Having to get a COVID-19 test before flying back home to the United States can add a huge amount of stress to the end of your trip, especially now that all travelers (even fully-vaccinated ones) must have test results that were taken within a day of departure.
Trying to find and schedule a COVID test abroad that’s guaranteed to return tests in time for your flight can be really difficult and expensive. The better option? Pack an at-home test that you can do in the comfort of your hotel room, with quick results.
In order to meet CDC guidelines for travel, at-home tests must meet the following criteria:
- SARS-CoV-2 viral test (nucleic acid amplification test [NAAT] or antigen test) with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) OR the relevant national authority where the test is administered.
- Must include real-time supervision during the test (including confirming identity, observing sample collection, and confirming the test result) via a telehealth service.
- Issues a report detailing the type of test, entity issuing the result, the sample collection date, information confirming the identity of the test taker (full name and date of birth or passport number), and the test result.
Tip: Make sure you download apps for at-home COVID tests before you leave the United States, as the apps may not be available to download in the app store once you leave the country.
Here are the best COVID-19 tests that are approved for travel to the United States.
Abbot’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Home Test with eMed
Cost: $150 for a pack of six. The tests can be taken by different people, so you can split the six-pack between your family or travel party.
Where to Purchase: On eMed’s website.
How it Works: Download the Abbot’s NAVICA app, and then visit eMed.com/app/start-testing to start your at-home test. A telehealth professional will take you through the sample collection, and then will set a 15-minute timer for you. You’ll have to leave your camera on the test, but don’t have to stay in front of your phone. After 15-minutes, the telehealth professional will help you read the results, and then immediately issue a report.
Ellume COVID-19 Home Test with AZOVA
Cost: Around $30 for the test and $20 for the telehealth visit.
Where to Purchase: Due to supply constraints, AZOVA is only selling the video visit portion of the test online. You’ll have to purchase the Ellume COVID-19 test kit in-person (it’s available at CVS).
How it Works: Schedule an appointment for a video observation call ahead of time. If you have a group that needs to take the test, you’ll have to schedule appointments individually, but you can all join the call together. Download both the ellume and AZOVA apps, and then log-on to AZOVA to be connected to your test proctor, who will guide you through taking the test.
Test results are automatically sent to the app via the Bluetooth-enabled test kit, and you’ll receive your results in 15 minutes. A report will then be generated and sent to you.
Cue+ Complete Membership
Cost: $89.99 per month, which includes 20 COVID tests per year (10 tests shipped at purchase and 10 more shipped after 180 days) and telehealth supervision. You’ll also need to buy the Cue Reader, which costs $149 if you have the membership. Membership will also get you 24/7 virtual access to doctors and 20 percent off additional COVID tests and Cue Readers.
Where to Purchase: The membership is available on Cue’s website.
How it Works: The test uses the Cue Cartridge Reader (a small device that must be charged ahead of time) and a Cue Test Cartridge (which must be preheated ahead of time). After you’ve charged the Cue Cartridge Reader, insert the Cue Test Cartridge into the reader to preheat. Download the Cue Health app and follow the instructions to be connected to a telehealth service and take the test, which involves collecting the sample using a nasal swab and inserting the swab into the pre-heated Cue Cartridge and the Cartridge into the Reader.
Results will be ready in the app in about 20 minutes.
Important note for travel: According to Cue, you must be in an environment from 59 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit when taking the test, which could be tricky if you are traveling to a hot or cold destination.
COVID Tests for Travel FAQ
Do I Need a PCR Test for Travel?
The CDC states, “You must be tested with a viral test that could be either an antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). Examples of available NAATs for SARS-CoV-2 include but are not restricted to reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP), transcription-mediated amplification (TMA), nicking enzyme amplification reaction (NEAR), and helicase-dependent amplification (HDA).”
Can I Use a Rapid COVID Test for Travel?
Rapid COVID tests, like the ones listed above, are acceptable for travel if they meet the criteria outlined by the CDC.
What COVID Tests Are Accepted for Hawaii Travel?
Fully-vaccinated travelers do not need a pre-travel test to visit Hawaii. (However, the vaccination record document must be uploaded to the Safe Travels site, and travelers must also have a hard copy of the vaccine documentation ready to present upon arrival in Hawaii.)
Domestic travelers from the U.S. who are unvaccinated must have a negative result from a test taken by one of the state of Hawaii’s Trusted Testing and Travel Partners. The test must have been taken no more than 72 hours before beginning the final leg of their trip.
Does Insurance Cover COVID Testing for Travel?
Check with your insurance provider directly to find out what your policy covers. Most insurance companies will only cover COVID tests that have been ordered by a physician (due to the patient having symptoms or a known exposure). However, beginning in January 2022, private health insurance will be required to cover at-home COVID tests, according to a new plan announced by President Biden. It’s unclear if COVID tests for travel will be covered under the new rule.
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