Free COVID-19 Tests In The USA (To Enter Canada)

We’ll soon have a much more detailed guide about COVID-19 testing for travel (and plenty of other pandemic travel resources), but here’s just a quick post to remind you NOT to pay $200 per test (like so many people keep telling us they did) to return to Canada from the USA… it’s so easy to get free tests in the USA.

Here are the details, including a bonus pro tip about a test that is even better than a PCR test (and also completely free in the USA).

Share this with everyone you know who is in the USA because it genuinely pains me to see so many people waste money (after all, our mission here at Flytrippers is to help you travel more for less).

 

Traveling to the USA

As a reminder:

  • Canada no longer has any quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated Canadians (at least 14 days after the last dose)
  • All Canadians can get vaccinated very easily in the USA if they don’t want to wait anymore (we did it ourselves in early April)
  • Flying to the USA has always been allowed (unless you’ve been to Europe or a few other countries in the 14 previous days)
  • Returning to Canada via the land border has always been allowed to avoid the hotel quarantine (whether or not you are vaccinated)
  • Even going to the US via the land border, while currently banned, might be possible as soon as August 22nd

Given all those facts, many of you have restarted traveling to the USA—or are planning to do so soon.

Because even if it’s normally a terrible place to travel to if you want to keep costs down (especially compared to the 40 countries where C$30 per day total is enough), some prefer the convenience of visiting our closest neighbor. And of course, there are many appealing destinations in the vast country (they have more land area than in Canada).

But in terms of the cost of the required tests to return to Canada, the USA is actually the cheapest destination in the world: tests are completely free. And it’s so easy…

So please stop paying $200 for tests in the US in order to return to Canada!

 

Getting tested for free in the USA

Walgreens is a chain of pharmacies with free COVID-19 testing in most states (that’s the one I used in New Jersey), and other chains like CVS and Rite Aid seem to offer the same free COVID-19 PCR tests.

Websites like GoGetTested (that’s the one I used in Texas) and Curative also work in certain specific states.

And if not, you can do what you should for literally anything you need to find, which is use Google. Just type “free PCR tests (city name)” and you’ll probably find even more options, in the USA at least.

(That same pro trick works to find tests in any country, but without the “free” part. Many of you seem very stressed out about finding tests abroad, but it’s really not one of the things to worry about at all, seriously. It’s extremely easy. I found a test in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan—hardly a popular tourist destination—in 10 seconds on Google, so you can most definitely find one almost anywhere you want to go.)

Back in the USA, I can personally vouch for how easy it was with Walgreens. There are no residency, citizenship, or insurance requirements. It’s free for everyone. Walgreens alone has locations in almost every state.

Most locations seem to be drive-through tests only, so if you don’t have a rental car, you can grab a taxi from the parking lot to the drive-through lane for a pretty low cost since the test took me less than 5 minutes both times I did it in the USA.

Of course, just like the free vaccines, you need to make an appointment online in advance. And yes, the online booking process might ask for a US address: I just put in my Marriott hotel‘s address.

Marriott Bonvoy American Express® Card
Flytrippers Valuation
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spend $3,000
in 6 months
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Marriott Bonvoy American Express® Card
Flytrippers Valuation
of Welcome Bonus alone
≈ $
minimum income
requirement: $0
spend $3,000
in 6 months
Terms and conditions apply. Flytrippers editorial opinion only. Amex is not responsible for maintaining the content on this site. Please click "Apply Now" to see most up-to-date information.

 

Both times they didn’t check anything once I arrived for the test (and they clearly said that it was 100% allowed for Canadians—honestly, it really seems like they couldn’t care less about where you are from). All those who I shared this tip with have confirmed this too.

At least for the non-PCR test…

 

Another pro tip to simplify your testing

Researching your travel plans and being prepared and well-informed has always been the best way to travel for less, but it’s even more true with the pandemic…

Not many people know that free PCR tests are easy to find in most US states, but even fewer know that there is an even better option than PCRs: NAATs. That’s another type of test that is much more convenient.

These are accepted to enter Canada, and the results come in so much faster! I booked mine at a Walgreens in Newark when returning from Uzbekistan in late May via the USA to enter via the land border and avoid the hotel quarantine.

I got my results just 67 minutes after my appointment ended! And these tests are free too of course! The official timespan Walgreens gives for results is within 24 hours (compared to at least twice as long for PCRs).

But in practice, everyone I recommended the NAAT to got the results in just a few hours. My appointment was at 9:30 AM and I was there at that time precisely.

Appointment confirmation (image credit: Walgreens)

 

And my results came in at 10:37 AM.

Test results (image credit: PWNHealth)

 

That’s a lot quicker than the experience I shared getting a free PCR test in Texas.

NAATs are rapid tests, but not the same as rapid antigen tests (those are accepted for entry in many countries, but they are NOT accepted to enter Canada).

Walgreens calls NAATs “Rapid ID NOW” tests (not to be confused with “Rapid ANTIGEN”; I cannot stress this enough). NAATs don’t seem to be readily available as easily in countries other than the USA, for those who are wondering.

But almost everywhere in the US, you can find them easily as I did near Newark Airport (EWR). The red dots on the map are where you can get the NAAT.

The test type selection screen (image credit: Walgreens)

 

Again, so many people just don’t even know this type of test exists… it’s a great microcosm of travel tips in general, as the more you learn, the more you’ll save. And most people unfortunately just don’t take the time at all to learn about the best travel tips.

Like for example, the incredible welcome bonus offers we told you about last week, that give you ≈ $735 to ≈ $1,666 in value depending on the one you choose…

Most travelers will ignore these record-high offers (the best-ever in Canada) and will prefer putting in no effort and instead settle for earning a measly 1% on their purchases (or worse, use a debit card)…

Don’t make the mistake of not taking advantage of it (instead join the Flytrippers readers who have accumulated over half a million dollars in welcome bonuses) and don’t make the mistake of paying $200 for a COVID-19 test in the US either 😉

 

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Summary

Getting a free COVID-19 test is very easy in the USA.

What would you like to know about COVID-19 testing for travel? Tell us in the comments below.

 

Explore awesome destinations: travel inspiration

Learn pro tricks: travel tips

Discover free travel: travel rewards

 

Featured image: Horseshoe Bend (photo credit: Gert Boers)

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Andrew D'Amours

Andrew is the co-founder of Flytrippers. He is passionate about traveling the world but also, as a former management consultant, about the travel industry itself. He shares his experiences to help you save money on travel. As a very cost-conscious traveler, he loves finding deals and getting free travel thanks to travel rewards points... to help him visit every country in the world (current count: 62/193 Countries, 46/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Jess

    Incredible – I found your blog by chance, i can’t believe how i haven’t already heard about this blog seeing that we’re in the same place (Vancouver). We’re traveling to Horseshoe Bend !!!! there’s no CVS, RiteAid, or even Walgreen’s in Page AZ but there’s a Walgreen’s 16 miles from our would-be-next stop which is Zion National Park, so, fingers crossed! We’ll be there 2 days before our return flight but it’s gonna be weekend. The NAAT is done onsite, right? nothing needs to be shipped out (from small town… on a Saturday…)? Thank you, you are probably helping us save USD 800.

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Hi, that’s a lot of money, glad this can help! Ye for Walgreens at least they do it all on-location so you’ll get the results really quick 🙂 Just make sure to book the appointments as soon as they open them up (a few days before) since you’re in a spot where there aren’t many options! Enjoy Utah 🙂

  2. Sabrina

    Hi! Love your content. Wondering if you have heard of any places to get the free covid testing in California? They do not do the NAAT at the Walgreens there and they said you would be billed as a Canadian (not sure if this is true or not either?) Any advice would be much appreciate 🙂

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Hi, sadly CA is one of the rare states where Walgreens does not offer the free tests but I’m sure there is a way to find other providers with the other links in the post or by Googling free PCR tests, in such a populous state there are surely free options 🙂 Good luck!

  3. Steph

    Hi there!
    I was so pleased to find this article. My husband and I wish to fly to North Carolina to visit my sister. I was being deterred at the cost of the Covid testing. My sister had called the Walgreens nearest her abs they said just book online with her address. Will there be any issue showing them my Canadian drivers license for ID? Will I be charged if they find out I’m not American?

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Hi! Nope in my own experience (and the many many people I’ve told this trick too have confirmed) they don’t care that you are not American but it’s not necessary to tell them explicitly either 😛 but yeah in my case they didn’t even check my ID but they do say clearly that IDs are simply to identify that you are really who you say you are for the certified results 🙂 Enjoy North Carolina 🙂

  4. Peter Hopper

    Data point….. I got my test today at Walgreens in Bradenton FL at 12:16 pm (ID NOW NAAT) and just received the results at 1:55 pm….about 1 hour and 45 minutes later!!
    Nice!

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Awesome, thanks a lot for sharing. Yes so it really seems everyone who does the NAAT at Walgreens gets it really quickly!

  5. Tanya

    This is incredibly helpful, thank you!

  6. Marc

    Good to hear that you know lots of Canadians who have had success at Walgreens. I’m a bit paranoid, but hoping it’ll be fine.

      1. Marthe

        I’d like to know about COVID-19 testing returning to Canada after travelling by land to USA. What is the maximum hours from the time of the result to be ccepted to enter Canada ?

      2. Andrew D'Amours

        72 hours before entering at the land border 🙂 If flying, it’s 72 hours before the boarding time of the final flight to Canada.

  7. Peter Hopper

    Fantastic information again. Thanks Andrew. I flew to TPA yesterday to get the JJ vaccine which I could not find in Canada. Got the shot today for free. Just showed my passport at a small pharmacy. Now I don’t have to fret about getting a PCR for my return in 2 weeks! Slowly but surely travel is becoming easier. My flight on AA from YYZ to CLT was full. The fear mongering is wearing off it seems!

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Great to hear, glad you were able to use our tips 🙂 Yes, travel is starting back up, it’s very encouraging to see. Enjoy the Stanley Cup party in Tampa (or just the warm sunshine haha!)

      1. Marc

        I’m heading to Texas next month. My only chance to get tested will be just over 24 hrs before my flight. Walgreens says results within 24hrs for ID Now. So – two questions – do you think my timing is OK, and will I have any trouble at Walgreens being Canadian? I’m also going to book at CVS as a backup.

      2. Andrew D'Amours

        I had no issues at Walgreens and I explicitly asked them, they don’t care about residency. They say 24 hours so I think you’d be okay, as I said everyone I know who has used RAPID ID NOW tests (NAATs) have gotten results really quickly. Depends on your risk tolerance I guess 😉 Safe travels!

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