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What it's like to use Ellume's $50 home test approved for travel to the United States

July 21, 2021
9 min read
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Back in May, the CDC determined that certain at-home instant COVID-19 tests were accurate and secure enough to be accepted for travel to the United States, simplifying the test process for both international visitors and travelers returning home.

I took the first CDC-approved test — Abbott’s BinaxNow COVID-19 Home Test — for a spin this spring, and I just put the second approved option through its paces as well.

Like the Abbott test, you can now order the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test for $50 (plus $15 shipping). Tests are available on this page and must be ordered (and received) before you depart the United States.

Which test to order

If you intend to use your Ellume test for travel to the United States, be sure to begin your purchase on this page and confirm that the selected test has a green "U.S. RETURN TRAVEL APPROVED" banner, as pictured below.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

While I ordered one test, a second one arrived in the same box, along with a card explaining that there hadn't been a mix-up.

As the note explained, "We've included this complimentary test in the unlikely event that things don't go to plan. This test will serve as a replacement and we ask that it is not used unless instructed to do so by an Azova Health representative. If you're not required to use the replacement test, the test is yours to use when you're next away from home."

Notably, I only received one "video observation" voucher code, and since remote supervision is required for the test to be valid for travel to the U.S., I'll need to purchase a second session separately for $15 if I'm hoping to use the second test for a U.S. trip.

Because Ellume doesn't currently offer a volume discount, if you're planning to purchase more than one test, you'll come out ahead by ordering Abbott's. Current purchase options include:

  • $50: One test via Optum
  • $70: Two tests via Optum
  • $100: Three tests via Optum
  • $150: Six tests via eMed

Regardless of which test you're planning to purchase, be sure to place your order at least several days before your U.S. departure — tests must be shipped to an address in the United States, and you'll then carry the kit with you on your trip abroad.

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Taking the test

The United States currently requires all international travelers to complete their test within three days of their flight — Ellume's website offers a handy chart outlining the earliest day you can conduct your test.

However, since results arrive within a few minutes, it could make sense to wait until closer to your departure day — there's no need to do it at the beginning of the three-day window. Waiting until closer to departure will also buy you some time in case of a travel interruption, such as my missed connection on the way back from South Africa.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

Once you're ready to begin, you'll open up the email from Azova that includes your video observation link and voucher code. Mine was titled "Product Receipt" and arrived within a few minutes of placing my order.

From there, you'll select an appointment time. There were plenty of same-day slots available during my test, including one less than 10 minutes away. I ended up needing all of that time to answer registration questions and get the Ellume app set up on my iPhone, so I doubt you'll be waiting around for more than a minute or two.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

While the app was downloading on my iPhone, I completed the "intake form" on my computer. My technician explained that you can complete the process using just an Android or iOS smartphone, but I found it to be far easier to use my laptop for the website and video chat and my iPhone to administer the test.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

The intake form requested a mix of required and optional information — I provided a picture of my photo ID, then added my passport number, race and ethnicity. I skipped all of the COVID-19 vaccination and testing sections since they were optional and didn't seem entirely relevant.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

From there, I landed on a page that listed my appointment — it wasn't immediately clear how to begin my session, but clicking the small video icon in the "Reason for Visit" box did the trick.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

Moments later, April joined my video chat from the Philippines. She didn't appear on camera but talked me through the app registration process, which included typing in a few identifying codes she provided.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

From there, I began the testing process, which started with a mandatory video tutorial.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

As you can see from the diagram above, you'll be sticking a swab pretty far up both nostrils. It's the "brain tickle" test you may have experienced during some PCR tests — I found it to be far more invasive than the Abbott version.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

Ellume's test relies on technology far more than Abbott's does, including a special sample analyzer that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

As a result, there's a bit more setup required, but once April was done walking me through the test (and supervising my swab), the analyzer and app took care of the rest.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

There are a lot of steps involved, and I found it difficult to hear April clearly at times, so be sure to pay very close attention to the tutorial. If you don't, you might end up with an inconclusive result and needing that second test.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

After about 10 minutes with April, it was time to wait. You'll need to keep your phone opened to the app while the analyzer does its thing, though you're technically able to answer phone calls using the speakerphone function as long as you don't navigate away from the Ellume app.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

As soon as the clock hit zero, I had my results.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

It took a minute or two for the website to update, but everything happened automatically — April had long since moved on to her next customer.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

I received a PDF report in my email as well — this is the document you'll provide when you check in for your flight.

(Screenshot courtesy of Ellume)

While it's incredibly helpful to be able to complete the U.S. entry requirements without leaving your home or hotel, I felt a little guilty about how much garbage I had created from a single test. I recycled the paper materials, but the rest had to go right into the trash.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

I even opened up the analyzer to see if there was anything I could repurpose from there — there's a button battery, if you need one of those for an appliance remote, perhaps, but other than that, it'll probably all end up in the trash.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

From start to finish, I spent about 40 minutes taking Ellume's test, including 10 minutes downloading the app and filling out the intake form, 10 minutes taking the supervised test, 15 minutes waiting for the analysis process to run and another 5 minutes collecting garbage and downloading my results.

While it was great to be able to complete the process with just one human supervisor, since so much of the process is automated here, Ellume's test certainly has a bigger carbon footprint than Abbott's, including electronic waste.

I also found the Abbott test to be less invasive since the swab doesn't venture nearly as far. Either way, that aspect of the test only takes a few seconds, but Abbott definitely has the advantage there.

Finally, if you're looking to purchase a large number of tests, it could definitely make sense to order the Abbott version, as outlined below:

  • $50: One test via Optum
  • $70: Two tests via Optum
  • $100: Three tests via Optum
  • $150: Six tests via eMed

Meanwhile, if you're ordering just one test and would rather work with one human supervisor instead of two, it could be worth giving the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test a try. You'll find it on the order page right here.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.