Background The cost and complexity of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test are barriers to diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. We investigated the cost-effectiveness of testing strategies using antigen instead of PCR testing. Methods We developed a mathematical model for HCV to estimate the number of diagnoses and cases of liver disease. We compared the following testing strategies: antibody test followed by PCR in case of positive antibody (baseline strategy); antibody test followed by HCV-antigen test (antibody-antigen); antigen test alone; PCR test alone. We conducted cost-effectiveness analyses considering either the costs of HCV testing of infected and uninfected individuals alone (A1), HCV testing and liver-related complications (A2), or all costs including HCV treatment (A3). The model was parameterized for the country of Georgia. We conducted several sensitivity analyses. Results The baseline scenario could detect 89% of infected individuals. Antibody-antigen detected 86% and antigen alone 88% of infected individuals. PCR testing alone detected 91% of the infected individuals: the remaining 9% either died or spontaneously recovered before testing. In analysis A1, the baseline strategy was not essentially more expensive than antibody-antigen. In analysis A2, strategies using PCR became cheaper than antigen-based strategies. In analysis A3, antibody-antigen was again the cheapest strategy, followed by the baseline strategy, and PCR testing alone. Conclusions Antigen testing, either following a positive antibody test or alone, performed almost as well as the current practice of HCV testing. The cost-effectiveness of these strategies depends on the inclusion of treatment costs.