The Best At-Home Tests to Have in Your Carry-On While Traveling
The hottest travel accessory for 2022 is ... an antigen rapid test
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Gone are the days when carry-on must-haves were limited to frivolous items like eye masks, ear plugs and portable chargers. Now, frequent flyers are more likely to be found in possession of hand sanitizer, face masks and, if they’re especially COVID-savvy, an at-home rapid test that meets the requirements of wherever it is they’re headed.
That’s due in large part to the December 6 order from President Biden requiring anyone traveling internationally to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test — regardless of vaccination status or citizenship — no more than one day before arriving in the U.S. The tight turnaround time has made at-home tests even more essential where travel is involved, particularly as the lines at testing sites worldwide have continued to stretch longer in response to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
But, that said, not all at-home tests are created equal. While there are now legions of rapid test options on the market (granted, whether they’re in stock is another story), only a select few of them can be used for travel purposes.
Per the CDC’s most recent guidelines, to enter the U.S., an at-home test must satisfy the following requirements:
- It must be a SARS-CoV-2 viral test (nucleic acid amplification test [NAAT] or antigen test) with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the relevant national authority where the test is administered.
- The testing procedure must include a telehealth service affiliated with the manufacturer of the test that provides real-time supervision remotely through an audio and video connection. Some FDA-authorized self-tests that include a telehealth service may require a prescription.
- The telehealth provider must confirm your identity, observe the sample collection and testing procedures, confirm the test result and issue a report that meets the requirements of CDC’s Order.
- Airlines and other aircraft operators must be able to review and confirm your identity and the test result details. You must also be able to present the documentation of test results to U.S. officials at the port of entry and local/state health departments, if requested
Outside the U.S., testing requirements vary drastically from country to country. France, for example, only accepts PCR tests taken within 48 hours of arrival. Austria-bound travelers who’ve received their booster don’t have to test at all. Greece requires a negative laboratory rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours of arrival, which differs from the U.S.’s one-day period — an important distinction.
All of this to say: the devil is truly in the details. Below, a list of at-home tests that should meet some (most?) but certainly not all testing requirements that warrant a spot in your carry-on:
Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag At-Home
Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag is an at-home rapid test that ensures results in just 15 minutes. Utilizing proven “lateral flow” technology, which — similar to a pregnancy test — detects proteins in a COVID-positive individual, it’s one of the only FDA-authorized (for those aged four and up) on the market that doesn’t require a sample to be sent to a lab. It has a demonstrated sensitivity of 91.7 percent and specificity of 98.5 percent. The U.K., for example, requires a PCR test or a lateral flow device test that meets performance standards of at least 97 percent specificity and at least 80 percent sensitivity taken within two days of arrival. Further, it employs the NAVICA app, which connects you with a certified guide and, later, test results that can be stored, displayed and shared via your phone, meaning it fulfills the U.S. testing requirements, too.
Ellume COVID-19 Home Test
In a clinical study conducted in 2020, the Ellume at-home test correctly identified 96 percent of positive samples and 100 percent of negative samples in individuals with symptoms and 91 positive of positive samples and 96 percent of negative samples in individuals without symptoms. Suitable for people over the age of two and available for purchase at CVS, Amazon, Target and Walmart, the Ellume test guarantees results in 15 minutes and, thanks to a partnership with Azova video observation services, allows you entry to the U.S. as well as any other country that accepts rapid antigen tests. Unlike with Abbott’s BinaxNOW test, however, the test and the video observation are sold separately, and the latter must be purchased and scheduled via the Azova website in advance. Following the conclusion of the observation, your validated results and your “COVID Credential” from Azova are forwarded on to you, at which point you can share them with your airline.
On/Go at-Home COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Self-Test
The On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test is another FDA-authorized test that utilizes Azova to provide the option of a proctored test. Guaranteeing results with 95 percent accuracy in 10 minutes, On/Go is available to purchase directly from Azova, Walmart, on Amazon or at a handful of pharmacies, and each box comes with two tests. Like with Ellume, though, the video observation services still must be purchased in advance and scheduled on the Azova website. Once your results are in, they’re sent and stored in the On/Go companion app. Then you’re free to travel … assuming they’re negative.
Qured’s Video Supervised Rapid Test
FDA-authorized and suitable for travel to and from the U.K. and the U.S., Qured was selected as British Airways’ at-home test of choice in March of 2021. Similar to Ellume and BinaxNOW, Qured is supervised over video call (which, again, after receiving and registering your test, you will need to schedule) by a trained health advisor, so you’ll need access to a device that has a camera and web browser. After your results are verified, you’ll be provided with an official travel certificate, which is also compatible with VeriFLY for easy check-in. But while they do offer expedited services for when you’re in a pinch, you may have to wait up to two hours for a copy of your results, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Cue Health At-Home Test
Designed for use in symptomatic and asymptomatic adults and children two years and older, the Cue health test is touted as being the first molecular diagnostic test for over-the-counter use and boasts, per studies conducted at the Mayo clinic, PCR equivalent accuracy with certified results guaranteed in just 20 minutes. But the argument could be made that Cue is geared more toward the frequent flier, since it functions as a membership, the base tier of which will run you $50 a month. It’s the Cue+ Complete membership, however, that comes with the CDC-compliant, supervised COVID-19 testing option … which costs a cool $90 a month by contrast. That said, the lofty price tag — in addition to the supervised testing — also earns you 20 COVID tests a year, 24/7 access to virtual care, E-prescription services and free same-day delivery in select markets.
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