How to get tested
Last updated May 17, 2023 at 11:18 AM
COVID-19 testing is confidential and available to every Californian.
On this page:
How to get tested
Use an at-home test
Test yourself and get results in less than 30 minutes.
Plan ahead to have COVID-19 tests on hand before getting sick. Read more about at-home tests:
- CDC: Self-Testing
- CDPH: At-Home Testing – What You Need to Know
- Translations: Spanish, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese – Simplified, Chinese – Traditional, Hmong, Khmer, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese
Get free tests
You can get free at-home tests mailed to you by the U.S. government. Limits apply.
At-home tests from a pharmacy are free or reimbursable for most people.
Free tests if you have Medi-Cal
- Get the Medi-Cal card(s) for each person in your family. Each person with a Medi-Cal card can receive up to 8 free tests (or 4 boxes if each box has 2 tests) each month with their card.
- Go to a pharmacy or a store with a pharmacy.
- Go to the pharmacy counter where prescriptions are dropped off. Other registers in the store cannot provide free COVID-19 tests.
- Show your Medi-Cal card(s) and ask for 8 at-home COVID-19 antigen tests for each person.
Free tests if you have private insurance
Most California insurance plans must pay or reimburse for 8 at-home test kits per month through November 11, 2023. Ask your insurance company for details. Find out more at COVID-19 Coverage Changes.
Tests if you have Medicare or Medicare Advantage
Details are different for each plan; contact your provider for more information. Find out more at COVID-19 Coverage Changes.
Before you throw out “expired” tests
Most at-home tests can be safely used past the date on the box. Check to see if your COVID-19 tests’ expiration dates have been extended on the FDA’s At-Home COVID-19 Test page.
Replace your tests with fresh ones as the extended expiration dates approach. If you have to, you can use an expired test until you can get new ones, as long as the control line is working. See your test instructions for details about the control line.
Find testing near you
Use these links to find testing sites near you:
Find Test to Treat locations
At some testing sites, you can get medication for COVID-19 right away if you test positive and are eligible. These sites are called Test to Treat.
COVID-19 medication can prevent hospitalization and death. It works best if started right away. Test to Treat is an easy way to get this medication early.
When to get tested
If you have symptoms
Vaccinated or not, get tested immediately if you’re feeling any COVID-19 symptoms. If an antigen test is negative, take another in 24-48 hours, as early cases can be missed.
If you were exposed
If you were exposed, you should consider getting tested as soon as possible, even if you have no symptoms.
Test again 3-5 days after exposure.
If you go to a high-risk event
Test immediately before and 3-5 days after.
Read more about high-risk exposures within the CDC Exposure Risk guidance.
If you travel
Test as close to the time of departure as possible and 3-5 days after.
Vaccinated or not, anyone entering or re-entering California should test 3-5 days after arrival.
Learn more on how to prepare for domestic and international travel.
Testing at work
Read more about workplace testing at:
Questions and answers
What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?
As soon as possible, ask your doctor if you are eligible for treatment. If you don’t have a doctor or are uninsured, schedule a FREE appointment with California’s telehealth provider or call 1-833-686-5051.
Treatment works best if started right away. Do not wait for symptoms to get worse. Read more about COVID-19 treatments.
Isolate (stay home and avoid others) until the threat of infecting other people has passed. Read about how long to isolate.
Notify people you have been in contact with so they can get tested too.
Continue to monitor and learn more about long COVID-19 symptoms:
What should I do if I may have been exposed to COVID-19?
Regardless of your vaccination status:
- Get tested immediately and 3-5 days after your last exposure
- Wear a mask around others for 10 days, even at home
- If test result is positive, isolate
If you had COVID-19 within the last 30 days, test and isolate if you have symptoms. If you have no symptoms, you do not need to test. If you have been infected in the prior 90 days and need to test, an antigen test is recommended.
Learn more about when and how to isolate or test.
Does my health plan have to cover my COVID-19 test at a testing site?
Yes. Health plans must cover COVID-19 testing at no cost to you.
Learn more at Know Your Healthcare Rights: COVID-19 Testing.
What if I don’t have health insurance and I need COVID-19 testing?
Use the CDC No-Cost Testing Locator to find a site near you.
Other testing sites may also provide free tests. Contact the site and see if there is a cost.
How long does it take for COVID-19 test results to come back?
At-home tests or antigen tests in a clinic or workplace give results in 15-30 minutes.
PCR and other molecular tests sent to a lab are usually returned in 1-2 days after the lab gets the test. This does not include transport time.
If you haven’t received your test results and it’s been several days, contact the testing site.
What is acceptable as proof of a negative COVID-19 test result?
At-home COVID-19 tests may be used if a photograph of the completed test is taken with a time and date stamp. See Cal/OSHA testing FAQs for details.
In settings where at-home tests are not allowed, results should include:
- Name of person tested
- Type of test
- Date of negative test result
The results should be a printed document, email, or text message from your test provider or laboratory.
Test must have been taken in the last:
- 1 day for an antigen test, or
- 2 days for a PCR test.