Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 testing
Updated on August 31, 2021: New questions added (#9, #10, #11, #14, #15, #20). Updated answers for #2, #3, #6, #8, #12, #16, and #17.
See travel-related questions about testing.
- A photo ID with your date of birth. Testing is available regardless of your citizenship/immigration status.
- Insurance card, if you have insurance. If you have insurance, Medicare or Medicaid you must provide this information and the lab will bill them. You will not be charged for the test. You do not need to have insurance or a doctor’s note to schedule a test.
- A well-fitted mask. As a healthcare facility, masks are required at all indoor and outdoor testing locations regardless of vaccination status.
Anyone with signs or symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested as early as possible regardless of vaccination status.
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 (within 6 feet of the person for 15 minutes or more), should seek testing 3 or more days after exposure, even if they do not have symptoms. If symptoms develop within 14 days of exposure, isolate and consider retesting. See Isolation & Quarantine for detailed guidance.
Those who are unvaccinated must get a COVID-19 test 3-5 days after domestic travel and seek repeat testing if symptoms develop within 14 days of travel. See CDC website for testing guidance on domestic and international travel. For full guidance on domestic and international travel, see Travel page on CDC website.
There are many options in King County to get a COVID-19 test:
- Start with your healthcare provider. If you have health insurance, schedule a test with your doctor. If you have symptoms or a known exposure, your healthcare provider is required by law to get you a test.
- Free testing sites operated by King County – These locations are open to anyone and offer free COVID-19 testing regardless of immigration or insurance status. Advance appointments are strongly recommended to avoid long wait times or being turned away.
- At-home testing, also known as home-based rapid tests, are available over the counter and offer results within 15 minutes. See at-home test options here.
Testing is free at any of the King County and Seattle sites listed on the COVID-19 testing page. If you have private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, please bring that information and the lab will bill them. If you do not have coverage, you will not be charged for the test. You do not need to have insurance or a provider's note to schedule a test.
If you get tested at your doctor's office, a private clinic, or a hospital, there may be administrative costs associated with your visit. However, the test itself is free.
We encourage everyone to register online before going to a testing site. Find the complete list of locations and hours here. To register for a test, select the "Make reservation online" link below your preferred testing location.
If you have difficulty registering, call the King County COVID-19 Call Center at 206-477-3977, option 3, (open 7 days a week, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.). If you need an interpreter, please tell us in English what language you need.
To find out more about vaccine appointments, visit kingcounty.gov/vaccine.
When you take a test, you will be given instructions on how to check your results online. Results are usually available within 24-72 hours, but results are not guaranteed within 72 hours. It's also not guaranteed that the results will meet the specific requirements for all countries.
Once the specimen is sent to the lab, King County does not have control over the time it takes to process. You are encouraged to start checking your results after 24 hours. All of King County's test sites use an online results portal.
If you need a rapid test for travel, look for testing options that specialize in travel testing such as the Port of Seattle.
Most of King County’s sites offer both drive-through or walk-up testing unless otherwise noted in their listing on this page. Please check the location listing before you go.
You can get tested at any King County COVID-19 testing site even if you don't have symptoms. Find a list of King County testing sites here. Advance appointments recommended strongly recommended to avoid long wait times.
A reminder to get tested immediately if you have signs or symptoms of COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status.
King County operated sites perform anterior nasal swabs. These are the swabs that go part way up the nasal cavity. All of the tests performed are PCR tests. PCR tests are run in a laboratory and results take 24-72 hours.
All labs (UW, Atlas, Altius) use a nucleic acid amplification test; this is just a more generic term for the family of technologies that includes PCR.
AN (Anterior Nares) swabs are used at all test sites. Self-swab sites include Angle Lake, Bellevue College, Enumclaw and Renton. Swabs performed by clinical staff are available at the Auburn, Federal Way and Tukwila testing sites.
Both are tests for COVID-19. Antigen tests detect components of the virus whereas PCR tests detect genetic material of the virus. Like PCR, specimens for antigen tests are collected via a nasal swab.
Rapid tests are not performed in a laboratory. They are quicker, resulting in 15-20 minutes. PCR tests are performed in a laboratory and take 24-72 hours to result.
Rapid tests can be less sensitive, but their quick results can help separate those from having a positive result from those that don't and decrease transmission. PCR tests are very sensitive and are often referred to as the Gold Standard even though it may take longer to get the results.
Travel can increase the chance of spreading and getting COVID-19 especially for unvaccinated individuals. Most states do not require a test, but individual states and countries have their own COVID-19 guidelines, and requirements change frequently. Do research before you go.
Guidance for unvaccinated
If you are unvaccinated, we recommend limiting travel at this time. If you must travel while unvaccinated, get tested 1-3 days before you travel and keep a copy of your test results in case you are asked for them. Do not travel if you test positive or have not received your results yet.
Guidance for fully vaccinated
If you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to get tested before you travel unless your destination requires it. You must still wear a mask while traveling.
Guidance for international travel
For international travel, all persons arriving in the US, regardless of citizenship or vaccine status, are required to have a negative test done within 72 hours of arrival. If you have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days of arrival to the US, you must have documentation of your positive test. The free testing sites in King County and Seattle cannot provide documentation or signatures certifying your results, but when you retrieve your results online, you will find a printable document that shows the results were processed by a certified lab.
Many private health clinics will provide testing with travel documentation for an additional fee.
There are options at the Port of Seattle for travel testing specifically. To find out more about these options, please visit COVID-19 Testing and Travel Requirements | Port of Seattle (portseattle.org)
King County testing sites are intended to test people who are at risk of having COVID-19 due to having symptoms or have been exposed to a COVID-19 case, and they are meant to serve communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID‑19 or have less access to healthcare. King County testing sites cannot guarantee the return of your test results in time for your intended travel but are available to anyone seeking a test.
King County does not have any partnerships with any airlines.
People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine can travel safely within the United States. While the CDC says it is safe to do so, they still discourage non-essential travel as it can contribute to the spread of COVID-19, which is still moderate-to-high in most of the country.
- Check with your health care provider or a private health clinic. Many private health clinics and health care providers will provide testing with travel documentation for an additional fee.
- There are multiple rapid testing options around the county, including at Sea-Tac airport. Public Health cannot make recommendations for private testing options.
- At home testing, also known as home-based rapid tests, are available over the counter and offer results within 15 minutes. See at-home test options here.
King County testing sites prioritize testing for vulnerable communities, symptomatic individuals and those exposed to COVID-19. These testing sites cannot guarantee the results will be returned in time for travel or that the test is accepted by the authorities at your destination.
No. The King County test sites do not offer rapid testing of any kind, including antigen testing, at the sites. The Port of Seattle offers rapid testing.
There are private companies and providers specializing in travel testing. There are options at the Port of Seattle for travel testing as well. To find out more about these options, please visit COVID-19 Testing and Travel Requirements | Port of Seattle (portseattle.org)
Our testing sites only offer whether COVID-19 was "Detected" or "Not Detected," along with the person's name, date of birth, test type, and date tested. King County testing sites are not intended to screen travelers. All King County tests are performed by accredited laboratories but if the above information does not satisfy your destinations needs then you would need to get testing done elsewhere.
If you need a test to travel, it's not guaranteed that you will receive a result within 72 hours of departure.
For more travel requirements and recommendations, visit CDC website for International Travel During COVID-19.
Fully vaccinated - Domestic travel
If you are fully vaccinated and are returning from domestic travel, you do not need to quarantine. You should monitor for symptoms for 14 days. Get tested right away if you develop symptoms.
Fully vaccinated - International travel
If you are fully vaccinated and you are returning from international travel, you do not need to quarantine. You should get tested 3-5 days after your return and monitor for symptoms for 14 days. Get tested right away if you develop symptoms.
Unvaccinated – Domestic or international travel
If you are not fully vaccinated and you are returning from domestic or international travel, you should test 3-5 days after your return AND self-quarantine for 7 days. If you decide to not test, you should self-quarantine for 10 days. If you have fully recovered from COVID-19 in the last 3 months, follow guidance for those that are fully vaccinated.
If you are traveling internationally, please refer to question #12 above.
For passengers traveling from the United States, a copy of a 'Certificate of Accreditation' issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) program is usually acceptable.