As you’ve no doubt heard or experienced, you need a negative antigen COVID test taken no earlier than the calendar day before your flight to board a flight to the USA. In my recent travels I’ve seen people paying $200-$400 for a rapid test at the airport, or about half that for a test at their hotel. You don’t need to do that, and even better you don’t need to have a technician in a sterile room in a foreign country give you a brain tickle to get your test either.

There are two cheap, convenient options that I’ve used, both of which require essentially swirling a q-tip around the lowest part of your nose five times on your own schedule in the comfort of your own room while a proctor watches on your phone or webcam:

  1. FlowFlex tests ($9.99 at CVS, or possibly free from USPS if you’re lucky) with AZOVA proctoring ($20, can be scheduled ahead of time in 8 minute increments) UPDATE: Dr. Jay notes that other over the counter tests are eligible for AZOVA proctoring too, the list of tests is here.
  2. eMed BinaxNOW tests ($150 for a six pack, and it includes proctoring that can’t currently be scheduled ahead of time, but waits to complete a test are minimal)

With both of these, you’ll either use a laptop or a mobile phone application to make a video call to a proctor. The proctor will walk you through performing the test while watching via your webcam, you’ll wait 15 minutes for the test to complete, and then you’ll either take a picture or reconnect to a proctor to read the COVID result.

When you’re done, both services will email you a certified PDF of your test results suitable for getting into the US. In my experience a digital copy of the PDF is all I’ve ever needed, but if you have access to a printer it can’t hurt to have a physical backup I suppose, especially for airlines that haven’t yet figured out how to issue a mobile boarding pass.

One final note, the eMed BinaxNOW test packaging is rather unfortunately large: It’s about the size of a bulky journal. The FlowFlex packaging is much smaller though, about the size of a cell phone external battery. I typically pack two of them in my luggage before I leave the US with the extra one as a backup, though so far I haven’t ever needed the second.

Good luck!

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.