Americans can begin ordering rapid COVID-19 tests from the federal government free of charge.

You can now order your free COVID tests from COVIDTests.gov, and the federal government will send them out at no cost to you — including no shipping fees. A half-billion tests will be available for order at first, with an additional half-billion on order.

The website was initially set to launch on Wednesday, Jan. 19, but began accepting orders on Tuesday, Jan. 18 as part of what White House press secretary Jen Psaki called a “beta phase” in a press briefing.

To distribute the tests, the Biden administration will partner with the United States Postal Service. Postal workers at 43 facilities around the country — including in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh — will build and label millions of the testing kits for mail delivery.

The USPS could deliver about two million kits a day, Andy Kubat, president of the Lehigh Valley-area American Postal Workers Union, recently told The Inquirer. Locally, the tests will be stored, built, and shipped from a 120,000-square-foot warehouse in Delaware County.

But although the program has now launched, there are some limitations, and delivery likely won’t be instant. Here is what you need to know.

Where can I request free tests?

You can go to COVIDTests.gov and request free tests as of Tuesday, Jan. 18. The website is currently active, and is now accepting orders. On its main page, you’ll find a “Order Free At-Home Tests” link, which opens an order form hosted on the Postal Service’s website.

To order the tests, you will need to provide your name and residential mailing address, and if you provide your email address, you can get status updates on your order. You don’t need to provide any credit card information.

After the website’s initial launch, some people living in multi-unit buildings began reporting issues with ordering tests: a page saying that kits had “already been ordered” to their address appeared when they attempted to place an order.

The Postal Service acknowledged that the issue is impacting “a small percentage of orders” placed from multi-unit buildings. Officials said that if you are experiencing this issue, you should report it to USPS via an online form, or contact their help desk by phone at 1-800-ASK-USPS.

If you don’t have internet access, or need additional support to get tests, you can call the COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline at 1-800-232-0233 for help in English or Spanish. If you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, you can contact the hotline’s TTY service at 1-888-720-7489.

How many tests can I get?

Each residential address is limited to four free tests from the program to “ensure broad access,” the White House said.

Your order will be prioritized if you’re in a “household experiencing the highest social vulnerability and in communities that have experienced a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases and deaths.” The administration also plans to work with national and local organizations that serve high-risk communities to help those community members request tests.

Can I pick which kind of test I get?

No, you won’t be able to pick the brand or type of test you receive, according to the website’s FAQ. The tests distributed as part of the program are all “FDA-authorized at-home rapid antigen tests.”

How long will it take to get the tests?

You should get your tests in 8 to 15 days in the Philly area. Once you request your COVID tests, they will be shipped in 7 to 12 days. Orders in the continental United States will be shipped by USPS’s First Class Package Service, the shipping times for which typically run one to three days. Orders going to Alaska, Hawaii, and other non-continental addresses will be shipped by Priority Mail.

As the program gets up and running, those lead times are expected to shorten, a senior administration official said. And, if you experience issues receiving your tests, you should contact USPS for help.

Are there other ways to get free tests?

Yes.

If you have private insurance, the Biden administration is requiring that at-home COVID-19 tests be covered starting Jan. 15. You can be reimbursed for up to eight at-home tests a month, or have your insurance cover the costs up front. So, a family of four, for example, could be covered for up to 32 tests monthly. You will not need an order from a health-care provider, The Inquirer previously reported. You also won’t have to pay any deductibles, co-payments, or coinsurance, according to a statement from the Health and Human Services Department.

If you don’t have insurance, Biden said, there are more than 20,000 free testing sites around the country.

In Philadelphia, the city maintains a map of dozens of testing sites, and also keeps a list of pop-up testing events from organizations including the health department, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, and Philadelphia FIGHT.

You may also be able to find a testing location near you on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, which has a map of testing sites by state.