtually eradicated when a vaccine was developed and given for free to all.)

  28. I’ll be doing this next week during my 24-hour layover in Istanbul, as its way too complicated trying to get test results under 48 hours in the US.

  29. At the level the virus is present in saliva, one would have to use an amplification to detect it. The current test is based on amplification of genetic material (RNA) and therefore cannot be done faster than 1-2 hrs. As any of the multi-step tests, there is a significant false negative rate. For example, according to
    “The researchers estimated that those tested with SARS-CoV-2 in the four days after infection were 67% more likely to test negative, even if they had the virus (CI, 27% to 94%). When the average patient began displaying symptoms of the virus, the false-negative rate was 38%. The test performed best eight days after infection (on average, three days after symptom onset), but even then had a false-negative rate of 20% (CI, 13% to 31%).”
    To conclude, all these testing activities especially at the airport have not much sense. Who knows what do they do in Turkey? I would not be surprised if at least some of those places would simply collect $$ and send emails afterwords.

  30. @Alex_77W

    That’s my biggest concern. If we think about it logically, a COVID test is not a fungible commodity. To be able to offer a $16 test, with such a fast turnaround, at such quantities sound completely fantastical. Unless, of course, the accuracy is extremely questionable.

    Tests are not all the same, and should stop being treated like they are.

  31. @Alex 77W , @ David ….That is exactly my point in my above comment. All these different variants of tests given by all these different sources, resulting in so many false negatives worldwide, is pathetic. When will health authorities and governments stop with these ” smoke and mirrors ” tests and create ONE worldwide accurate, recognized, viable , trustworthy, test procedure ?

  32. Is there any more information on this service and the documentation it offers? Hong Kong just classified Americans as coming from a “high risk country” and requiring a test within 72 hours, which is impossible to get in the US, and this transit seems like a potential alternative. But they are requiring very specific documentation as well…government certifications for the lab etc.

  33. Testing Theater.

    Would you trust a test from the Trump administration? Turkey’s government is about the same.

    How reliable are these tests?

  34. I have a feeling tourism around the world and in Turkey in particular is likely to rebound soon after the Coronavirus epidemic is over.

  35. @Sallie L: please let us know how it goes.
    I am in a similar situation: Azerbaijan requires a negative PCR tests done 48h before the arrival… Almost impossible to get in Italy (from where I will fly)

  36. @sallie L
    How did it go? I’ll be there to get a test too because I need it for onward travel to dubai and I can’t get it in USA in time

    Thank you

  37. Does the test center at Istanbul Airport works 24/7? Does somebody have information about working hours?

  38. Does anyone know exactly where the testing area is at IST? Airside or landside? Arrivals/departures? Where to look for it? If transiting, do you need to go through immigration/passport control?

  39. Yes. I have not totally confirmed, but I believe you have to go through immigration and passport control to get to it.

  40. A friend of mine went through Istanbul on her way to Croatia last week. This is what she reported ” PCR test in the Istanbul Airport was impressively short in comparison to other Turkish administrative craziness.
    We went in roughly around 2:15-2:30, we were out by 3:30 after the sample was taken. Got our result via e nabiz at 6. All negative results. Couple tips: its crazy hard to find- instead of following signs to international transfers- go to baggage claim. The place is at the most western part of the arrivals terminal. Basically once in arrivals- walk to your right until you can’t go any more. It’s down on the ground floor. Keep asking for the COVID test area and they’ll redirect you.
    Other tip: bring 220 tl in cash per person. The credit card machine was broken.
    3) do not go through passport check before doing the test – we did and we went all over the place going through passport check and Security 3 times. Don’t do that.start asking about the Covid test right when you get off the plane- you’ll get redirected better.”

  41. Does anyone know where a foreigner can go to get a test done in Istanbul? I fly out of Istanbul on August 17 and I need a test done 72 hours before my flight time. I am worried if I go out to the airport I might not get the results in time before my departure. If I could do the test somewhere on either the 15th or 16th in Istanbul it would make it much less stressful.

  42. If you are flying into Istanbul to have a holiday there, can you do this yesterday instead of attempting one at home which can take days to get back…?

  43. So, is this a PCR test?
    If so, can one do it voluntarily?
    and is this working 24/7?

    I intend to do a night layover at IST and in the morning fly to Russia and I need a PCR test for Russia…

  44. good evening. I need very important information. on 15 August I have a flight in transit from Istanbul airport to Rome. arrival from tripoli libya. do i need to take the test in the transit area to leave for Italy ??? is there the possibility of doing the covid19 pcr test in the transit area of ​​the Istanbul airport? ?? can I take the test for transit flights with a waiting time of 10 hours? ??? thank you

  45. Hello, does anyone know what time the testing facility is open or is it 24/7? I have a flight at 7am and want to make sure I’ll be able to get tested beforehand. Thanks in advance!

  46. Hey all, I have been trying to find more details on who can get tested, as it seems like it is only if they want you to get tested. It doesn’t say anywhere that you can get tested upon your request. Anyone has more information?

  47. @Aleks Anyone can get tested. Just went through there last Saturday. Getting the test is fast and the results just depend on the numbers getting tested that day. They told us 5 hours and it was almost exactly 5 hours.

  48. It appears to me that these new guidelines below from Sep 8th rule out US transit travelers getting testing? That’s the way I read it – but I haven’t been able to confirm this. Has anyone tested at Iast in the last few days as a transit traveler??

    Full story here:

    Pertinent section copied and pasted here:
    COVID-19 Testing:
    PCR testing for foreigners is limited to those who have symptoms or those who may have an entry requirement back to their home country. Testing is paid for by the traveler.

    I’m afraid that my upcoming trip to Croatia in 4 days, purposely booked thru IST so we can be tested within 48 hrs, may now be in peril.

  49. @Cecel My interpretation of those guidelines is two things: I believe the section you are quoting was in the original posting of these guidelines several weeks ago. Also, I believe they are referring to staying in Turkey and getting testing at their hospitals or clinics. I think this is different than getting tested at the airport. If you haven’t downloaded the Total Croatia Travel News on Viber, I recommend it. People are always reporting their experience at IST. Worse comes to worse you can get tested in Croatia and isolate until you get the results.

  50. Hello, we are traveling from the usa to Turkey first week in oct. Are we required to test at the ist airport upon arrival. Three weeks later we fly out of ist. Are we required to test at ist before departure back to the usa?

  51. Hello
    I am traveling tomorrow oct 1st from IST to DUBAI at 11:00 AM TURKSIH TIME
    Where should i do PCR and How long does it take?

  52. It can be taken inside the terminal and when i took it we waited an hour to get the test. and 5 hours for results

  53. Update from IST. I visited the testing center in the airport just past noon, pretty quiet, though the rest of the airport was a little busier than I expected. Paid 250 Lira (about $32), waited in line for 2 minutes, got a deeply probing test in my throat and nose. From time I paid, results were ready in just over 2 hours. Impressive set up, when fully staffed, could test more than 2 dozen people at once. They also offer Anti-body testing for 300 Lira. If you want a stamped results, you need to hang around or come back to the testing center. Otherwise, you can get results online. People in Turkey are taking the virus more seriously than the United States, though men take it less seriously than women from my observation.

  54. I depart stockholm transit istanbul to somalia. may i do pcr certificate in istanbul. where i do pcr test inside istanbul airport or outside istanbul airport?

  55. Dear All,
    Anyone who passed the PCR test at the Istanbul airport, could you please write, test from the throat or from the nose / brain? the awful long stick.. Lots of terrible information about long sticks and damage caused by them. Maybe someone knows if there are laboratories in Istanbul that take only from the throat?
    Thanks in advance and wish everybody to be healthy & wealthy

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