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‘Extremely strict’: What it’s like to travel from the UK to Germany right now

'Extremely strict': What it's like to travel from the UK to Germany right now
A sign for a Covid test centre in Berlin airport. Photo:picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene
Germany put in tough entry restrictions for UK arrivals back in May when the Delta variant began to push up the number of cases there, with exceptions for residents and citizens. Here's what it's like to travel between the two countries.

After not seeing my family in about 18 months, I booked a flight to Scotland for early June when the Covid situation looked like it would be much improved in both the UK and Germany. 

As my family and I were fully vaccinated, it felt like the best time to visit, spend time with everyone and sort out some admin I needed to do in my home country. 

I knew there were risks – and I had to pay a lot for testing and quarantine for 10 days when arriving in Scotland – but for my own reasons it was the right time to head back. 

But as we’ve come to expect during this pandemic, nothing stays the same for long. Unfortunately the Delta variant, which was first discovered in India, began to spread in the UK in May.

And on May 21st, Germany announced it was making the UK a ‘virus variant area of concern’ – effectively banning travel –just two weeks after it had declared the UK ‘risk free’.

It plunged people’s plans into uncertainty. Those who were already in the UK worried that they wouldn’t be able to return to Germany, or stressed out over the two-week quarantine period – which is how long you have to self-isolate when returning from a ‘virus variant area of concern’ under German rules. 

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We’d also been in this situation before. Germany banned travel from the UK in December just before Christmas when the Alpha variant was running rampant, leaving people – including German citizens and Brits who lived in Germany, controversially, – stranded on the border or refused entry onto flights.

READ ALSO: ‘Utter nightmare’: Brits barred from flights home to Germany amid travel chaos

Quickly, though, exceptions were put in place to allow certain groups of people – such as residents and citizens and their close family – to be able to return to Germany even if there was a general entry ban. 

As the situation can change quickly, I decided to take the risk and still travel to the UK in early June, hoping that the situation might look better later on in the month. 

The UK has a high vaccination rate – and Germany’s jabs were picking up – so for me it felt different and safer to travel in June than, for example, at Christmas when we were all much more exposed to the virus. 

Unfortunately, the restricted entry was still in place when I travelled back to Germany – although it could be lifted soon, as we learned from Health Minister Jens Spahn on Thursday. 

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Expensive tests

Germany relaxed travel rules, particularly for vaccinated people and those who’ve recovered from Covid, in May. 

For instance, anyone travelling by air into Germany has to show a negative Covid test before boarding the flight. But if you’re vaccinated or have recovered from Covid you can show evidence of that instead. 

In general, different rules are required for arrivals from countries around the world depending on their risk status, although quarantine restrictions were eased recently – particularly for fully vaccinated people.

However, the rules are still tough when coming from a virus variant area, such as the UK, India and Brazil, and – most recently – Portugal and Russia. 

Even if you’re fully vaccinated, you have to show a negative PCR test (taken within 72 hours before you’re due to land in Germany) or a rapid antigen test (taken within 24 hours before landing).

A flight leaving London Heathrow. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PA Wire | Steve Parsons

The issue in the UK is that there are not many places to get tested for Covid easily, especially in smaller cities and rural areas. 

And you’ll have to pay a lot for a test. Some places charge up to £150 for a PCR test. It’s a far cry from Germany’s testing network that allows for free antigen tests and much cheaper PCR tests. 

This is, of course, on top of what you paid for the day two and day eight testing when arriving in the UK. 

What happens before travel to Germany?

Once you have your negative test, you have to register online and upload it to www.einreiseanmeldung.de.

Then you may be asked – depending on your carrier – to upload the documents before you check in online. I uploaded my negative test and the PDF of the German registration to the British Airways site on my booking page. It’s usually only after these are verified that you can check in. 

My flight down to London from Scotland wasn’t overly complicated although I was asked my reason for travelling to Germany. When I explained I was a German resident, I was told evidence of this would be checked before boarding.

It got intense when we began boarding for the flight to Berlin.

The staff put out a call asking people to get their documents ready. Passengers stood around with folders of paper and their phones at the ready. 

The airline staff checked people’s documents thoroughly, and anyone that didn’t have the right papers or an out-of-date test certificate was asked to stand aside. 

A family of three who said they were coming to Germany for a wedding were not allowed on the plane.

“Sorry, the rules have changed,” said the staff member turning the family of three away and back into the departure lounge. “Only residents and citizens are allowed.”

Other people, including a group of three women, and another group of three young men, were also refused entry onto the plane. 

A few people were told that they didn’t have the correct documents but if they filled in the online entry form they might be able to get on.

There were several heated discussions with desperate travellers at the boarding gate as others – including many native German speakers – boarded with no problems.

I don’t have my Brexit residence card yet but I’d taken my Anmeldung (address registration document) for travel. It was accepted and I was able to board the plane. 

‘The rules have changed’

Once on, the pilot said we would be late in departing because staff needed to remove luggage from the hold belonging to the people who didn’t get on the flight. 

One passenger, whose documents were scrutinised before boarding, was sitting comfortably with his seat belt on when an air steward came over and asked him to leave the plane. 

“I don’t get it,” he said in an American accent as he followed the steward down the aisle and had to get off the plane. 

Some passengers, who had come from the US and were transferring through London to Germany said they recommended avoiding the UK in future. 

“It’s more trouble than it’s worth,” said one man. 

Germany says in general travel bans from countries affected by variants also apply for transit, but check official advice from the German Foreign Office and your airline for more information. 

Back in Germany I’ve had to complete a 14-day quarantine with no option of ending it earlier. My local health office contacted me by email on the first day of isolation offering a PCR test seven to 10 days into the isolation period. They also offered the option of entering into a hotel quarantine if I lived with a high risk person.

The rules are extremely strict and not to be taken lightly. But with the announcement from the Health Minister that Germany could downgrade the risk status of the UK soon. it will likely be a very different experience for others down the line.

Another thing to keep in mind is that flights are likely to be cancelled at the moment. My original flight home to Germany was cancelled, and I know people who’ve had to find other routes back to Germany because their flights were cut from the schedule. 

A British Airways spokesman told The Local: “Like other airlines, due to the current Coronavirus pandemic and global travel restrictions we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule. 

“We advise customers to check the latest UK Government travel advice at gov.uk and their latest flight information at ba.com.”e


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