TRAVEL: What to know about Germany's new two test strategy for arrivals from foreign 'risk zones'
The rules on what happens when you arrive in Germany from a coronavirus 'risk area' are changing - yet again. Here's what you should know.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders have agreed on new rules for people arriving in Germany from areas classed as coronavirus risk zones.
Here are the new and existing rules.
Can we travel?
The message hasn't changed: German officials do not want anyone to be travelling right now, whether it's within the country or abroad.
There is no ban on travel, like last spring during the first wave, but Merkel and co are strongly urging people not to travel unless it is essential. That's because the country is still dealing with high daily coronavirus infections and deaths.
Plus the effects of the socialising and travel during the holidays won't be known until mid-January. Experts are predicting a further spike in numbers then.
"The federal government and the states once again expressly point out that travel to risk areas without a valid reason must be avoided at all costs," authorities said in their latest decision paper.
There are of course reasons why people are still travelling, whether it's for work or personal reasons.
What are the new rules?
From January 11th people coming from 'risk areas' to Germany have to do a coronavirus test on entry as soon as they arrive in the country, or within 48 hours before arriving.
That's in addition to the mandatory 10-day quarantine that has to be done when you arrive in Germany. The quarantine can be ended with a negative test taken on the fifth day at the earliest which you can leave your home to do. This rule has been in force officially since November 8th.
The government and states call this the "two-test strategy".
The government also said it reserves the right to introduce additional testing obligations for countries where the risk of infection is particularly high due to the spread of mutations of the virus or high numbers of infections.
In December Germany introduced temporary travel bans for people coming from the UK and South Africa due to new virus variants. The ban has been extended to January 20th.
There are slightly different rules for people arriving from the UK and South Africa. Read our story on the travel ban rules here.
There can also be different restrictions depending on the state you live in or you're travelling to. You can find your local restrictions here by entering the postcode.
Keep in mind that you are not excluded from these obligations if you travel into Germany by car or another form of transport.
For more information check out our story published at the end of last year here (although keep in mind that some rules are changing as we are detailing in this article).
Can I get any test?
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) "molecular based tests (PCR tests) for the direct detection of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 are currently accepted from all countries of the European Union" including Germany as well as most other countries across the world.
Meanwhile, antigen rapid tests to detect coronavirus are accepted in principle "as long as they meet the minimum criteria recommended by the WHO for SARS-CoV-2-Ag rapid tests".
Experts say rapid tests are less reliable than PCR tests but they are still accepted if they meet requirements. Check with the test provider if you're unsure.
One other thing: the test result must be available on paper or in an electronic document in German, English or French and must be presented upon request to the competent authority after entry.
For information on test requirements have a look at this information sheet.
Are tests after travel to risk zones free?
No. In Germany, tests are no longer covered by health insurance for people coming from risk zones.
Tests can vary in cost, from around €50 to €60 but sometimes may be more depending on the provider.
Where can I get a test?
According to the government, you can call the non-emergency number 116 117 or check www.116117.de to find out where in your area you can get tested.
You can also be tested by your family doctor if they allow it. You can call them to ask.
When entering the country by air or sea, you can also find testing stations at airports and ports (such as these ones at German airports).
There are also private testing centres being set up across Germany. Even Berlin's famous KitKat club has turned into a rapid test centre.
If you get a positive result you have to go back home and continue your quarantine, plus make sure you follow any orders from health officials.
The health authority can monitor your quarantine and if you're found to be breaking rules, you would likely receive a fine, which can be up to €25,000.
Authorities are made aware when it is a positive result. They can require you to submit a test result (although it's not part of the process to submit every negative test) so keep your negative test result handy or in a safe place in case you need to present it.
Do I need to do anything before I travel?
Yes. If you are leaving Germany, you must check the rules for the region or country you are travelling to.
You may need to fill out a form before travelling, and you will have to follow the regulations for that country, whether it's wearing a mask or sticking to a curfew.
When coming to Germany this is what you have to know: if you have stayed within a non-German risk zone within the last 10 days prior to entering the country (the Robert Koch Institute provides an updated list here of risk areas), you have to register online prior to entry by filling in information on this site: www.einreiseanmeldung.de.
Once you have done that, you will receive a PDF file as confirmation. Your carrier will check whether you can present a confirmation before you can travel.
If, in exceptional cases, it is not possible to make a digital entry, you will have to fill in a replacement declaration on paper instead.
If you are entering from a country outside of the Schengen Area, the government says the registration check will be made by police at the border, presumably during your passport check.
If you have filled out this form you do not need to alert the local health authority (Gesundheitsamt) that you've arrived as you've already done the digital entry registration.
The government says if you have filled in this form "the public health office will be able to access the stored data digitally and thereby monitor the observance of home quarantine and/or require the submission of a test result or submission to a test".
What is a risk zone?
Around 150 of the approximately 200 countries worldwide are classed as 'coronavirus risk zones' and people in Germany are warned against travelling there.
The Robert Koch Institute provides an updated list here of risk areas here.
Please keep in mind that this article, as with all of our guides, are to provide assistance only. They are not intended to take the place of official legal advice.