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EXPLAINED: How and when can I receive a Covid-19 test in Germany?

Think you may have been infected with Covid-19? Here's what you need to know about when and how to receive a test for the coronavirus.

EXPLAINED: How and when can I receive a Covid-19 test in Germany?
People queue for coronavirus testing at a test centre in Munich on October 30th. Photo: DPA

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Who can get tested?

Since the end of August, just over one million people in Germany have been tested for the coronavirus every week. 

So when testing, a targeted approach is important. Because to test all people with cold symptoms, you would need three million tests – every week!

This is neither possible, nor necessary, due to the laboratory capacity.

In addition, physicians differentiate between a PCR test and an antigen test. (How these differ is explained below).

A coronavirus testing centre in Wuppertal, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Essentially, only people who have been exposed to a risk of infection must be tested. Germany’s Federal Ministry of Health specifically recommends tests for:

  • People with flu-like symptoms, even mild ones. These include dry cough, shortness of breath and fever. A typical secondary symptom is the loss of the sense of smell and taste. This is especially true for people from the “risk group”, i.e. people with pre-existing illnesses and the elderly OR for those who are in close contact with them, for example nursing staff. These people are usually given a PCR test.
  • In case of contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, whether you show symptoms or not. The case could arise in your own household, through a shared flat, or when the Corona-Warning-App sounds the alarm. 
  • In case of outbreaks in shared accommodation, student residences, asylum-seekers' homes, schools, day-care centres, prisons, nursing homes, hospitals, doctors' offices, etc. This also applies for guests at events in closed spaces such as big weddings or parties. As soon as a person infected with SARS-CoV-2 is detected, guests, patients, residents and staff are tested, here also with the PCR test. If necessary in retirement or nursing homes, an antigen test, which tends to be faster, is given.
  • Travel returnees from a risk area from abroad. They must immediately go into quarantine and inform the local health authority. The quarantine lasts 10 days in total, and they can take a test on the fifth day at the earliest.  Possible tests are a PCR-test or an antigen-test.

READ ALSO: Can I travel within Germany in November?

How do I receive a test?

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, the decision on a test is the responsibility of a person’s doctor or the local Gesundheitsamt (health authority).  

If they consider the test necessary, the statutory health insurance companies also pay for the service.

The medical on-call service for Germany is: 116 117

How does the PCR test work?

The viruses multiply in the mucous membranes in the nasal or pharyngeal cavity. Therefore, a special swab is used to smear the back wall of the throat. This is usually done through the nose and is usually a little unpleasant.

The samples taken are examined in the laboratory by means of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The PCR is not new to the pandemic, as it's also used in paternity testing and genetic fingerprinting for crime.

The procedure is based on a duplication of the viral genetic material. The test itself takes about five hours, and results are available after one to two days.

How does the antigen test work?

The test is based on the detection of SARS Cov-2 proteins. A smear is also taken in the nasopharynx for this purpose.

There's a decisive difference between this method and the PCR test: the smear does not have to be evaluated in a laboratory – this is done directly on site within a short time. This is why the antigen test is also called “rapid test”. All rapid antigen tests currently on the market must be performed by trained medical personnel.

What happens if I have Covid-19?

If the result is positive, the patient and the health authorities need to be informed. Then domestic quarantine is called for – at least until a negative test is available. If an individual's health condition becomes critical, they will then be admitted to an intensive care station.

Contacts will then be identified through contact tracers. In order to contain the spread of the virus as far as possible, they must also be tested and quarantined.

In case of violation of the mentioned obligations to report, test, provide evidence or to perform a self-quarantine, the responsible authorities can impose fines.

A PCR test. Photo: DPA

What if I receive a negative test?

The PCR test for Sars-CoV-2 is very accurate, but still no guarantee. If you have symptoms, you should be quarantined for five days – even if the test result comes back as negative. That is because the test can be negative even if someone is already infected. The reason is the long incubation period of the coronavirus.

Regardless of if they take a test or not, Germany recommends that everyone abide by the same AHA + L rules: These stand for Abstand (Distance) – HygieneAlltagsmaske (face masks) – and lüften (or airing out rooms regularly).

Germany also recommends that everyone install the Corona-Warn-App, which lets users know if someone around them has tested positive for the virus.

READ ALSO: Lüften: Why Germans are obsessed with the art of airing out rooms

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EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Many Covid restrictions have been dropped in Germany, but some rules remain in place. And as infections increase again, it's important to be aware of what you should do if you get Covid.

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Germany has relaxed or changed many Covid restrictions in recent months. However, with Covid infections rocketing again, people are reminding themselves of what rules remain in place, and what they have to do if they get a positive test.

Here’s a quick roundup of what you should know. 

Face masks

Covid masks have to be worn when travelling on public transport, including planes departing to and from Germany. 

They also have to be worn in places where there are more vulnerable people, such as care homes, hospitals and doctor offices. 

Masks are not mandatory anymore in shops (including supermarkets) and restaurants, but individual businesses can enforce the rule so watch out for signs on the door. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

FFP2 masks have become the standard in Germany, but in some cases other medical masks are sufficient.

There are no longer any entry rules to public venues such as the 3G or 2G rule, meaning that people had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test. 

However, they could return in autumn if the infection protection laws are adapted, and if the Covid situation gets worse.

Mandatory isolation 

The rules on isolation differ from state to state, but there is one general requirement: those who test positive for Covid have to go into isolation at home and avoid all contact with people outside the household. The isolation period lasts at least five days or a maximum of 10 days.

If you get a positive result at home, you should go to a test centre and undergo a rapid antigen test. If it is positive, the quarantine obligation kicks in. If it is negative, you have to get a PCR test.

If you have Covid symptoms, you should contact your doctor, local health authorities or the non-emergency medical on-call service on 116 117. They can advise or whether you should get a PCR test. 

Across German states, the isolation period lasts 10 days, but – as we mentioned above – there are differences on how it can end earlier. 

In Berlin, for instance, it can be shortened from the fifth day with a negative test if you have been symptom free for 48 hours. If this isn’t the case, the isolation is extended until you have been symptom-free for 48 hours and tested negative. But you can leave without a negative test after 10 days. 

A positive Covid test.

A positive Covid test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Anyone who tests positive for Covid using a rapid test at a testing centre can have a free PCR test to confirm whether they have Covid-19. If the PCR test is negative, there is no obligation to go into quarantine.

In Bavaria, the isolation period is five days after the first positive test. For isolation to end on day five you must be symptom free for at least 48 hours. Otherwise, isolation is extended for 48 hours at a time until the maximum of 10 days. 

A test-to-release is not needed to end the isolation, unless the person works in a medical setting. 

READ ALSO: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

After isolation, Bavaria recommends that you wear an FFP2 mask in public places indoors and reduce contact for an extra five days. 

The state of Hesse has a similar system to Bavaria where a test is not needed to end the isolation early (unless the person works in a medical setting).

In North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg, residents can end their Covid isolation on the fifth day if they get a negative test (carried out at a testing centre). Otherwise the isolation period continues until the 10th day, or until they get a negative test.

Close contacts of people infected with Covid (including household contacts) no longer have to quarantine in Germany, but they are advised to get tested regularly and monitor for symptoms, as well as reduce contacts for five days. 

As ever, check with your local authority for the detailed rules.


Germany recently provisionally dropped almost all of its Covid travel restrictions, making it much easier to enter the country. 

The changes mean that entry into Germany is now allowed for all travel purposes, including tourism. The move makes travel easier – and cheaper – for people coming from non-EU countries, particularly families who may have needed multiple Covid tests for children. 

People also no longer have to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test against Covid before coming to Germany – the so-called 3G rule. 

However, if a country is classed as a ‘virus variant’ region, tougher rules are brought in. 

It is likely that travel rules could be reinstated again after summer or if the Covid situation gets worse so keep an eye on any developments. 

READ ALSO: Germany drops Covid entry restrictions for non-EU travellers

Vaccine mandate

The mandate making Covid vaccinations compulsory for medical staff remains in place. A vaccine mandate that would have affected more of the population in Germany was rejected by the Bundestag in a vote in April

READ ALSO: Germany’s top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health care workers


Masks are no longer mandatory in workplaces, unless it is in a setting where more risks groups are, such as hospitals or care homes. 

The government no longer requires people to work from home, but employers and employees can reach their own ‘home office’ arrangement.

Tests are also no longer mandatory, but workplaces can offer their employees regular tests.