How to Order Your Free COVID Tests From the Government

covid-19 at home test mail order

Verywell Health / Laura Porter

Key Takeaways

  • Families can now order free at-home COVID tests online.
  • There are other options to get tested beyond using an at-home test.
  • Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to prevent severe illness and hospitalizations.

Americans can now order their fourth round of free at-home COVID tests from a government website called This time, each household will receive four tests.

While the free test program was suspended in September due to lack of funds from Congress, the renewed effort is part of the Biden Administration's plan to stave off winter COVID cases that may stem from indoor holiday gatherings. Testing ahead of a gathering gives you the opportunity to know your COVID status regardless of symptoms, and to stay home if you test positive.

Gigi Gronvall, PhD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said these tests serve as another option for families in addition to other COVID safety initiatives, like free tests distributed at schools and community health centers.

“I hope people remember a billion tests, adding manufactures, more testing sites, and giving tests to schools—all of these kinds of measures may not be perfect, but there should be a lot more tests freely available in the coming weeks,” Gronvall told Verywell.

Here’s everything we know so far about the tests and rollout.

How Do I Get My Test?

Americans can order free at-home COVID-19 tests online at Just like during the original free rapid test rollout a year a go, households will receive four tests each. In the spring and summer, Americans were able to order eight tests per household while testing supply outpaced demands.

The administration also launched a phone number—1-800-232-0233—so those who do not have access to a computer or the internet can still place orders.

People ordering tests will have to enter their name and mailing address on the website and will have the option to share an email address to get updates on their order. No credit card information is needed.

Jeromie Ballreich, PhD, a health economist and assistant scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the website may crash if tremendous interest returns.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think the government website will have much prioritization—there might be some identification for priorities, but one of the issues we don’t have is a top-down approach for identifying high-risk groups or directing resources to these high-risk groups,” Ballreich told Verywell.

Who Can Get the At-Home COVID-19 Tests? 

The COVID-19 at-home tests will be free for every household as stated by the White House.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people use an at-home test if they experience COVID symptoms, if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or ahead of an indoor gathering, regardless of symptoms or potential exposure.

What Will the Rollout Look Like and When Can I Expect My Test?

All at-home COVID-19 tests will be mailed directly to American households based on the address entered on the orders website. Tests will typically ship within 7–12 days after an order is placed online or over the phone. 

The administration is working with the United States Postal Service to package and deliver tests to Americans who placed an order. All shipments in the continental U.S. will be sent through First Class Package Service and shipments to Alaska, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories will be sent through Priority Mail.

What If I’m Unhoused Or Don’t Have a Mailing Address? 

Gronvall said people who don’t have a mailing address should work with their local health department and community centers and community testing sites where free testing is most likely provided. Free tests will also be available at schools and food banks.

“It’s really important to partner with local public health departments and to work with those who are underserved. People who do not have a home may seek ways to get tested at the library or even schools,” Gronvall said. “For example, in Baltimore, the health department teamed up with the library to give out free tests—they were able to give out tests for hours."

What Kind of Test Can I Expect?

All at-home COVID-19 tests distributed by the government will be rapid antigen tests that have been granted an Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to Gronvall, rapid tests look for antigens or proteins of COVID-19. The test returns results very quickly—many within 15 minutes, and others within an hour.

“PCR tests are super sensitive, meaning they can pick up small amounts of viral genetic material on the early side of infection, but people have taken the rapid antigen test as a better proxy for infectiousness,” said Gronvall. “PCR and rapid antigen tests are closely correlated so people should feel confident using the rapid antigen test.”

PCR Tests
  • Polymer chain reaction (PCR) tests are considered the gold standard for COVID testing in the U.S.

  • Typically performed in a laboratory or healthcare setting, though at-home collection kits are available, which can then be shipped to a lab.

  • Examine microscopic pieces of a virus’s genetic material, allowing for almost perfect accuracy.

  • Lab analysis can take hours or days.

Rapid Antigen Tests
  • Rapid antigen tests allow for quicker testing.

  • Most COVID test kits that allow you to both collect your sample and see your results at home use rapid tests.

  • Examine pieces of the viral proteins in a virus as opposed to its genetic material. This makes them slightly less accurate, especially if you don’t have symptoms.

  • Can give results in 10 minutes to an hour.

But Gronvall warns when tests are taken, it’s only a snapshot of a moment in time. People have to be aware in the first hours or days of exposure that there might not be enough virus in the body to trigger a positive result on a rapid or PCR test.

“With COVID tests, if you get a negative, it only speaks to that moment in time and not necessarily what’s going to happen the next day,” Gronvall said.

Are the Tests Really Free and Who Is Paying for Them?

All at-home COVID tests ordered via are free—and funds are coming from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021.

According to a summary of the bill, it "provides $48.3 billion for testing in order to contain the virus and mitigate its effects, hire staff for contact tracing, provide [personal protective equipment] for frontline health workers, and take other steps to combat the virus.”

“There’s a lot of money from ARPA that has gone to schools to update their ventilation systems and upgrade their testing programs, and this is part of the same bucket of funds,” said Gronvall.

How Else Can I Get Tested for COVID-19?

If you don’t have access to an at-home COVID-19 test, there are other ways to get tested—including with your healthcare provider, your local health department, or a community testing site in your state near you. 

If you have health insurance, your plan should also now reimburse the bulk of the cost of at-home tests.

"Tests are fantastic but by themselves, it’s not the only thing that will end the pandemic," Gronvall said. “Ultimately, vaccination is where it’s at and we need to vaccinate the world."

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The White House. Fact sheet: the Biden Administration to begin distributing at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests to Americans for free.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19: self-testing.

  3. The White House. Background press call on the rollout of 500 million free tests to American homes.

  4. Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Treasury. FAQs about Affordable Care Act implementation part 51, Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act implementation.

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.