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How Germany’s new travel rules to fight the fourth Covid wave may affect your holiday plans

Germany gave its travel restrictions an overhaul this week. What does it all mean?

How Germany's new travel rules to fight the fourth Covid wave may affect your holiday plans
Bavaria's Königssee is a top destination for tourists at home and abroad. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

How exactly have the entry rules changed?

If you’re planning on visiting Germany, or heading on holiday and returning, you’ll need to be aware of the documents you need to enter the country. 

At the start of this month Germany changed its testing obligation rule. It means that everyone entering the country – regardless of where they are coming from or how they’re travelling – has to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test, proof of full vaccination or proof of recovery from Covid-19 within the last six months.

Before this point, the rule applied to everyone travelling by air. Now if you’re travelling by car, train or boat you should prepare for random checks around border areas. 

One important change in the testing rule is that it applies to people over the age of 12. That means those under 12 do not need to provide a negative test, or a vaccination or recovery certificate. Previously, everyone over six had to be tested. 

There are exceptions for short trips and commuters.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Germany’s testing rules 

What type of tests are acceptable?

Both rapid antigen tests that meet the quality requirements (swab has to be taken within 48 hours before time of entry to Germany) and PCR tests (maximum 72 hours old at entry) are acceptable.

The antigen test must meet ≥80 percent sensitivity and ≥97 percent specificity to qualify for entry into Germany. If you’re unsure whether your test provider meets these standards, you can often find the information on the provider’s website or call them up.

If you’re coming from a virus variant area, the antigen tests must be taken within 24 hours of arriving in Germany.

Although vaccinated and people who’ve recovered from Covid can show proof of that instead of a negative test when travelling from most countries into Germany, if it’s a virus variant area everyone has to show a negative test – even if you’ve been vaccinated or have had Covid within the last six months.

Who pays for the tests?

Although antigen tests are generally free in Germany, if you’ve travelled abroad and have to get a test to get back into Germany, you pay for it yourself.

In the new regulations, the German government estimates the cost of an antigen test at a “single- to small-double-digit amount” for travellers abroad. PCR tests are significantly more expensive.

The government says it could cost more than €100 for travellers to have this test done abroad.  

Mallorca is a favourite destination for Germans. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZUMA Press Wire | John-Patrick Morarescu

What should I know about the documents I have to show?

According to the German government, unvaccinated people over 12 have to show that they have tested negatively for a Covid-19 infection with a certificate in German, English, French, Italian or Spanish language in paper or digital form.

The test certificate must indicate the date of testing and the type of test used. You may also be required to confirm your identity with photo ID when showing the test certificate. 

For vaccinated people: the vaccine used must be one of those listed on the website of the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut. You are classed as fully vaccinated in Germany at least least 14 full days after receiving the last dose. It can be in paper or digital form but should include details such as your name, the type of vaccine used and it must have been issued from a recognised institution. 

For people who’ve recovered from Covid, one dose of the vaccine is sufficient and the 14-day waiting period does not apply.

To show recovery from Covid-19, a positive PCR test result carried out at least 28 days but no more than six months previously can be shown. 

READ ALSO:

Will anyone check the documents?

Airlines already have to check proof of testing or vaccination/recovery before boarding. 

As we said above, for other forms of transport police or travel providers are carrying out spot checks. 

This isn’t supposed to lead to more traffic jams but given that it’s holiday season and roads around popular border areas are busy anyway, you should keep in mind that it may add a bit of a time onto your journey. 

READ ALSO: Holidaymakers stopped at German borders for test checks

What’s changed about risk countries?

Germany has simplified its classification of countries into a ‘traffic light system’ in order to make it easier for people to decide when travelling and to better understand the travel rules. 

The main difference is that the government has wiped the ‘basic risk’ area – used for areas with more than 50 new infections per 100,000 people within seven days, and instead has just three categories:

Non risk areas (green) – These generally include areas with less than 100 cases per 100,000 people but other factors such as vaccination rates are taking into account. 

High risk areas (orange) – High-risk areas are regions with a particularly high infection incidence of spread of the virus. These include, for example, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, the UK and Cyprus.

Virus variant areas (red) – Countries and regions in which virus variants of concern that are not yet widespread in Germany and are considered particularly infectious or dangerous are classified as virus variant areas. These are currently Brazil and Uruguay.

The table below in German shows what happens when you’re coming from non risk area (green), a high risk area (orange) or a virus variant country (red). It shows if vaccinated/recovered people, the unvaccinated, and children under the age of 12 have to fill out the online digital Einreiseanmeldung’ form, need a negative test or need to quarantine. 

Source: German government

What are the quarantine rules?

Unvaccinated travellers and those who’ve recovered from Covid coming from high-risk areas are required to enter quarantine for 10 days after arrival, which can be ended no earlier than the fifth day by a negative PCR test. 

As the monitoring of quarantines is controlled at the regional level, your local health office should send out an email with details of where you can take the test or with any other instructions. 

For children under 12, the quarantine period can be ended at the end of the fifth day after entry with non need for a test. 

All returnees coming into Germany from virus variant areas must enter a domestic quarantine for 14 days on arrival. 

As we said above, proof of testing is also required even if you are fully vaccinated or recovered.

In some cases, fully vaccinated people may not have to quarantine if coming from a virus variant region. Check out our story below for the details on that.

READ ALSO: Germany’s new quarantine rules for vaccinated travellers

Do I have to do anything else before entering Germany?

If you’ve been in a country classed as a risk country (orange and red category) by Germany within 10 days of heading to the country you have to fill out the Digital Entry Portal at Einreiseanmeldung.de.

You can upload proof of vaccination/recovery or a negative test and you’ll also have to answer questions about where you’re coming from 

You don’t have to fill in this form if you’re coming from a non risk area. 

Can anyone travel to Germany?

Although Germany has eased entry restrictions allowing vaccinated people from most non-EU countries to enter, and expanding the ‘safe list’ of countries, there are still some strict rules. 

There are entry bans in place for virus variant countries and tougher rules for unvaccinated people in many cases. 

And, of course, the country you’re travelling from may not recommend travel to Germany so take this into account too.

You can keep an eye on Germany’s risk countries by checking the Robert Koch Institute list regularly. 

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‘Double processing time’: Austria and Germany fear non-EU travellers face border delays

Germany, Austria and another of other countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

'Double processing time': Austria and Germany fear non-EU travellers face border delays

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors. EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 member states to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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