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COVID-19

Who can still get free Covid tests in Germany?

Germany is bringing in sweeping changes to its Covid testing strategy from Monday October 11th. Here's what you should know.

A woman walks past a Covid test station in Munich in August.
A woman walks past a Covid test station in Munich in August. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

What’s changing from Monday?

Back in August, Chancellor Angela Merkel and state health ministers announced that Schnelltests – or rapid antigen Covid-19 tests (known as the Bürgertest/citizen test) would cost a fee from Monday, October 11th. Since March this year rapid tests have been taxpayer funded and therefore free to anyone who wants them – including tourists and visitors to Germany.

The change is stipulated in a decree put together by the Health Ministry.

Why are there no more free rapid tests?

The move is aimed at encouraging people to get vaccinated against Covid. 

The government justified this by saying that most people in Germany have now had the chance to get vaccinated against Covid free of charge. It is therefore no longer necessary for taxpayers to cover the cost of testing, they say.

Why is this important?

Germany has a version of the Covid health pass system in place called the ‘3G’ rules. It means that people can only access certain indoor public places like restaurants, gyms and cinemas with a vaccination certificate (geimpft), proof of recovery form Covid (genesen) within the last six months or a negative Covid test (getestet).

So this change in testing rules means that unvaccinated people will have to pay from their own pocket to take part in public life. Usually a rapid antigen test has to be no older than 24 hours and a PCR test no older than 48 hours for entry into some public places.

READ ALSO: Motivation to get vaccinated or coercion? Mixed views on Germany’s plan to charge for Covid tests

Several states have gone further, giving businesses the option of having ‘2G’ rules – entry only to the vaccinated and recovered. 

Meanwhile, vaccinated people may still use Schnelltests to monitor their infection status and before travelling abroad. So the testing changes affect most of the population.

Who will continue to get a rapid test for free?

Some groups of people, such as children under 12 for whom there is no approved Covid vaccine, will still be entitled to free tests. People who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will also continue to get the cost of rapid tests covered by the government. 

Here’s who the government says won’t have to pay for rapid tests from Monday:

  • Children under 12, or those who have turned 12 in the last three months before testing
  • People who can’t be vaccinated against Covid due to medical reasons. According to the government this also applies to pregnant women in the first trimester, as the Standing Commission on Vaccination has not yet issued a general vaccination recommendation for this period
  • The free test option also exists if a vaccination has not been possible in the last three months before the test due to a medical reason
  • People who have been in quarantine due to Covid and need a test to end the quarantine can still get it for free
  • Until December 31st 2021 – children aged 13 to 17 can still get free tests. The same applies to pregnant women. There is a general vaccination recommendation for these groups to get vaccinated but it came later than other groups of the population
  • Students from abroad who have been jabbed with a vaccine not recognised in Germany can also be tested free of charge by rapid test until December 31st 2021
  • Participants taking part in a Covid-19 efficacy study can still get free rapid tests

READ ALSO: Germany’s 16 states bring in uniform Covid-19 ‘3G’ rules

What do I have to show for a rapid test if I am one of the exceptions?

If you are part of these groups you have to show your identity card or passport. 

If the exception is not linked to age, you also need proof such as a letter from a GP.  According to the ministry, a diagnosis does not have to be given. However, the name, address and date of birth as well as information on the issuer of the certificate must be stated. 

A sign shows the way to a Covid-19 testing station in Hamburg.
A sign shows the way to a Covid-19 testing station in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Reinhardt

What will a Covid test cost from October 11th?

The costs will be set by the private providers so will vary across centres in regions. 

So far, the federal government has been reimbursing the testing stations €11.50 per rapid test and €43.56 per PCR test. That means tests are likely to cost anywhere between €12 and €50 for a rapid test and between €44 and €100 for a PCR test. 

According to the Bavarian GP Association, the prices for rapid tests there will be around €35 in future. 

It is likely that test centres will judge the demand and adjust prices in the coming weeks. It’s also not clear how many will remain open.

According to the German pharmacy association, there are now about 4,400 testing stations. 

What about Covid tests at work?

Employers still have to offer a Covid-19 at least twice a week to all employees who do not work at home. The costs must be covered by the companies.

What if the rapid test is positive?

If you get a positive rapid test at any time, you have to take a PCR test – and the PCR test will be free. In test centres, it is usually possible to have the sample for a PCR test taken immediately after a positive rapid test.

Those who have tested themselves at home or at work and received a positive result should make an appointment with their doctor for a PCR test. It’s also possible to call the medical on-call service on 116 117. In the meantime, people are advised to avoid contact with others as much as possible so as not to infect anyone else.

Are PCR tests still free for people with Covid symptoms or for contact persons?

Yes. If you think you have Covid, or you are alerted as a contact person by a Covid warning app, you should contact your doctor or call 116 117. A medical expert will then determine whether you should get a Covid-19 PCR or rapid test. That test will be covered by your health insurance, as has been the case previously, so you won’t have to pay. 

In emergencies – like if you or someone you know is in severe respiratory distress – call 112. 

Member comments

  1. I may have missed something, but if you are fully vaccinated, and you believe you have been infected, do you have to pay to check (For instance the Covpass pings you)

    1. Hi Richard, I clarified that in the story. You don’t have to pay for a test if you suspect you have Covid and contact the public health department or a doctor to arrange a test.

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For members

COVID-19 TESTS

EXPLAINED: The new rules on getting a Covid test in Germany

Most people now have to pay to get an antigen test in Germany. Here's what you should know about the new rules.

EXPLAINED: The new rules on getting a Covid test in Germany

What’s happening? 

Until this point everyone in Germany was entitled to at least one free Covid-19 rapid test per week by trained staff. It included a test result certificate which could be delivered to the person by email or in paper. 

But the free-for-all offer has now been “suspended”, according to the Federal Ministry of Health.

The revised testing regulation with the new rules took effect on Thursday June 30th. 

READ ALSO: Germany starts charging for Covid tests 

Who will continue to get a free test?

The Health Ministry says the entitlement to so-called Bürgertests is intended to protect particularly vulnerable people.

These include people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons – like women in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Others to receive free access to tests include family carers and people with disabilities, as well as their carers.

Furthermore, household members of people who have Covid, children up to the age of five, and residents and visitors of nursing homes, institutions for people with disabilities and clinics do not have to pay for a rapid test.

A person gets a Covid test swab in Oldenburg.

A person gets a Covid test swab in Oldenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

Visitors and people receiving treatment or residents in inpatient or outpatient hospital facilities can also get free tests, as well as people taking part in Covid clinical trials. 

People who need proof that they are negative after a Covid-19 infection, so they can go back to work for example, can still get tested for free.

Employees of nursing homes and hospitals should continue to take Covid rapid tests in their facilities, says the Health Ministry.

How do people prove they are entitled to a free test?

Anyone who wants to claim free testing must identify themselves to the testing agency and provide proof. For example, a birth certificate or passport (for children), and the maternity pass for pregnant women.

Those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons must present an official medical certificate from their doctor. 

For those getting a test due to a household member being positive, they have to show the positive PCR test of their housemate and proof of matching residential address. 

Who has to pay €3 to get a test?

The €3 tests are intended for private use, including for visits to family celebrations, concerts or another “indoor event”, such as the theatre. 

This is aimed at helping prevent so-called superspreader events, where many people get Covid at once.

A €3 test should also be granted to anyone who gets a red Covid warning on their Corona Warn app, or who plans to meet someone – or people – over the age of 60 or people with a pre-existing illness or disability.

Do you need to provide proof for this?

Yes. The Health Ministry says: “This can be done, for example, by showing an admission ticket to an event, the Corona Warning app or, in the case of contact with high-risk patients, a self-disclosure form or a digital registration process.”

The person getting the test signs a document stating why they are getting the test. 

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Thursday that documenting why tests were taking place would help stop fraud as random checks can be carried out. 

What other documents are required?

As before, an official photo ID has to be presented, such as a passport.

Will this be a bit confusing in practice?

It does appear to be a little unclear on how things will work. Plus many people in Germany, and tourists, won’t know about the change in rules since it came about so quickly. 

There was also some confusion on the point of visits to elderly or people with previous illnesses. People who visit relatives in clinics or nursing homes can still get a test free of charge. However, the regulation also states that those who want to meet with over-60s or those with previous illnesses must pay an additional €3 for a test.

A spokesman from the Health Ministry said the difference is whether the meeting is in an institution (where the test is free) or if it’s a private meeting (where a €3 payment is due).

READ ALSO: Germany’s planned changes to Covid vaccination status 

Why is the test offer being restricted?

It was getting too expensive. According to Lauterbach, Bürgertests cost €1 billion per month. The government has reportedly spent more than €10.5 billion on free antigen tests during the pandemic, with suspected fraud of up to €1.5 billion.

The government is also reducing the amount that is given to the test centres per antigen test – from the current €11.50 to €9.50.

A total of €6.50 from the federal government will be added to the €3 to reimburse centres.

Will any German states take over the €3 contribution payment for a test?

Lauterbach previously referred to the possibility that federal states could take over the €3 payment for residents, or groups of residents.

The states, however, quickly signalled that there were no plans to do so.

The €3 would not be replaced “in any of the states”, said Baden-Wuerttemberg’s health minister Manne Lucha (Greens) on Tuesday.

What happens if you get Covid symptoms?

People with Covid symptoms should contact their GP. Doctors in Germany can order a PCR test as part of medical treatment if Covid-19, which will be covered by the patient’s health insurance. 

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