For the diagnosis of imported malaria, optical or immunochromatographic methods are known to be less sensitive and less specific than PCR-based methods, which are conversely more complicated and time-consuming. An original strategy, based upon the sequential use of a multiplex competitive real-time PCR detecting Plasmodium falciparum or Plasmodium spp. infection, followed by, if necessary, a single real-time PCR for species identification, was therefore performed and then tested versus conventional PCR in routine conditions. Conventional PCR has been used since October 1999 in the Department of Parasitology, University Hospitals in Toulouse, as a 2nd line diagnostic method. Out of 183 patients tested, 48 were found to be harbouring a falciparum infection by conventional microscopy, 60 by conventional PCR and 60 by multiplex competitive real-time PCR. Nine further patients had a non-falciparum infection, and concordant species identifications were obtained by both conventional PCR and single real-time PCR. The major value of PCR-based methods, when compared to microscopical techniques, was to ascertain the negativity of a suspect sample. Moreover, real-time PCR allows simplification of the operating procedure, with a diagnosis being made within 2 h.