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I’ll be straight with you. It’s very hard to get a free DNA test in the US.
Testing DNA is a high-skill, high-tech, and time-consuming process. It has to be done in a specialized lab by trained and experienced technicians.
Take ancestry testing for example.
When a tube of spit or a cheek swab arrives at the lab, they have to extract your DNA first. They then amplify your DNA (copy it many times over) to prepare it for analysis.
The DNA is analyzed using a particular chip. The technicians study hundreds of thousands of locations on your DNA – called SNPs – to find how unique you are and how you compare to millions of other people’s DNA in their database.
This is how they find unknown cousins and determine your ancestry breakdown.
It’s much more complicated and expensive than it sounds.
Labs, or rather the companies that operate them, have to pay for those technicians as well as the high-tech equipment used.
There’s only one situation where you can get a free DNA test, and even then it’s not always a guarantee.
The only place I’ve found that offers honest-to-goodness free DNA tests is within Surname Projects.
These are groups of people who share surnames. They come together to try and find out more about their lineage.
That involves sharing information about their families, looking through genealogical records and taking Y-DNA tests.
Some surname projects hosted on the International Society of Genetic Genealogy’s (ISOGG) website offering to pay for Family Tree DNA Y-DNA tests for their members.
But to qualify to join the group and take advantage of the offer, you have to provide a list of your paternal ancestors going back at least three generations.
Note that only some groups have this offer and some of them limit it to a specific number of members.
Additionally, the group manager has full rights to view your DNA results and use them within the project. If you want to revoke their access, you have to refund the money they paid for the test.
See the full list of projects that offer free DNA tests on ISOGG’s Wiki.
It’s much easier to get a discounted test than a free one.
For instance, when you join one of the groups hosted by Family Tree DNA you can often get a discount when you order through the group.
If you do a Google search for ‘free DNA test,’ you’ll probably come across a number of websites offering free DNA test kits.
They may very well be offering free kits but you probably still have to pay for the test itself. The kit is just for collecting a sample and sending it back.
They will then most likely ask you to pay before analyzing your DNA.
In any case, they have most probably included the cost of the kit in the final cost. So there’s nothing you are getting for free.
If you find a website offering a full test for free, be extra-cautious.
I have written a lot about DNA testing and researched deeply on different types of tests and testing companies. I have yet to come across a legit company that offers free DNA tests.
So if you find one, they probably want your DNA for ill purposes.
There is nothing as personal as your DNA. If you hand it over willy-nilly, it could be used to target you in a lot of unpleasant ways. It can even be used to track down people you are related to.
You are better off paying for a legit test than giving your spit to a shady company.
There are no free paternity tests in the US, even when the test is court-ordered.
Usually, the person requesting the test pays for it. But the court can order the father to reimburse those costs if paternity is confirmed.
Talk to your attorney if you are not sure who is responsible for paying for the paternity test.
Health DNA testing is sometimes used to diagnose diseases, especially in prenatal babies. A parent can also get a genetic health screening if they are afraid they’ll pass on a genetic mutation to their kids.
If you need such a test, check whether your insurance can cover it. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay for it out of pocket.
Only in the UK does the NHS sometimes cover specific health-related DNA tests.
Beyond health DNA tests and ancestry DNA tests (Y-DNA, autosomal DNA, and mitochondrial DNA), there are many more types of tests people are taking today.
There are infidelity tests to check for someone else’s DNA on the sheets, diet DNA tests, dog DNA tests and even dating DNA tests that supposedly match you with the perfect partner.
None of these tests are offered for free, at least as far as I know.
If you come across any free DNA test, read the fine print very carefully to see exactly what the company is getting in return.
Compared to a decade ago, DNA tests today are actually quite affordable.
Tests that used to cost hundreds of dollars now go for as little as $99 and sometimes even cheaper.
The cost of a DNA test will depend on which type of test it is.
Autosomal DNA tests cost between $79 and $99.
Y-DNA and mtDNA tests can cost anywhere from $100 to $600 or more depending on the complexity of the test.
Court-ordered paternity tests cost around $300 to $500.
DNA health tests cost between $100 and $300.
The most expensive type of DNA test is a prenatal DNA test which can cost as much as $2,000.
See the best DNA tests in our in-depth buying guide to find the best one for your needs.
If you are ready to get a DNA test but don’t know which company to choose, see how the three top tests match up in our AncestryDNA vs. 23AndMe vs. FTDNA comparison.
I'm just another amateur genealogist investigating my American-Scots-Irish lineage. I built MyFamilyDNATest.com after buying all of the leading DNA tests to discover everything I could about my family history. Hopefully, this site will save you time and demystify the emerging science of DNA-based genealogy, for your family project.