The pandemic isn’t over. Regardless of how small your social circle is, it’s still very possible to contract and spread Covid-19. To help prevent this, it’s important to get tested regularly (along with getting vaccinated and wearing an N95 face mask). There are free testing sites across the US, but those pressed for time can trade the long lines for rapid at-home Covid tests, which can provide results in 15 minutes or so.
With hundreds of options, it’s tough to know which one to buy (if they’re in stock). We’ve rounded up options—based on FDA authorization and availability—to help make the search easier. You can order free at-home tests from the US government. Members of our team have used some, but not all, of these tests.
Updated March 2023: We’ve added the CorDx Covid-19 Antigen Home Test and Pilot Covid-19 At-Home Test. We’ve also included details on the end of the Covid-19 public health emergency and updated expiration dates.
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Last year, the Biden administration launched several rounds of rapid at-home tests for distribution across the US. Here’s our guide to ordering your free rapid Covid-19 tests. You’ll receive four rapid antigen Covid-19 tests per order.
As of January 15, 2022, insurance companies (both private and group health plans) are required to cover eight FDA-approved over-the-counter Covid-19 tests per person each month. There’s no limit if the test is ordered through or administered by a health care provider after a clinical assessment (including those who need them for an underlying medical condition).
Depending on your insurers’ network of preferred pharmacies and retailers, you’ll be able to order a test online or pick it up in person free of charge. If your insurance plan doesn’t offer a preferred network, you can submit a claim with your receipt to be reimbursed for the full out-of-pocket amount. Order a test outside of your network and you can be reimbursed for up to $12 per test. Have a flexible spending account or health savings account? You can opt to use either to purchase rapid at-home Covid test kits.
In early February, the Biden administration announced it will be terminating the national and public health emergency surrounding Covid-19 on May 11, 2023. This means over-the-counter Covid tests will no longer be covered by private insurance companies (Medicare included). However, private insurance companies can choose to cover the costs voluntarily, so it’s worth reaching out to your insurer. Those on Medicaid will continue to be fully covered through September 30, 2024, at which point coverage will vary by state.
In the meantime, we highly recommend stocking up on your eight free monthly at-home Covid tests while they’re still covered by insurance (as mentioned in the above section). And, if you haven’t already, make sure to claim your four free at-home tests from the US government.
Rapid At-Home Covid-19 Tests We Like
Abbot’s BinaxNow kit provides results within 15 minutes of swabbing your nose and inserting the sample into the included test card. You can then use Navica, the companion app, to self-report your results. Those who test negative will receive a temporary encrypted digital pass they can use as official proof of their test result. With two tests in each box, the company recommends taking another one no sooner than 24 hours but no later than 48 hours. A few members of the Gear team have used this test. We cannot verify its level of accuracy, but it was straightforward to use, with clear instructions.
Unlike nearly every other test kit, you only get one test per box with FlowFlex. But unlike the others, the FDA is confident enough in this one that it doesn’t advise you to test yourself again after a few days—unless you feel new symptoms coming on. The process is similar: Swab your nose, dip the swab in the solution, and squeeze a few drops onto a small plastic test card. After 15 to 30 minutes, your results will appear. This test comes in a much more compact box and is easier to unbox and use than some tests we tried.
Warning: If you’re shopping for the FlowFlex, make sure it comes in a white box. In January 2022, the FDA recalled a counterfeit version called Flowflex SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test (Self-Testing) that hasn’t been authorized for sale in the US. (It came in a dark blue box.) Make sure to look for tests called FlowFlex Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test in a white box. The FDA also issued a warning for another set of fraudulent versions being distributed in April 2022. You can find the exact signs to look for here.
With the QuickVue at-home test, all you need to do is swab both your nostrils, swirl the swab in the prefilled tube of solution, and dip the test strip in for 10 minutes. If the result is positive, you’ll see both a blue line and a pink line appear on the strip. If it’s negative, you’ll only see a blue line. This kit comes with two tests, so you can take another one within three days. I have used this test—it’s easy to administer and understand.
On/Go’s at-home kit comes with a connected app that helps guide you through the process. Once you create an account, you’ll use the test cassette, extraction vial, vial cap, and nasal swab included in the box to collect your sample. After 10 minutes, you’ll be prompted to upload a photo of your result, and the app will confirm whether it is positive, negative, or invalid (at which point you can try again). Of all the at-home rapid tests I’ve tried so far, this was the easiest to use. The steps are simple enough that I’m not reaching for the instructions every single time—something I can’t say for the others. The standard version has two tests per box, but you can purchase a single pack for $9.
The iHealth Covid-19 kit comes with a nasal swab, solution, and a test card. After collecting your sample and soaking it in the solution, add three drops of it to the test card. In 15 minutes your result will appear on the card, and you can then upload it to the companion app. If you test negative, you’ll get access to an iHealth Pass to use as digital proof. The Covid-19 Test Card inside the foil pouch should be used within one hour of opening it.
Warning: In May 2022, the FDA issued a warning for counterfeit versions of the iHealth Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test kits that haven’t been authorized for sale in the US. The images on the Instructions for Use pamphlet included with some counterfeit versions differ slightly from the authentic version. Both iHealth and the FDA are in the process of finding additional identifiable signs to look for. People who live in South Carolina and have purchased an iHealth Covid-19 test should also double-check the lot number on their kits. In November, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control determined that a limited amount of at-home tests “may have invalid result cartridges because of a manufacturer error.” You can read more here.