Free COVID Tests via USPS Are Back — Here's How to Order Them

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In this photo illustration, a COVID-19 self-test package is seen displayed on a table. This self-test package is designed and sold by iHealth Labs, a company in California, and made in China. (Photo illustration by Michael Ho Wai Lee/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Been looking for free COVID tests? You’re now able to order another four free at-home testing kits from the federal government through the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Back on June 1, the federal government closed the program that allowed you to order these free COVID tests in the mail. But in a statement Sept. 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) said that the program would restart on Sept. 25.

These tests, said HSS, “will detect the currently circulating COVID-19 variants, are intended for use through the end of 2023, and will include clear instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates.” Free tests will begin to be shipped “starting the week of October 2,” according to a message you’ll see after placing an order on

This announcement aside, if you’ve been finding it hard to find a low-cost COVID test more generally, you’re not alone. Use the links below to find a free or low-cost COVID test near you, or keep reading to find out more about the return of these USPS test kits.

Jump straight to how to:

You can also jump straight to the latest information about current COVID incubation times, and the best time to take a COVID test.

Why are free USPS COVID tests coming back?

This will be the fourth time that the federal government has made a round of free COVID tests available to the public during the pandemic. Previously as of June 1, a now-removed message on the said that ordering had “been suspended to preserve remaining supply” after President Biden ended the federal emergency status for the nation on May 11.

The program’s reopening comes amid a rise in coronavirus rates and hospitalizations nationally in part fueled by the emergence of the EG.5 variant, unofficially named “Eris.” A new COVID vaccine has also just been approved for everyone age 6 months and older, although the rollout has so far been slow.

The news about free antigen tests came as part of a wider announcement by the White House of a $600 million investment in 12 domestic manufacturers of these kinds of COVID testing kits. As well as improving “preparedness for COVID-19 and other pandemic threats of the future,” the statement promised this funding would “secure approximately 200 million new over-the-counter COVID-19 tests for future federal government use.” HSS said that this program has already provided over 755 million free at-home COVID tests to households around the United States.

A person with long hair inserts a long cottonswab in her nostril while standing in the doorway of her home.
Janet Franco-Orona swabs her nose for a COVID-19 test at her home in San José on Feb. 3, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

How the end of the public health emergency affected free COVID testing

California’s pandemic state of emergency ended on Feb. 28, ahead of the end of the U.S.’s wider emergency status on May 11. These states of emergency gave government officials more flexibility to act faster and bypass certain bureaucratic barriers to respond to the health crisis that’s now well into its third year.

Ending those executive orders meant a large portion of funding for free COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics then ended — and costs for individuals have now crept up accordingly. For example, after May 11 the federal government no longer requires insurance companies to reimburse families for eight at-home COVID tests per month.

Californians have a little more wiggle room on that front. Thanks to a state bill passed in October 2021, Californians with insurance will have until November 2023 to seek reimbursement from insurance providers for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests. Find out how to claim reimbursement from your insurer for rapid antigen tests.

To be sure, COVID continues to affect lives every day. And the virus by no means vanished after the emergency orders ended — something the recent swell in cases and hospitalizations in the last few months attests to. As of the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from Sept. 14, just over 500 people in the U.S. died from COVID in the previous week.

Even after the emergency orders ended, testing remains a critical tool for reducing the spread. Here are some pointers on how to secure a COVID test.

Order free at-home COVID tests from the US government via USPS

As of Sept. 25, you can once again order four free at-home COVID antigen tests from No payment or credit card details will be required to place an order. You also won’t need to provide any ID or health insurance information.

You can place your order for these four free COVID tests online at (the direct link from, or order from USPS by phone at (800) 232-0233.

Free tests will begin to be shipped “starting the week of October 2,” according to a message you’ll see after placing an order on

After placing an order, you’ll also see a message that expiration dates on these tests have now been extended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so don’t worry if you see “expired” on any box of tests you receive — you can still use them. See the FDA’s full list of expiration date extensions.

Something very important to note: Every residential address (and residential P.O. box) in the United States is eligible to receive one order of four at-home COVID tests — not every person or every family. This means multiple orders to the same address under different names won’t be processed.

For example, if you live with several roommates, or in a large multigenerational household, only one person can place an order for that address. Realistically, this might mean that the tests you receive are not enough to cover everyone in your household.

A woman with black hair and dark brown skin, wearing a black skirt and bright pink sweater walks across a stone plaza in the background. In the foreground is a blue sign saying "No Cost To You" COVID-19 Testing. A pink swirl wraps around the words: No Cost To You.
COVID testing has changed hugely over the course of the pandemic. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

This program is separate from the one that allows folks with private health insurance to get reimbursed for the cost of at-home COVID tests. Read more about getting reimbursed by your health insurer for at-home tests.

Find a COVID test through your health care provider

If you are insured with major Bay Area providers such as Kaiser Permanente or Sutter Health, the easiest option to secure a COVID test may be to make an appointment through that particular provider. Most providers offer sign-ups online through a member’s personal login, and appointments can also be made by phone.

People with private insurance may experience new out-of-pocket costs for PCR tests now that the emergency orders have ended, depending on the provider.

Medicare will continue to cover PCR test costs. And under the American Rescue Plan, people on Medicaid can continue to get free at-home tests until September 2024.

Most people regardless of insurance coverage will have to pay for over-the-counter rapid at-home COVID tests after the federal emergency order ends. In California, a state law that requires insurers to keep their current reimbursement rules for six months after the federal public health emergency ends on May 11 means that you have until at least Nov. 11 to seek reimbursement for rapid tests through your insurance provider.

Find a COVID test through California’s statewide testing map

California’s map of COVID testing and treatment sites will remain up and running after the states of emergency end.

Since so many vaccination sites have closed this year, call ahead before making the trip for a drop-in, just in case a site closure isn’t reflected on this map.

A hand holds an at-home COVID test, while another person's hand points to the test.
Free COVID tests are much harder to find in 2023. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

Find a COVID test through the CDC’s No-Cost Testing Locator

The CDC still maintains a nationwide map of COVID testing locations at, and all testing facilities listed on the site “are available at no cost for people without health insurance” through the Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) program.

In the Bay Area, you’ll find that the locations returned when you search for a free COVID test through are primarily pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, and Quest Patient Service Centers.

Find a COVID test through your Bay Area county

The majority of the county testing sites you saw at the height of the pandemic have now shut down — but your county may have several sites still operating, often in partnership with community groups.

Updated testing site locations can be found at each county’s testing webpage below, although you may find some of these pages redirect you to the state or U.S. testing location finders instead.

San Mateo COVID testing page now says that “State-sponsored COVID-19 testing has ended in San Mateo County” and that PCR and antigen tests “remain widely available through health care providers and pharmacies.” Sonoma County’s COVID testing page does not offer county residents any free or low-cost testing locations or resources without insurance, and instead says that you should “request a test from your health care provider or use an over-the-counter antigen test purchased at a local pharmacy.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has a list of community-based testing sites around the country. Select California in the “Find Testing Resources” dropdown.

Find a COVID test through private providers

Always check to see how much you might be charged for a COVID test at these private testing facilities before your visit. Below are some of the private providers still offering COVID testing in the Bay Area:


Find a COVID test at your local pharmacy

Walgreens offers free PCR tests to take home and mail in, with results in about two days. Walgreens says that no insurance is required, but you must register your collection kit with Labcorp to receive results.

Other pharmacies that previously offered free COVID-19 testing on-site, in a pharmacy location, have started charging for those same tests after the end of the federal emergency. Be careful to read the billing details if you are uninsured and it is marked as “free” or “no-cost.” Check the following pharmacy websites to see what’s available in your area:

If you have health insurance, you can also purchase at-home COVID testing kits from a pharmacy and request reimbursement from your insurer. Find out how to claim reimbursement from your insurer for rapid antigen tests.

Find a COVID test from your school district

Many Bay Area school districts have offered COVID testing for students and staff — and sometimes the families of students — during the pandemic, and some may have continued their programs into this school year. For example, Oakland Unified still offers at-home COVID tests for students to take home.

Check direct with your child’s school.

A reminder on when to test for COVID

Regardless of your vaccination status, if you’re experiencing COVID symptoms, you should get tested. Remind yourself of the 2023 COVID symptoms to watch for.

As for the best time to test, if you’ve heard that incubation times for the virus are getting shorter — that is, the amount of time between getting exposed to COVID and testing positive — it’s true. People are testing positive for COVID more quickly than they were in 2020 when the average incubation period was five days, because the incubation period has changed with each new variant, confirms Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UCSF.

While “we don’t have a ton” of up-to-date information on incubation times at this stage of the pandemic, notes Chin-Hong, given this general trend, it makes sense to take a COVID test as early as two days after exposure if you’re already having symptoms. And if you test negative at that time, test again the next day if symptoms persists.

An earlier version of this story originally published on September 20, 2023.