With just a one-day window to get a negative COVID-19 test before flying back to the U.S., select at-home test kits like the Abbott BinaxNow COVID-19 Home Test have become incredibly popular for international travel. After a supervised virtual exam and results in 15 minutes, you've got what you need to board a flight home.
But there's a recurring problem: These tests may have expiration dates that fall before you need them. With demand for tests sky-high, we've heard again and again from travelers who have ordered these Abbott kits from sites like eMed.com or Optum only to find that they expire within just a few weeks or months.
Now, travelers have more time. As of last week, the Food and Drug Administration extended the expiration window of these tests yet again, now giving them a 15-month shelf life. Many tests were being shipped displaying an expiration date just six to nine months after their production date. Here's a copy of their letter outlining the extension.
Read our review of these at-home test kits!
Reader and Thrifty Traveler Premium member Jessica Adza tipped us off to this change after she received a box of Abbott tests last month that showed an initial expiration date in November 2021. Even with a previous extension as far out as 12 months – outlined in a slip inside the box – her tests would still expire in early February 2022, weeks away.
But after expressing concern about tests that would be wasted, an Optum agent pointed her to the FDA's recent extension of the tests' shelf-life out to 15 months, meaning she could add a full six months to the original expiration date.
Representatives from Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the extension. Travelers with one of these tests in hand may want to confirm their new expiration dates with either eMed or Optum before banking on using them for an upcoming international trip.
The Basics of Testing Rules
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has required a negative COVID-19 test before flying to the U.S. for all international travelers, regardless of their vaccination status, for nearly a year.
With the rise of the Omicron variant, that requirement got stricter in December: Even fully vaccinated Americans now need a test no more than one calendar day before flying back to the U.S. Previousy, international travelers had a three-day window to get a test.
Read more about the new testing rules for international travel!
With that tighter timeline, these at-home rapid antigen test kits have proven invaluable … but not just any at-home test off the shelf of your pharmacy will do. The CDC requires that these tests include a telehealth appointment, where a medical professional supervises your sample collection via webcam. And they must have received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
I've used Abbott BinaxNOW tests several times over the last six months for international trips, and it's always been an incredibly smooth experience. Just pack a test in your bag (or two – just in case), fire up the eMed site to get an appointment with a supervised exam started, perform the test, and get results in your inbox soon after. The entire process has never taken more than 20 to 25 minutes total.
While these Abbott BinaxNow tests are the most popular (and easy to buy) by far, there are three options total for travelers who need a test to fly home from abroad:
- The Abbott BinaxNow COVID-19 Home Test
- The Azova Ellume COVID-19 Home Test, which stopped selling tests online last fall
- The Qured Ag Test, which you can order online for $39 apiece
Travelers staring down rapidly approaching expiration dates on their Abbott BinaxNOW tests can breathe easy, as they now have a 15-month shelf-life after yet another extension.
Depending on the original expiration date, you can safely add another three to six months to that window. But you may want to confirm your new expiration date with whichever retailer you purchased your tests from – just to be safe.