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Everything you need to know about Covid testing if you’re visiting Germany

Everything you need to know about Covid testing if you're visiting Germany
A sign for a rapid test in Norderney, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich
We looked at what tourists in Germany should know when it comes to Covid testing, and Germany's '3G' health pass regulations.

When do I need to get a test in Germany?

Under Germany’s Covid health pass system, entry into many indoor spaces is being restricted to those who are vaccinated (geimpft), recovered from Covid (genesen) or to those who have tested negatively (getestet). In German it’s known as the 3G system so if you see this sign, be prepared to show proof of one of the ‘Gs’. 

Typically you’ll need to show it for indoor dining in cafes or restaurants and in the majority of states it will be needed for indoor leisure and cultural activities such  museums, art galleries and cinemas. 

It’s also needed to visit people in hospitals and care homes. 

You won’t need it for public transport, shops or for essential services like visiting a doctor. 

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If you are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid within the last six months, you can show proof of that. A digital certificate (such as the EU digital vaccination pass or similar) as well as paper certificates (such as from the CDC in the US or the NHS in the UK) are all accepted, as long as the vaccines in question are approved by the EU.

If you fall into the “recovered” category your PCR test must have been taken more than 28 days ago, and no longer than six months ago – so if you had Covid last year, for example, you will need a negative test. 

You can find more details in our explainers here:

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If you’re unvaccinated, you’ll have to take a test. 

Under most state rules children up to the age of six – and pupils attending school do not have to take a test for entry. The reasoning behind this is that school pupils are already regularly tested against Covid in Germany. 

Always check the local rules of the state you are visiting for any regional differences. 

In Hamburg, for instance, businesses and organisations are able to exclude unvaccinated people altogether

Are tests free to people not living in Germany?

Yes, antigen tests should be. However, we’ve heard from a few readers that some test centres have told visitors that the Bürgertest (translated as the ‘citizen test’ which is a misleading label) is only free to people resident in Germany. 

For clarification, we asked a spokesman from the German Health Ministry if taxpayer-funded rapid tests are free to people who don’t live in Germany.

“Tourists from abroad can also take a free citizen test,” the spokesman told The Local. “The entitlement to this (free test) exists regardless of whether this person has their residence or habitual abode in Germany.”

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The rapid test can be no older than 24 hours for entry into indoor spaces. 

However keep in mind that from October 11th, rapid tests will cost a fee for everyone, with a few exceptions. This is aimed at increasing the number of vaccinations. After this date, tests could cost up to €20 or more.  The costs will be set by the private providers. 

READ ALSO: Who will still get free Covid tests in Germany from October?

What about PCR tests?

PCR tests are not free to anyone in Germany unless they have Covid symptoms. 

The cost of these lab tests varies from vendor to vendor, but you can expect to pay anywhere between €40 and €160 for a private PCR test.

Some providers also charge a premium for ‘extra fast’ tests, particularly at airports – which you may need if you’re disorganised or the country you’re going to has a sudden change of rules that require you to get a PCR test at short notice. 

“A PCR test before leaving the country, on the other hand, must be paid for by the individual,” confirmed the Health Ministry spokesman. 

Can I take a self test?

Germany sells DIY Covid tests in supermarkets, pharmacies and drugstores. These are a good option for piece of mind, and many people use them to monitor their infection status before meetings (if they don’t have time to get a rapid test from a centre.)

Be warned though: self-tests can’t be used for entry into indoor spaces or for travel – so if you’re looking for a test for these purposes, you’ll need to visit an official testing centre in your local area, or at an airport or train station.

Are tests also free for travel?

You can take a Bürgertest and use it for travel purposes if it meets the requirements of the country you’re travelling or returning to. For instance, the US and the UK accepts lateral flow tests for entry into the country (with requirements).

Some test centres are now charging a fee of around €15 to add extra information to the document such as your passport number. However, other sites will add this kind of information for free.

What if I have Covid symptoms?

If you start to feel unwell on your trip to Germany and notice any of the most common symptoms of Covid, such as exhaustion, dry cough, a fever, or a loss of sense of smell or taste, the government advice is to stay at your accommodation and contact your local health authority. 

The Robert Koch Institute site has a useful tool for finding out who the relevant Health Authority in your area is. Visit this page, enter the postcode of your hotel or accommodation, and you’ll find all the contact details you need. You can also call the on-duty medical service by dialling the number 116 117.

The Health Authority will be able to advise you on the next steps. If they think you need a PCR test, you will be advised on how to book it and told to isolate. 

What happens if I test positive for Covid?

If you test positive for Covid with an antigen test, and this result is confirmed with a PCR test, you will have to go into quarantine for a period of time, usually 14 days, but follow the local authority’s advice. More information on what to do if you have Covid can be found (in English) on the Health Ministry website here.


Member comments

  1. We are visiting Köln shortly. Are there any test centres that are inexpensive to get a negative COVID (either a PCR or Antigen) test before we return to the UK. We have to have this test 3 days before our departure.

  2. My wife (French) and I (Brtish) were in Landau yesterday and there was a test station in the market square. We don’t live in German and said so. We asked if we could be tested out of curiosity and they did it without a moment’s hesitation. It was set up by the Spar Kasse and only involved a wait of 15 minutes for the result.

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