It took nearly two years of living through the Covid-19 pandemic to get our first round of free at-home rapid tests. Now, we're on our third. Every household in the United States—including US territories and military addresses—can request four more free tests. Orders start shipping this week. If you need a test right now, we have a guide to finding the best at-home tests and have outlined the process of ordering and taking tests below. Also, see our guides to the best N95 masks and other reusable masks we like. You can follow our Covid-19 coverage here.
Updated December 2022: Another round of tests is now available, and we've added details.
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Head directly to the US Postal Service’s Covid-19 page. If you go through CovidTests.gov, on the front page you should see “Order Free At-Home Tests” in a blue bubble. Clicking that redirects you to the right USPS page. There, you'll fill out your name and address. Include your email address so you can get shipping notifications. Once you've filled in your address, click the green Check Out Now button to the right. It's completely free, including shipping. Only one person per household should place a request.
If you'd rather place an order by phone or you know someone who doesn't have access to the internet, you can call a helpline at 1-800-232-0233, though you will likely be on hold for a while. Don't call USPS, as no one you speak to will be able to place orders on your behalf.
The first round of tests took several weeks to arrive, but the second round arrived within a few days. There's no guarantee as to what brand you'll be getting, and you can't choose, but the site says these are Food and Drug Administration–authorized at-home rapid antigen tests. You'll likely receive the iHealth tests we recommend.
You should take a test as soon as you start to notice symptoms or within five days of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If you're asymptomatic and your first test is negative, take another test based on the manufacturer's instructions. This is usually within two to three days of the first test—most tests come with two tests per box for this reason. If your test is positive, take another test to verify it and quarantine for five days.
Do You Need a Test Right Now?
If you need a test ASAP, please check our guide on Rapid At-Home Covid-19 Tests and Where to Find Them. It also has more information about accuracy. Rapid tests usually show results in about 15 minutes, and they're about 85 percent accurate.
The Tests We Recommend (see our guide for more retailers). Preliminary results show that the starred tests can better detect the Omicron variant:
★ Abbott BinaxNow Antigen Rapid Self-Test Kit for $24★ FlowFlex Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test for $10★ QuickVue At-Home OTC Covid-19 Test Kit for $26Intrivo Diagnostics On/Go Antigen Self-Test for $20iHealth Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test for $18BD Veritor Digital Test Kit for $24InteliSwab Rapid Antigen Home Test Kit for $18Ellume Covid-19 Home Test for $25Clinitest Rapid Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test for $26Common Problems When Using the Site
Even though the government had two years to figure out this plan, it is not without bugs. Hopefully, you'll be able to complete your request in minutes. But here are a few common problems we've seen.
Do You Live in an Apartment or a Live-Work Space?
During the first round, many apartment dwellers found themselves unable to request tests because their multi-unit building was classified as a single residence. If anyone in the entire building placed an order for tests, the system thought they were requesting more than the allotted number per household.
This should be resolved, but if you find this happening again, file a service request here. You may be able to resolve the issue by making sure your address is entered accurately using the USPS’ zip code search. You can also try entering your apartment's unit number in the same box as your address instead of the Apt / Suite / Other box. The same issue happened for those who reside in a live-work building, which is common in the San Francisco Bay Area. The system sees these addresses as businesses and won't ship tests to the location. You'll need to file a service request.
Do You Have More Than Four People in Your House?
If you've used all your tests or you just have a bigger family, you're out of luck when it comes to a free at-home kit. You can purchase more if you need them You might be able to get your health insurance provider to reimburse you, so save those receipts.
Are You Homeless?
These tests are sent to valid residential addresses and residential PO boxes only. One of the FAQs asks if tests can be picked up at another location or held at the USPS, and the answer is, unfortunately, no. If you're homeless, reach out to your local health social service agency to find a free test.
What About Free Masks?
In January 2022, President Biden said 400 million free N95 masks would be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers. You can use this tool from the CDC to see if there's a retailer with free masks in your area. If you can't find any for free, we have a few guides for face mask recommendations that should help keep you protected.
If you've consistently followed the CDC’s recommendations, you know they have changed several times over the course of the pandemic. N95s are the best bet to keep you and those around you safe—we have more on the types of masks and their effectiveness in the N95 guide—but, as the CDC says, any mask is better than no mask.
Vaccinations and Boosters
Being vaccinated won't stop you from getting Covid-19, but it could alleviate the worst and most dangerous symptoms. We recommend getting vaccinated if you haven't already, and if you have, get a booster shot. Vaccines.gov should help you find somewhere near you with vaccines available—a search of my zip code showed 50 places within six miles.