Using At-Home Covid Tests to Enter US from Costa Rica

Last Updated: March 24, 2022

Covid testing is a requirement to get back home for many people. Although Costa Rica has labs and clinics around the country that can do testing, many people prefer the convenience of an at-home test. In this post, we’ll explain the requirements for using at-home/self-tests to reenter the US. We will also cover something essential to know about using at-home tests in Costa Rica.

Using At-Home Test Enter US from Costa Rica

CDC Requirements

Overview

The CDC sets the requirements for Covid testing to enter the United States after your trip. Remember, it’s the US, not Costa Rica, that decides the entry requirements.

Currently, you must do either an antigen (rapid) or NAAT test (e.g., PCR) one calendar day before your flight. Most people do an antigen test because it’s faster and less expensive.

The CDC website has a lot of information so is a good place to start if you have general questions about these requirements. You can also read our post, Preflight Testing for Departing Costa Rica: Logistics and Tips.

At-Home Testing

The CDC allows at-home testing, provided the test meets certain requirements. Here is a simplified breakdown. For the full list, go to the CDC website and look for the FAQ on self-tests.

  • The test must be a SARS-CoV-2 viral test (NAAT or antigen) with Emergency Use Authorization from the US FDA.
  • The testing procedure must include a telehealth service affiliated with the test manufacturer that provides real-time supervision remotely through an audio and video connection.
  • The telehealth provider must confirm your identity, observe the sample collection and testing process, confirm the test result, and issue a report that meets CDC requirements.
  • Airlines must be able to review and confirm your identity and the test result details. You must also be able to present the test results to US officials and local/state health departments, if requested.

How It Works

Basically, what you will do is order your at-home test before your trip and bring it with you. At-home tests have only recently been approved in Costa Rica and are hard to find.

You’ll follow the manufacturer’s instructions on registering your kit and scheduling a test time.

You will do the test one day before your flight back to the United States. It can be anytime one calendar day before, not necessarily within 24 hours. For example, if your flight is at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, you can do the test anytime in the morning or later on Monday.

A proctor will help you administer the test at the scheduled time. You will need an internet connection and webcam.

They will then give you the results. Results are provided immediately or within a couple of hours, depending on the test you use.

You will present this digital test result to the airline when you check-in for your flight departing Costa Rica.

We have been hearing from many people who have successfully used an at-home test to get back into the United States after visiting Costa Rica, so don’t worry, they are being accepted.

Where to Get a Test That Meets CDC Requirements

Most US airlines have information on their website about at-home tests that meet CDC requirements. You can often buy them directly through the airline’s website.

Here are some links to the Covid pages for major US airlines:

Alaska Air: https://www.alaskaair.com/content/next-level-care/covid-testing  

American Airlines: https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/covid-19-testing.jsp

Delta: https://www.delta.com/us/en/travel-planning-center/know-before-you-go/us-entry-requirements

JetBlue: https://www.jetblue.com/covid-19-info-hub

Southwest Airlines: https://www.cityhealthuc.com/rapidreturn-southwest/

Spirit Airlines: https://customersupport.spirit.com/en-US/category/article/KA-01496

United Airlines: https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/covid-testing.html

Specific Tests

Here are some tests that meet the requirements. They are rapid antigen tests.

Qured

Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test – can buy on eMed or Optum 

CityHealth’s RapidReturn Test Kit

Available on Amazon: iHealth Self Test – for ages 2 and up.

*A reader recently pointed out that they used the iHealth test for travel back to the US. iHealth now offers Covid test services that meet CDC requirements (i.e., you will have a virtual meeting with an iHealth proctor). This is separate from buying the test and costs an additional $20. You have to sign up online through the iHealth website

iHealth Covid test entering US from Costa Rica

If you purchase a Covid test kit from Amazon, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Young Children

Some of the tests are authorized only for children ages 4 and up (e.g., Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test). So keep that in mind if you are traveling with young children. The US requires a negative Covid test for all children ages 2 and up. The iHealth Self Test is valid for children ages 2 and up.

At-Home Testing in Costa Rica and Testing Positive

In Costa Rica, the government does not recognize at-home tests for purposes of confirming a positive case. For a test to be recognized, it must be done in an authorized lab or medical center.

This has very important implications for visitors who are using at-home tests.

If you test positive on an at-home test in Costa Rica, you will need to go to a lab or clinic for an official test. Only then will your mandatory quarantine period begin.

You will want to start your quarantine as soon as possible so that you can get recovery documentation that allows you to travel. According to the CDC, you can continue to test positive for up to three months from your first positive test. So, you wouldn’t want to wait and retest yourself with another at-home test. 

The way it works is the Costa Rica lab or clinic that administers your test will send a report to the Ministry of Health about your positive result. The Ministry of Health will then issue you a sanitary/quarantine order by email (typically for seven days). The start date is usually the date of your positive test at the lab. That’s why it’s so important to get to a lab for an official test if you test positive on an at-home test and think you have Covid.

Covid Testing Center Jaco
A private clinic in Jaco that does Covid testing

We have been hearing from people who have waited to go to a lab after testing positive on a self-test. They are often frustrated because the Ministry of Health will not base the start of their quarantine period on the date of their at-home positive result. So they end up spending much more time quarantining in Costa Rica than was necessary. You can avoid this frustration by getting to a lab or clinic for an official test ASAP if you test positive on a self-test.

If you need an official test on your visit, here is a link to our post, Where to Get a Covid Test in Costa Rica. It gives testing options by town all around the country.

Conclusion

At-home tests are an inexpensive and convenient way to meet US testing requirements. As long as you know what test you’ll need, you can bring it with you and get it done quickly the day before your flight. Hopefully yours won’t come back positive, but if it does, now you’ll know what to do to get that quarantine period started.

Have a question about at-home testing? Leave us a comment below.

Looking for more information to plan your trip? Check out these posts:

Testing Positive in Costa Rica: Learn more about what happens if you test positive in Costa Rica. Quarantine requirements, what to do to get back home, and people’s experiences.

Traveling to Costa Rica During Covid-19: Get current requirements to enter Costa Rica for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers.

Travel Insurance: Getting travel insurance that covers Covid can be a good idea even if you’re already vaccinated. Read our article for recommended companies to use.

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