Many of us would like to ensure we’re coronavirus-free before we travel. After all, nobody wants to infect Grandma or unknowingly spreading the virus to another state—or, even worse, a remote island. Thankfully, it’s recently become much easier to get quick Covid test results, no public-health clinic or testing site necessary.
A growing number of companies are enabling travelers to get test results within just a day or two of their departure date, via mail-in-kits, with no in-person appointments or car lines to worry about. While testing may not pick up a very recent infection, it’s a useful tool—especially if combined with a period of pre-trip self-isolation—for responsible travelers who aim to minimize our collective risk.
Such pre-trip Covid tests are now required by a few U.S. states and many foreign countries. Typically, to enter the state or country, you need to be able to show negative results from a Covid test taken within anywhere from 48 hours to 7 days of your arrival. Below are four of your best options for getting such a last-minute result; these are all RT-PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests that have received Emergency Use Authorizations from the F.D.A. and are performed in CLIA-certified labs. While Congress has stipulated that Covid tests be free when “medically necessary,” insurance companies are interpreting that differently and may or may not cover pre-travel testing.
Note that some destinations will not accept results from mail-in tests. Here are a few options for quick-turnaround in-person tests:
In New York: The Medical Offices of Manhattan performs PCR tests at their three locations, with results available in 24 to 48 hours if needed for travel. Patients must see a doctor there first; the office visit costs $199, and the test costs $85. The New York Center for Travel and Tropical Medicine offers PCR tests with same-day results; the test costs $295, and an official certificate for travel an additional $35.
In Los Angeles: Good Life Medical Services has drive-through PCR testing for $125, with results typically returned in 48 hours. Next-day results are available for an additional $125. Travelers with flights booked on Air Tahiti Nui receive a 10% discount.
In San Diego: US Specialty Labs does drive-through PCR testing for $85, with results in 24 to 48 hours; there is a $150 fee to guarantee a 24-hour turnaround.
The COVID Consultants
The price: $219 (+$15 if you need results returned on a Sunday)
The promise: Results are guaranteed in 48 hours from the time you mail in your sample; they are delivered via email, plus a phone call from a physician if you test positive.
The process: Fill out their form and The COVID Consultants will immediately send you a kit and an invoice. Once your kit arrives within five business days, you spit into a cup and send the sample to their lab via the included packaging for expedited shipping.
The price: $225, with a 10% discount on orders of 4 or more kits (+$15 if you need results returned on a Sunday)
The promise: Results are typically reported 24 to 36 hours after their lab receives your sample; they are communicated via text or phone call, as well as an email that you can print out for travel.
The process: Order a kit online by 3:00 p.m. CST on weekdays and ImmunitiRx will send it out via FedEx two-day shipping. Spit three to four times into the supplied cup, then deliver it to a FedEx DropBox for overnight shipping to the lab (box and shipping label provided).
Pixel by LabCorp
The price: $119 (but Pixel will bill your insurance upfront)
The promise: Their average turnaround time is 24 to 48 hours after their lab receives your sample.
The process: After you complete an eligibility survey (which currently allows individuals to receive tests without evidence of symptoms or exposure), you’ll receive a kit to collect your sample via a swab that is inserted in each nostril just until the tip disappears—not the “deep nasal swab” sometimes used in other Covid testing. Samples can be mailed any weekday to the lab via the included FedEx packaging.
The price: $150
The promise: Results are typically returned 48 to 72 hours after your sample arrives at their lab; you can elect to have them emailed to you, or opt to log in to Vault’s website to receive them.
The process: Receive your testing kit in the mail, then do a Zoom video call with a test supervisor (available without an appointment from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. EST Sunday through Thursday, and 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday), who will guide you through the process of saliva collection. Do not eat, drink, or chew gum for 30 minutes prior to collecting your sample. The kit includes prepaid materials for overnight shipping.
There are other companies that test by mail, including Everlywell and VitaGene, but they will currently send kits only to people who are showing symptoms and/or have been exposed to a known Covid-positive individual.
Tell us about your experience
If you’ve used one of these companies or gotten quick results elsewhere, we’d love to hear from you: Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about your experience.