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EXPLAINED: The documents Americans need for travel to Germany

Germany opened its borders to Americans in June. Here's a look at what paperwork you need to get here - and what else you should be aware of.

EXPLAINED: The documents Americans need for travel to Germany
Travellers in Chicago's O'Hare International on July 1st. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Shafkat Anowar

Can Americans entry Germany for a tourist trip?

Yes! The German Government lifted travel restrictions for people coming from the United States on June 20th this year. It came following a recommendation from the EU commission to remove the entry restrictions for all arrivals from US and some other countries. 

It means that travel to Germany from the US for all purposes, including tourism, is allowed again. Non-essential travel from the US to Europe was essentially banned in March 2020 when the pandemic hit. 

Germany’s hotels and tourist spots are looking forward to the return of US visitors: around 2.2 million Americans visit the Bundesrepublik each year, making it the fourth most popular destination in Europe for them. 

If you’re planning on taking a trip around Europe, check out the requirements for each country before travel.

READ ALSO:

What’s the risk status of the US in Germany?

Germany has a three-tiered warning system in place for countries and regions across the world, ranging from a basic ‘risk’ zone, to a ‘high incidence’ area – and the highest risk category is ‘virus variant area of concern’.

Different rules are required for arrivals from countries around the world depending on their risk status. As of June 13th, the US is not on any risk list. That means people arriving from the US do not have to register online before travel

The 7-day incidence stands at around 33 infections per 100,000 people in the US. If the infection rate rises above 50 cases per 100,000, the US will move to the ‘risk’ category, meaning people will have to register online before travel and upload evidence of a negative Covid-19 test, proof of vaccination or proof of recovery of Covid within the last six months.

Keep in mind that countries are moved to the ‘high incidence’ list if they clock up more than 200 cases per 100,000 people. If variants of concern that aren’t already in Germany at a high level become widespread in a country, it can be moved to the ‘virus variant of concern’ category where travel is essentially banned. Those who are allowed in – like German residents and citizens – have to quarantine for 14 days and submit a negative Covid test before travel even if fully vaccinated. 

Keep an eye on the RKI list of risk countries here as the situation can change quickly.

READ ALSO:

Can I travel from the US to Germany even if I’m unvaccinated?

Unlike the rule for other non-EU countries where the focus is on allowing vaccinated passengers to enter, Germany is allowing unvaccinated people from the US to enter the country. But you will need to bring certain documents with you.

All unvaccinated air travellers aged six or older coming from the US must show a negative Covid test result before boarding the flight. 

Both PCR tests and rapid antigen tests are accepted. PCR tests must be taken within 72 hours of arrival in Germany and antigen tests that meet the requirements must be taken 48 hours before entry. 

READ ALSO: How can tourists and visitors in Germany get a Covid-19 test? 

What about if I’m vaccinated?

If you can show proof of vaccination, you do not have to provide a negative Covid test before travel to Germany. That’s also the case if you can show proof of recovery from Covid (if you contracted the infection at least 28 days ago and no more than six months ago).

People are considered fully vaccinated on the 15th day after the last vaccine dose was administered. It must be a vaccine approved by the EMA. So that’s currently Pfzier/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson.

On entry to Germany, you need to show proof that you have been fully vaccinated on an official document issued by a recognised health authority in your country of residence.

It can be in written form (for example a CDC card) or digital form. The government says that a photo taken on a phone is not sufficient. 

If you weren’t vaccinated in the US but are travelling form the US, these are the requirements:

The German government says the EU digital Covid pass or comparable proof of vaccination in German, English, French, Italian or Spanish must be presented upon entry to Germany.  This certificate must include the following information:

  • The personal data of the vaccinated person (at least first and last name plus your date of birth)
  • The date/s of vaccination and number of vaccination doses
  • The name of the vaccine (must be EMA-approved)
  • The name of the disease against which the person was vaccinated
  • The name and address of the person or institution responsible for vaccinating the person
  • Confirmation in written or electronic form with the qualified electronic signature or qualified electronic seal of the person who carried out the vaccination; if for administrative reasons this is not possible, a suitable format such as a stamp or state symbols should be used to clearly identify the responsible person or institution.

Note that all travellers coming to Germany must also not have any Covid symptoms, regardless of whether they’re vaccinated or not.

What other documents do I need?

You will likely be asked to show photo ID with the proof of vaccination, recovery or test (as is the case for people in Germany when showing proof of inoculation or tests).

Keep in mind that the airline you’re travelling with may require certain information or documents (e.g. an additional Covid test even if you’re vaccinated) so check with the airline for the requirements before your trip. 

What does the US say about travel to Germany?

This is also something that Americans really need to consider. 

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues travel advisories for each country, with most countries in Europe ranked level 3, meaning travel isn’t advised, or level 4 such as Sweden, where Americans are advised not to travel at all.

Germany is ranked at level 3 for the moment so US citizens are not advised to travel here. We’ve no idea at the moment when that will change. 

Are Europeans allowed into the US?

Currently the US is not reciprocating the offer of travel for Europeans coming the other way. Residents of the whole of Europe’s Schengen Area – 29 countries, city-states and micro-states, including Germany of course – as well as those in the UK and Ireland are still barred from traveling to the United States.

You are allowed to travel if you are a US citizen, or you spend 14 days before arrival in a country that is not on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s prohibited list. Certain family members are also exempt.

However, there are requirements and recommendations for people returning to the US from abroad, including citizens. So make sure if you do travel you’re aware of the US or state specific advice or rules. 

Do I need to obtain Germany’s digital Covid pass for travel in the EU?

No, you don’t need it. 

At the moment there is no formal agreement between EU countries and the US (or any other non-EU countries) for fully jabbed people to receive a digital vaccination certificate.

Anecdotally we’ve heard that some people who have been vaccinated in the US can receive a digital vaccine certificate from a pharmacy in Germany – but this is at the discretion of the pharmacist and probably does not apply to tourists – only German residents.  

READ ALSO: How I got Germany’s new digital CovPass with my US vaccination certificate

Are flights operating from the US?

Yes, but they could be more quiet than usual so the schedule may be reduced. Flights are more likely to be cancelled if there is an entry ban in force, such as from ‘virus variant areas’ (such as Brazil among others).

READ ALSO: Will it be possible to travel to Germany this summer?

You can find more information on the US Embassy in Germany site.

What’s going on in Germany at the moment? Are people worried about the Delta variant pushing up cases?

Yes – the 7-day incidence rate in Germany is just over 5 cases per 100,000 people right now so it’s still very low. But experts fear that the number of cases will be pushed up dramatically as we’ve seen in other countries including the UK. 

It means that the race to vaccinate before the Delta variant manages to make its presence even more felt is on. 

Aside from that though, German states have been relaxing Covid restrictions dramatically over the past month, with many events allowed again. 

Masks are still mandatory, however, when travelling on public transport and in shops, and people are urged to keep distance from others at social events. 

READ ALSO: ‘Stage zero’: North Rhine-Westphalia to scrap all contact restrictions from Friday

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TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

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