Testing.com is fully supported by readers. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. You can read more about how we make money here.

  • Also Known As:
  • At-Home Molecular COVID-19 Test
Board approved icon
Medically Reviewed by Expert Board.

This page was fact checked by our expert Medical Review Board for accuracy and objectivity. Read more about our editorial policy and review process.

This article was last modified on

LetsGetChecked Banner

Test Quick Guide

COVID-19 is an everyday conversation that has arguably become “the new flu” during the past couple of years. For many, it altered the way we socialize, shop, learn, and work. While restrictions have eased up, there are up-and-down spikes, and at-home testing is integral for staying healthy and stopping the spread.

COVID-19 is the illness caused by infection with the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. There are several ways to test for COVID-19. One of them is a PCR test, which is a type of molecular test to identify an active infection with SARS-CoV-2.

PCR tests use a technique called reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to detect the virus’s genetic material. The test sample is usually saliva or a swab taken from your nose or throat.

“An at-home PCR test has a higher degree of accuracy than an antigen test,” says David Culpepper, M.N., an internal medicine doctor based in Kentucky with LifeMD.

Different options exist for at-home PCR testing. At-home collection kits involve taking a sample at home and sending it to a laboratory for analysis. Self-tests include a device for analyzing your sample rapidly at home without the need to mail it to a lab.

“You might opt for an at-home PCR test in certain circumstances, such as if you have been exposed to someone who is positive for COVID-19 or before spending time with someone who is vulnerable to it, such as the elderly or immunocompromised,” Dr. Culpepper says.

PCR tests are more sensitive than antigen tests, says Abigail Kang of Pangea Laboratory, a CLIA-certified, CAP-approved lab that performs PCR tests. “At-home PCR testing is a convenient way to get highly accurate results,” she says.

The Best At-Home COVID-19 PCR Tests Compared

Test Price Type Tests for: Results in: Insurance accepted? Who should use it:
LetsGetChecked – Coronavirus Test (COVID-19)best overall $109 (Save 20% with code TESTING20) Self-collection nasal swab COVID-19 1 to 2 days after sample is received No Anyone who wants to confirm a positive or negative COVID-19 diagnosis without going to the doctor.
Health Testing Centers SalivaDirect Testbest for travel certification $129 Self-collection saliva COVID-19 2 to 3 days after sample is received No Anyone who wants to confirm a positive or negative COVID-19 diagnosis without going to the doctor.
Everlywell – COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kitbest for ease of use $109 Self-collection nasal swab COVID-19 1 to 2 days after sample is received No Anyone who wants to confirm a positive or negative COVID-19 diagnosis without going to the doctor.

About At-Home COVID-19 PCR Tests

Purpose of at-home Covid-19 PCR tests

The purpose of an at-home PCR test is to determine if you have an active infection with SARS-CoV-2. This testing can play a role in the diagnosis, screening, and monitoring of COVID-19.

  • Diagnosis is checking for a disease when symptoms have already appeared. For COVID-19, laboratory-based PCR tests are commonly used for diagnosis. An at-home test may help in diagnosis, but your doctor may want to do another PCR to confirm the result from a test taken at home.
  • Screening is testing for a disease when no symptoms have appeared. An at-home PCR may be used in this way when someone has had a potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
  • Monitoring is a way of observing the progression of disease. For COVID-19, repeat PCR tests may be used to determine if a person still shows signs of active infection.

Your doctor is in the best position to describe the purpose as well as the potential benefits and drawbacks of a PCR, at-home PCR, or other type of test for COVID-19. “The gold standard for a COVID test would be to have your test administered by a doctor since human error can be a factor and a doctor is much less likely to make an error in administering the test,” Dr. Culpepper says.

That said, an at-home PCR test for COVID-19 is convenient and can make verifying your health easier. “For travel to certain countries, a certified PCR test may be required,” Kang says, citing an example of when at-home testing can provide proof of good health without the hassle of a doctor’s visit.

What do the tests measure?

An at-home PCR test measures whether your sample includes components of the genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The PCR testing technique is part of a group of molecular tests known as nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs). These tests make many copies of the genetic material found in your test sample and then analyze those copies for traces of the virus. As a result of this copying process, even very small amounts of the virus’s genetic material can be detected.Check to see if the test is ranked by the FDA’s SARS-CoV2 Reference Panel, Kanga suggests. Labs analyzing the tests should be CLIA-certified at the very least.

How do at-home Covid-19 PCR tests work?

There are not strict guidelines for when you should do at-home PCR testing for COVID-19.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should talk to your doctor promptly. Your doctor can recommend the most appropriate type of diagnostic testing.

A PCR test may be used for COVID-19 screening in people without symptoms, but it is important to note that a laboratory-based test may be preferred or required in some cases. Examples of situations in which screening may be used include:

  • After close contact with a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2
  • After being in a high-risk situation such as a large gathering
  • If you work or live in nursing homes, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, or other shared living environments
  • Before surgery or other medical procedures
  • Before starting medications that can affect your immune system
  • Before traveling, returning to work, or engaging in other activities that require proof of a negative test for COVID-19

For an at-home PCR test that requires a prescription, you will need to talk with your doctor to determine if the test is appropriate in your case.

For at-home tests without a prescription, you may buy and take the test voluntarily. However, if you need the test for a specific purpose, such as to travel, you should confirm beforehand that at-home test results will be accepted.

Which at-home Covid-19 PCR test should you choose?

The market is expanding with options for at-home COVID-19 PCR testing, and before you buy one off the shelf, be sure that it is CLIA-certified. Self-collection tests are analyzed by a lab and therefore more accurate than the rapid antigen tests that give you results at home in about 15 minutes. When selecting an at-home self-collection COVID-19 PCR test, find out whether shipping is included, how quickly you’ll get results, and how those results will be delivered to you. Some kits provide an itemized receipt you can submit to your health insurance.

Benefits and Downsides of At-Home Covid-19 PCR Tests

There are several different types of COVID-19 tests, and each has potential benefits and downsides. Being aware of these pros and cons can help select the right test in your situation.

Some of the principal benefits of at-home PCR testing include:

  • Convenience: You can obtain the test sample at your own home and on your own schedule. For at-home self-tests, you can also get results without having to wait for laboratory processing.
  • Maintain social distancing: By taking the test sample yourself, you avoid the need to go to a medical office or testing site and reduce contact with others, including frontline medical workers.
  • Reduced discomfort with saliva sample: Many at-home tests utilize a saliva sample, which often involves less discomfort than testing that requires swabbing your nose or throat.
  • Option for rapid test results: If you have a self-test kit that includes a device to analyze your sample, you will normally have results within 30 minutes.

Possible downsides of at-home PCR testing include:

  • Risk of sample contamination: When collecting a test specimen yourself, there is a risk of accidentally contaminating the sample or otherwise preparing it incorrectly. If the sample is not properly collected, test accuracy may be affected.
  • Potential for reduced test accuracy: In general, rapid tests are somewhat less accurate than laboratory-based tests, although both are generally reliable.
  • Repeat testing may be required: In some cases, a doctor may want to confirm an at-home test with a second test that is processed by a medical laboratory. An at-home test is not always accepted in situations that may require a negative test, such as to return to work or travel to another country.
  • May not be covered by insurance: If your at-home test is not prescribed by your doctor, you will likely have to pay for its full cost.

The Best At-Home Covid-19 PCR Tests

There are many different types of at-home COVID-19 PCR tests available. The following sections provide information about top picks for at-home STD testing:

Methodology

At-home COVID-19 PRC tests were reviewed based on value, convenience, and availability of tests. These overall factors are based on data including price, insurance acceptance, comprehensiveness of tests, and how quickly you can get results and speak to a doctor. COVID-19 PCR test selections have been screened by Testing.com’s Medical Review Board.

Best Overall

LetsGetChecked – Coronavirus Test (COVID‑19)

LetsGetChecked Banner

Price: $109 (Save 20% with code TESTING20)
Type: Self-collection
Sample: Lower nasal swab
Tests for: COVID-19
Results timeline: 1 to 3 days after sample is collected
Accuracy: Analysis by TMA at a CLIA-certified lab
Accepts insurance: No
Physician follow up: Nurse support line
Prescriptions offered: No

The LetsGetChecked Coronavirus Test is ideal for people who need a clear negative test report and have five or more working days before travel to conduct their molecular COVID-19 test.

The Coronavirus Test is a self-collection test, which means you obtain the test sample at home and send it to a lab for analysis. You will receive the test kit within 24-48 hours after you have placed your order. You then collect your sample by swabbing the lower part of your nostril.

All shipping charges are included, and your test kit comes with a prepaid rapid shipping label to quickly get your sample to LetsGetChecked’s laboratory. You will get text and email updates at each step of the process to keep you informed about the results time frame.

Analysis of your nasal swab is done using transcription-mediated amplification (TMA), a type of sensitive NAAT. It is usually completed in 24-72 hours after the sample is received by the lab. All analyses take place in a CLIA-certified laboratory that meets federal standards for quality lab testing.

When your results are ready, they are sent to a secure online account where you can download and print an official lab report for travel. If you test positive or have any questions about your test result, you can set up a call with the company’s nurse support line.

LetsGetChecked also provides you with an itemized receipt that makes it easier for you to submit reimbursement forms to your health insurance, employer, or another entity that may help pay for your testing

What’s great about LetsGetChecked’s COVID-19 PCR Test? What’s not so great?
  • Text and email updates at each step of the process
  • Nurse support line
  • Itemized receipt provided for submitting to insurance company
  • Allow 5 or more working days for process
  • Some people may prefer a saliva test vs. this test’s lower nasal swab

Why is LetsGetChecked’s COVID-19 test the best overall?

This test checks all the boxes for lab accuracy, including CLIA certification and using transcription-mediated amplification (TMA). With the discount, it is less cost prohibitive than others and you can submit a receipt to your insurer.

Who should use LetsGetChecked’s at-home Covid-19 PCR test?

Anyone who wants accurate results without going into a doctor’s office.

Best for Travel Certification

Health Testing Centers – COVID-19 Salivadirect PCR Active Infection Kit

Health Testing Centers – COVID-19 Salivadirect PCR Active Infection Kit

Price: $129
Type: Self-collection
Sample: saliva
Tests for: COVID-19
Results timeline: 24 to 36 hours after lab receives sample
Accuracy: CLIA certified lab
Accepts insurance: No
Physician follow up: No
Prescriptions offered: No

The Health Testing Centers Salivadirect test detects SARS-CoV-2 with a sample of your saliva, which can be more agreeable to some than using a swab to collect a nasal sample. It’s convenient if you have upcoming travel that requires a PCR test or if you simply want peace of mind. Once you order the kit, it ships to you in less than four business days, so plan ahead since you will need to send the test back to the lab, allow for that shipping time, and allow for up to 36 hours for the lab to process your results. This is a typical time frame.

As for accuracy, this test is dual-plexed RT-qPCR and was created by Yale University. It has a EUA through the FDA and testing is performed in a CLIA-approved lab. You should not buy a test that does not have this certification. The test has a 100% clinical specificity and 94% clinical sensitivity.

You can order the test online and you select the lab. The company will not bill your insurance but provides an itemized receipt you can submit if you choose. After you buy the test, you’ll get an email with your lab requisition. You bring the form to the lab. Or, you can have the at-home test delivered to your door. The kit includes a saliva collection device, test requisition form, and shipping supplies. Be sure to ship the kit back via UPS overnight.

Overall, this test is quick, simple, and the company is easy to work with and offers convenient customer support if you have questions.

What’s great about Health Testing Centers’ COVID-19 PCR Test? What’s not so great?
  • Noninvasive saliva collection
  • CLIA-certified lab
  • You can choose the lab
  • Allow four business days to receive the kit
  • No refunds once you make a purchase

Why is Health Testing Centers’ test best for travel?

The noninvasive collection process makes testing at home simple and you can get accurate results from a certified lab that provides proof for travel.

Who should use Health Testing Centers’ at-home Covid-19 PCR test?

Anyone who wants accurate at-home results for COVID-19 for travel, work, or peace of mind.

Easiest to Use

Everlywell – COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC

Everlywell – COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC

Price: $109
Type: Self-collection
Sample: Lower nasal
Tests for: COVID-19
Results timeline: 1 to 2 days
Accuracy: CLIA-certified lab
Accepts insurance: No
Physician follow up: No
Prescriptions offered: No

The Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit is both affordable and easy to use. Free shipping of the test kit to your home is included in the price, although you can opt for expedited shipping at an additional cost. Either way, the kit will arrive with everything you need to prepare your sample.

The sample collection does not require pushing the swab deeply into your nostril, but simply swabbing the lower portion of the nostril, avoiding the discomfort that can occur with some other COVID-19 testing kits.

Once you have taken the swab, you package it according to the instructions and apply a prepaid rapid shipping label. This package usually reaches Everlywell’s lab in one to two business days after you send it, which is faster than some other at-home PCR tests.

This FDA-authorized test is completed in a CLIA-certified lab using RT-PCR methods.

Everlywell provides results through their website using a clear and straightforward interface. If you test positive, you will be contacted by a member of Everlywell’s support team, who will explain what the result means and walk you through the appropriate next steps to avoid spreading the virus to others.

Everlywell also provides an itemized receipt for people seeking reimbursement but it will not directly bill your insurance.

What’s great about Everlywell’s COVID-19 PCR Test? What’s not so great?
  • Faster results timeline than others
  • Nurse support line if you test positive
  • CLIA-certified lab for accurate results
  • Nasal swab can be too invasive for some
  • If you want expedited shipping you’ll pay extra

Why is Everlywell’s COVID-19 test easiest to use?

The website provides straightforward instructions and results are faster than some at-home test kits.

Who should use Everlywell’s at-home Covid-19 PCR test?

If you want a quick, easy to use test to confirm a positive or negative COVID-19 diagnosis.

Interpreting At-Home Test Results

The results of an at-home COVID-19 test will usually be reported as either positive or negative.

A positive test means that there were components of the virus’s genetic material found in your sample. If you test positive, take precautions to quarantine and avoid putting others at risk of infection. You should contact your doctor to find out if any other steps are necessary. You or your doctor may need to contact the local health department that tracks the number of COVID-19 cases in your area.

A negative test means that no traces of SARS-CoV-2 were identified in your sample. While this means that no active infection was found, it does not guarantee that you do not have COVID-19. If you take the test too soon after exposure to the virus, you may test negative despite the presence of an infection.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should contact your doctor even if you have a negative result on an at-home test. In addition, it is important to maintain precautions like wearing a mask, washing your hands, and avoiding close contact or large gatherings regardless of your test result.

Are test results accurate?

In general, at-home PCR tests are effective at determining whether or not you have an active infection with SARS-CoV-2. However, like any test, they are not perfect and are not always accurate.

At-home PCR tests for COVID-19 have only recently been developed, so in-depth studies of their accuracy relative to laboratory-based tests are limited. Early studies, though, have found these tests to be generally accurate but in some cases less precise than laboratory testing.

In both the laboratory and at-home, the accuracy of test results can depend on the type of sample that is taken, proper collection of that sample, and the technology used to detect the genetic material of the virus.

Do I need follow-up tests? 

Whether you need any follow-up tests will depend on the reason for testing and your test result. If you test positive and have symptoms, you may need another PCR test that is done by a laboratory in order to confirm the diagnosis of COVID-19. Depending on your symptoms, other tests may be used to evaluate your health.

If you test positive but do not have symptoms, it may be sufficient to quarantine without the need for any other testing. However, you should discuss this situation with your doctor to determine the most appropriate next steps.

If you test negative, you often do not need any further tests. In some cases, though, a follow-up test performed by a laboratory may be required.

Questions for your doctor after at-home testing

If you’ve recently taken an at-home test for COVID-19, it can be helpful to discuss your results with your physician. Some of the following questions may be useful when talking to your doctor.

  • Is the test that I took reliable?
  • Do I need any follow-up tests?
  • Based on my test results, what measures or precautions should I be taking to protect myself or others from the virus?

Related Tests

Many types of COVID-19 tests have been developed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The following sections help explain how at-home PCR testing compares to some of these options.

How does laboratory and at-home PCR testing for COVID-19 compare?

At-home PCR tests use a similar type of sample and technology to detect traces of the virus. Both approaches are typically accurate, although there may be some improvement in accuracy when testing is done in a laboratory rather than with rapid self-tests.

Other important differences include:

  • Sample collection: For traditional laboratory approaches, the sample is collected by a health care professional. For at-home tests, you collect your own test sample.
  • Testing equipment: Although they use the same technological approach, laboratory equipment can differ from the equipment for point-of-care tests.
  • Time to receive results: Most laboratories take one to three business days to do a PCR test. Self-test kits usually generate a result within 30 minutes.

How is an at-home PCR test different from a COVID-19 antigen test?

Like at-home PCR tests, antigen tests look for signs of an active infection with SARS-CoV-2. But these tests measure different things in order to determine whether you have COVID-19.

Antigens are proteins on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that the immune system recognizes in order to generate an immune response. An antigen test is designed to detect these markers of infection.

Antigen tests are normally performed with the same type of sample as a PCR, and rapid, at-home antigen tests are available. While usually accurate, antigen tests are normally considered to be somewhat less dependable than PCR tests. For that reason, in some situations the results of an antigen test may need to be confirmed by a PCR.

How is an at-home PCR test different from a COVID-19 antibody test?

ACOVID-19 antibody test looks for indications of a past infection with SARS-CoV-2. In this way, it is distinct from a PCR, which tries to detect a current infection.

Antibodies are proteins that are produced as part of the body’s immune response to viruses. These antibodies can be found in the blood, so a COVID-19 antibody test looks for antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 in a blood sample.

Sources

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. COVID-19 virus test. Updated February 7, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007769.htm

Caliendo AM, Hanson KE. COVID-19: Diagnosis. In: Hirsch MS, ed. UpToDate. Updated April 16, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/covid-19-diagnosis

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 testing overview. Updated March 17, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Test for current infection (viral test). Updated March 18, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/diagnostic-testing.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Self-testing. Updated April 15, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/self-testing.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs). Updated April 16, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/lab/naats.html

Kim AY, Gandhi RT. COVID-19: Management in hospitalized adults. In: Hirsch MS, ed. UpToDate. Updated March 24, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/covid-19-management-in-hospitalized-adults

McIntosh K. COVID-19: Epidemiology, virology, and prevention. In: Hirsch MS, ed. UpToDate. Updated March 31, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/covid-19-epidemiology-virology-and-prevention

Palmore TN, Smith BA. COVID-19: Infection control in health care and home settings. In: Sexton DJ, ed. UpToDate. Updated April 16, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/covid-19-infection-control-in-health-care-and-home-settings

UpToDate. COVID-19: Questions and answers. Updated April 19, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/covid-19-questions-and-answers

UpToDate. Patient education: COVID-19 overview (the basics). Date unknown. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/covid-19-overview-the-basics

US Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: FDA authorizes first COVID-19 test for self-testing at home. Updated November 17, 2020. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-authorizes-first-covid-19-test-self-testing-home

US Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: FDA issues authorization for first molecular non-prescription, at-home test. Updated March 5, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-issues-authorization-first-molecular-non-prescription-home-test

US Food and Drug Administration. Screening for COVID-19: Deciding which test to use when establishing testing programs. Updated March 16, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/coronavirus-covid-19-and-medical-devices/screening-covid-19-deciding-which-test-use-when-establishing-testing-programs

US Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: FDA issues emergency use authorization for the symbiotica COVID-19 self-collected antibody test system. Updated April 6, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-issues-emergency-use-authorization-symbiotica-covid-19-self

US Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus disease 2019 testing basics. Updated April 7, 2021. Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/coronavirus-disease-2019-testing-basics