These have FDA’s emergency use authorization.
The travel industry is slowly recovering after the COVID gut punch. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that nearly 2.5 million people in the country were screened on November 28, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This was the busiest day since February 15, 2020—though still 15% less than 2019’s numbers.
It’s predicted that the trend will continue through the holiday season. According to Allianz Partners, holiday travel will increase by 34% in 2021 compared to last year. The threat of the newly-detected Omicron variant is looming large and the next couple of weeks will decide whether it disrupts the Christmas season.
For now, the safest bets are getting booster shots, maintaining social distance, and wearing masks. And if you are traveling to be with family this holiday season, you should consider investing in home testing kits.
The FDA has approved over 400 tests and home collection kits. These include test-by-mail kits where samples are sent to labs and rapid test kits that give you results within 20 minutes. The chances of false negatives are high with self-test kits and you should follow the directions closely to avoid inaccurate results (check this CDC guide for self-testing). In addition, labs can reject your samples if they don’t meet their guidelines.
For international travelers, a good option is rapid test kits that don’t require results to be mailed. The CDC has allowed the use of self-test kits for travelers returning from an international vacation (provided the test offers a telehealth video call and has the FDA’s emergency use authorization). For extended travels and family reunions with unvaccinated or high-risk individuals, it makes sense to perform multiple tests before and after the trip. It’s possible that the new Omicron variant may not get detected with these tests, but you can still find out if you’re positive with any coronavirus variant.
Depending on where you’re going and when you’re using these at-home tests, there are many to choose from and we are highlighting different types of them. The country is witnessing a shortage of test kits, so plan ahead and stock up in advance. Also, don’t forget to check the expiration dates and make sure you pick the right test for international travel—not all can be used to gain entry into the country.
Note: Molecular COVID-19 tests are more sensitive to the virus than rapid antigen tests and can detect it at early stages. Consequently, they’re also more expensive.
Top Picks for You
Cue Health’s molecular COVID-19 test has the FDA’s emergency use authorization for at-home use and it’s available over-the-counter. The company promises results that are quick as rapid antigen tests and a study by the Mayo Clinic proved that it matches lab results with 97.8% accuracy. You need to take a nasal swab with a single-use Cue Wand and Cartridge and process it through the Cue Reader. You’ll get the result on your smartphone in 20 minutes.
The price is a bit steep, especially if you compare it with rapid antigen tests. A pack of three that includes the Cue Reader and COVID-19 tests is priced at $474. The company also offers membership options with 24/7 access to doctors, discounted COVID-19 tests, and the Cue Reader. With Complete membership worth $89.99 per month, you can fulfill the CDC’s requirement of supervised testing for international travel. You can buy it here.
THe Lucira Check It COVID-19 Test Kit is another molecular home test with 98% accurate results. It has the FDA’s emergency use authorization for self-collection for individuals above 14 years of age and adult collection for children between 2 and 13. Take a nasal swab and stir in the vial and you’ll get a result on the test unit in 30 minutes. Since this doesn’t involve telehealth supervision, it can’t be used to meet the international testing requirement set by the CDC, but it’s a great option for personal use during any family gatherings.
It costs $75 for a single-use kit. You can buy it here.
BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag At-Home Test Kit is a rapid antigen test that’s available over-the-counter online and has the FDA’s emergency use authorization. You don’t need to send the test results to a lab and a telehealth provider can walk you through the process on a video call. It’s convenient for travelers to use in other countries and meets the CDC’s testing requirement for international passengers.
Both symptomatic and asymptomatic people can use this test—15 and above can do it themselves and for children two and above, an adult can collect the sample. Results are processed in 15 minutes and sent to the NAVICA app used to initiate the process.
A test kit pack with six home tests costs $150. You can buy it here.
For travelers flying to a destination that requires a pre-arrival test, LetsGetChecked’s pre-flight home test is a good option. Order a kit online at least five working days before your departure. (Note that it isn’t suitable for airlines that have a 48-hour testing requirement.) You can self-collect your sample with a gentle nasal swab and send it to the lab using the prepaid shipping labels. The digital test results typically take 24-72 hours after arriving in the lab and a medical professional can take you through them. It’s a molecular diagnostic test and the company also offers a receipt for insurance reimbursement.
It costs $109 for the pre-flight test and lab report. You can buy it here.
The COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit by EverlyWell is a non-invasive, mail-to-lab test that gives results within 24-48 hours. You need to fill out a health survey, take a gentle nasal swab, and drop off the sample the same day. Digital results (with a printable version) are sent within two days and if you test positive, a free health consult is also offered. These results can also be used to fulfil a destination’s pre-arrival test requirement (but not the U.S.’s international testing requirement), but confirm before you order one.
You can get the kit for $109 ($81.75 with code GIVEMORE). You can buy it here.
Vault offers a supervised at-home testing kit that’s approved for U.S. mainland travel, as well as travel to Hawaii and Puerto Rico. You need to collect your sample under the supervision of a Vault executive and send your sample to a lab the same day using the provided shipping labels. Once Vault received the sample, test results are sent over email and are available within 24 hours.
The brand also offers testing outside the U.S. with an international shipping option. However, only the Dominican Republic and Jamaica have drop-off zones, and for Jamaica, you need a Jamaican Taxpayer Registration Number. It won’t be a preferred solution this month because the U.S. is tightening its testing timeline from three days to one day.
You can buy the saliva-based self-test kit for $90 for the domestic kit and $119 for the international kit. You can buy it here.