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It took nearly two years of living through the Covid-19 pandemic to get free at-home tests. Now, every household in the United States can request eight more free tests—including US territories and military addresses. Each household can request up to three times in total, so if you only got the initial four, you can now fill out the form twice.

If you need a test right now, we have a guide to finding the best at-home tests and have outlined the process of ordering and taking tests below. Also, see our guides to the best N95 masks and other reusable masks we like. You can follow the rest of our Coronavirus coverage here 

Updated May 2022: You can now request eight more tests per household. We’ve updated this guide with info.

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Here’s How to Order Your Tests

Head directly to the United States Postal Service’s Covid-19 page. If you go through, on the front page you should see “Order Free At-Home Tests” in a blue bubble. Clicking that redirects you to the right USPS page. There, you’ll fill out your name and address. Include your email address so you can get shipping notifications. Once you’ve filled in your address, click the green “Check Out Now” button to the right. Don’t worry, it’s completely free, including shipping. Only one person per household should place a request.

If you’d rather place an order by phone or you know someone who doesn’t have access to the internet, like an elderly relative, you can call the helpline at 1-800-232-0233. Be warned that you will probably be on hold for a while. Don’t call the USPS, as no one you speak to will be able to place orders on your behalf.

The last tests we ordered took several weeks to arrive, so we recommend ordering them now and keeping them on hand until you need one. This batch will arrive in two packages. There’s no guarantee as to what brand you’ll be getting, and you can’t choose, but the site does say these are FDA-authorized at-home rapid antigen tests—I personally received the iHealth tests we recommend.

You should take a test as soon as you start to notice symptoms or within five days of exposure, according to the CDC. If you’re asymptomatic and your first test is negative, take another test based on the manufacturer’s instructions. This is usually within two to three days of the first test—most tests come with two tests for this reason. If your test is positive, take another test to verify it and quarantine for five days.

Do You Need a Test Right Now?

If you need a test ASAP, please check our Guide to 12 Good Rapid At-Home Covid-19 Tests and Where to Find Them. It also has more information about accuracy. Rapid tests usually show results in about 15 minutes, but they’re only about 85 percent accurate.

The Tests We Recommend (see our guide for more retailers). Preliminary results show that the starred tests can detect the new Omicron variant:

Common Problems When Using the Site

Even though the government had two years to figure out this plan, it is not without bugs. Hopefully, you’ll be able to complete your request in minutes. But here are a few common problems we’ve seen.

Do you live in an apartment or a live-work space?

During the first round, many apartment dwellers found themselves unable to request tests because their multi-unit building was classified as a single house. If anyone in the entire building placed an order for tests, the system thought they were requesting more than the allotted number per household. 

This should be resolved, however if you find this happening again, file a service request here. Representative Jerry Nadler of Manhattan has also tweeted about the issue. Anecdotally, Nadler tweeted that some people have been able to resolve the issue by making sure everything is correct using the USPS’s zip code search. You can also try entering your apartment’s unit number in the same box as your address instead of the Apt / Suite / Other box. However, several members of the WIRED staff were unable to request tests using any of these methods. 

The same issue happened for those who reside in a live-work building, which is common in California’s Bay Area. The system sees these addresses as businesses and won’t ship tests there. You’ll also need to file a service request.

Do you have more than eight people in your house?

If you’ve used all your tests or you just have a bigger family, you’re out of luck when it comes to a free at-home kit. You can purchase more if you need them.

Do you not speak English, Spanish, or Chinese?

The website only has three language options right now, English, Spanish, and Chinese. It’s not clear if the helpline listed above (1-800-232-0233) will be able to help people who don’t speak one of those three.

Are you homeless?

The site states that these tests are sent to valid residential addresses and residential PO boxes only. One of the FAQs asks if tests can be picked up at another location or held at the USPS, and the answer is unfortunately no. If you’re currently homeless, reach out to your local health social service agency to find a free test.

What About Free Masks?

President Biden stated that 400 million N95 masks will also be available for free for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers. Some WIRED staff found a few at their local Walgreens and CVS locations, but not everyone. If you can’t find any for free, we have a few guides for face mask recommendations that should help keep you protected.

If you’ve consistently followed CDC recommendations, you know they have changed several times as we have navigated the virus. N95s are the best bet to keep you and those around you safe—we have more on the types of masks and their effectiveness in the N95 guide—but as the CDC says, any mask is better than no mask.

Vaccinations and Boosters

Being vaccinated won’t stop you from getting Covid-19, but it could alleviate the worst and most dangerous symptoms. We recommend getting vaccinated if you haven’t already, and if you have, get a booster shot. should help you find somewhere near you with vaccines available—a search of my zip code showed 50 places within six miles.

Source: Wired – Gear