At-Home COVID Test for International Travel - Returning to the US

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Abbott Binax NOW at-home COVID test for international travel - I love it!
Abbott Binax NOW at-home COVID test for international travel - I love it!
I just completed my first at-home COVID test to travel back to the United States. Fast, easy, and cheaper than the other options available! Save time and money next time you travel.
COVID, COVID, COVID! It's part of the new travel-norm for the foreseeable future IF we can even travel at all. Many countries require a recent negative COVID test to enter the country, including citizens returning to their home country of the United States. How to keep it from becoming too big a pain in the ass? Oops, sorry, I mean ... How how to smoothly jump through this particular hoop?

The current regulation is that you must have a negative COVID test within 3 days of returning to the US. Coordinating a COVID test during the last 3 days of your trip can take up valuable time and money. Depending on where you are traveling from, you may have to drive an hour or more to get to a clinic and pay anywhere from $50 - $90 USD for a rapid antigen (not PCR) test. It's extra fun if you are traveling without your own vehicle and don't want to be unsafe and ride on public transportation due to COVID!

As with any new regulation, after the initial gouge, businesses start figuring out ways to make the process more convenient and economic. Some airports (such as SJO in Costa Rica) are now providing tests right there at the airport! You board a shuttle for a nearby swab-up-the-nose location and have your results emailed to you within an hour or so for a cost of $65 USD and about 2 hours of your time (you need to leave enough of a time buffer before your flight). In addition, the major airlines have actually partnered with COVID test manufacturers to make the whole process much less painful.

I'll just go ahead and ruin the surprise. I got a negative result! Yay!
I'll just go ahead and ruin the surprise. I got a negative result! Yay!

At-Home COVID-19 Test

So on my most recent trip back to the US, I tried something new; an at-home COVID test-in-a-box! In short, you self-administer the test while online live with a telehealth agent, then they email you the results or you get them on their associated mobile app.

The test I bought (and maybe all of them) must be mailed to a US address, so the idea is to order a test before you travel abroad, bring it along with you, and take the test before you fly home.

What You Need

  • An unopened at-home COVID test
  • A flat surface for the test contents
  • A stable internet connection
  • Approximately 30 minutes
  • Access to email or related app for results
Okay, here we go!
Okay, here we go!

The Testing Process

I found that (for no real reason) I was so nervous to take the at-home test that I kept putting it off until the day before I flew. Ugh! I wasn't nervous about the actual swab (I've had it before), but rather of screwing up the test, or losing Wi-Fi during the process, or the dog eating the package. Who knows.

So, being almost out of time, I trepidatiously logged on and started the process. I had one shot, gotta get it right.

For the test I bought (Abbott BinaxNOW), the box instructed me to download the NAVICA app, which I did. I created an account, scanned the QR code on the box and got to a stopping point where it told me I had to log on to eMed to start the testing session. I'm still a little confused by the different entities involved in a single test.

So now on my laptop, I logged on to eMed with my NAVICA login credentials. I clicked my way through to start the test after confirming that I had clean hands and my had ID handy. I felt more and more confident that I wasn't going to screw this up. Their process was great - nothing like trying to sign up for Obama Care! The site ran tests to check your device's audio, video, and network connection before moving forward.

I got a "You're up next!" screen and sure enough, within about 30 seconds, someone came on the line. The "certified guide" was friendly and clear about each step. One thing I didn't expect was that, for the majority of the test, my camera needed to be pointing at the test lying on a flat surface. So with a bit of laptop acrobatics, I managed the necessary angle.
I might have chosen a different setup had I known the camera only briefly had to show me taking the test. The rest was just pointed at the test card laying flat.
I might have chosen a different setup had I known the camera only briefly had to show me taking the test. The rest was just pointed at the test card laying flat.
I was trying to be a very good patient and follow the instructions without issue and of course I failed almost immediately when I couldn't get the box open! LOL. But step by step, I opened the card, held the teenie tiny QR code up to my camera, dropped 6 drops from the bottle into the top hole, swabbed my nose, stuffed the swab in the hole, and closed up the card. The process only took about 4 minutes, and I was ready to await my results. This little swab/card popsicle now held my flying future in its chemical "hands".

My personal telehealth agent told me to keep the camera pointed at the test during the 15 minute wait period, but he also said that if we got disconnected, that I could call the number on the screen to have someone read my test results. So maybe I didn't have to, but I kept the laptop tilted over the test for the duration.

The results come in the form of "1 line or 2" (yes, similar to a pregnancy test!).
My at-home COVID test kit. It's pretty simple really as long as you follow the instructions.
My at-home COVID test kit. It's pretty simple really as long as you follow the instructions.
After the 15 minute on-screen timer got to zero, I got the cheery "You're up next!" message. Almost right away a new gal came on to once again read the teenie tiny QR code and see the results. Whew - guess what - negative! Woo hoo - I didn't screw it up!

Within 15 minutes I had an email from eMed with a password-protected PDF containing my results, and I was also able to access the results on the NAVICA app. I never could find where NAVICA saved the QR pass image on my phone, but under the app Results, I could share/print so I saved a PDF.
Waiting ... don't touch the test!
Waiting ... don't touch the test!
Test complete!
Test complete!
Next step, I uploaded the PDF to United airlines for pre-approval in the Travel-Ready section of their site. It only took about 10 minutes to get the approval message from United after uploading my test results. When I checked in at the airport, they didn't even ask to see my test results since they were already uploaded and approved - so easy!

What Test to Buy

First of all, you have to be very particular about which test you buy. The tests at the drugstores WILL NOT WORK for international travel. Maybe local stores will start carrying the correct ones eventually, but right now, they do not. You need one that includes telehealth services (AKA video supervision), which so far I have only seen available online.

The safest way to get the correct test is to see if your airline has links on their website to their partner / approved tests. United has partnered with Abbott BinaxNOW which you can buy at eMed or Optum, while American Airlines has additional links to LetsGetChecked and Fit to Fly from Qured. That's not to say that the airlines won't accept other tests but it's all so new right now that there's very little concrete information. Given that the airlines accept printed results from any (accredited) podunk clinic that they know nothing about, you're probably safe with almost any of these major players.

There seem to be 4 parts to the test, with some overlap.
1) The manufacturer and test name (e.g. Abbott BinaxNOW)
2) The place you buy it from (e.g. eMed or Optum).
3) Who you do your online test with (e.g. eMed).
4) The corresponding app where you can get your results (e.g. NAVICA).

But none of that matters too much as long as you follow the links from the airlines to buy an appropriate test and then follow all the instructions.

Here are some examples of the different tests and current cost.

Abbott BinaxNOW with the NAVICA app

You can buy them at Optum for $69 for a 2-pack or $99 for a 3-pack.
You can buy a 6-pack at eMed for $150.
They claim it ships same day.

Fit to Fly (no app)

$59 from Qured

Ellume with the Azova app

$50 from Azova

LetsGetChecked home test (not packable)

This American Airlines approved test will set you back $119!
A screenshot from American Airlines website showing some approved COVID tests.
A screenshot from American Airlines website showing some approved COVID tests.
A screenshot from Delta Airlines website showing some approved COVID tests.
A screenshot from Delta Airlines website showing some approved COVID tests.
A screenshot from United Airlines website showing some approved COVID tests.
A screenshot from United Airlines website showing some approved COVID tests.

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