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UPDATE: The new rules for travel between Germany and the UK

The UK government has again tightened its testing rules on international arrivals. Here's what it means for people travelling between Germany and the UK.

People arrive at Heathrow Airport in London on November 26th.
People arrive at Heathrow Airport in London on November 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Alberto Pezzali

Due to concerns over the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the UK has changed its travel rules for arrivals from abroad. 

What happens if you’re travelling from Germany to the UK?

On Saturday, December 4th, the British government announced yet more new testing rules for arrivals, demanding pre-departure tests for all arrivals from Tuesday December 7th onwards.

The requirement applies for those arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. People travelling to the UK have to take either an antigen test or PCR test in the two days before travel. Self-administered tests are not accepted. 

Previously, on Tuesday, November 30th, the UK government had brought in other new restrictions affecting travel from abroad to the UK.

The existing rules remain in place around the Passenger Locator Form (more on that below), and if you are unvaccinated, you will need to quarantine for 10 days and take another test on the eighth day.

But a new requirement was introduced that applies to all vaccinated arrivals (including UK citizens and residents). They must do a PCR test for their Day 2 test (antigen tests are no longer accepted) and they must self-isolate until a negative result from the test arrives.

The self-isolation can be done at home or at the address of family/friends. The British government says people who are travelling to the UK for less than two days still have to book and pay for a test and then isolate until they receive a result – or until they leave if that comes first. 

Only arrivals from red list countries including South Africa face hotel quarantine. You cannot leave self-isolation until the test result arrivals.

READ ALSO: What it was like navigating Covid travel rules to get home to the UK from Germany

You are permitted to travel by public transport to get from the airport/port/station to you quarantine address.

Most recently, vaccinated travellers did not have to quarantine when arriving while waiting for the results of their antigen test.

The changes have brought up lots of worries, especially ahead of the holidays. 

Since summer, numerous readers of The Local have flagged up the slow and unreliable nature of many UK test providers – tests can only be booked from the list of ‘government approved’ suppliers from this list and NHS tests cannot be used for this purpose.

The Day 2 test must be ordered ahead of travel – without a booking reference you cannot complete the Passenger Locator Form which is required to board all transport to the UK.

The test can be taken “on or before day 2”, so you can take it as soon as you arrive in the UK.

You can find the Passenger Locator Form HERE. But beware of technical glitches with the form in recent weeks.

There are three options for tests:

  • Home tests – these test packs are sent out to the address where you will be staying. You do the test at home and then post the sample to the lab, who email you the results when ready. There have been problems with test kits for some providers not arriving at the address given, while others take up to 10 days to email out the results – even for people who have paid extra for a quick-results service.
  • Test centre tests – this involves booking in advance at a test centre near where you will be staying – people self-isolating are permitted to leave the address and go to a test centre. It can be hard to find a test centre near you, especially if you are outside London. The test centre then posts off the sample to the lab and you wait for the results by email, again this can take several days to arrive.
  • Airport tests – it is compulsory to have booked the Day 2 test in advance, but if you want to avoid long waits for results, some airports now offer PCR tests with rapid results, in around three hours in some cases. However these are expensive and likely to get more expensive in the coming days as the UK government does not have any kind of price cap on testing. This option is again most likely to be found in large cities like London so if you live somewhere else they are much harder to find.

What else should I be thinking about?

The UK border officers will recognise proof of vaccination provided by the EU Covid Certificate given out in Germany. 

For the UK, “fully vaccinated” means 14 days after your final dose of a EMA/FDA or Swiss approved vaccine (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson). 

After a period of confusion, the UK government says that it will accept mixed doses administered in the EU (eg, one dose of AstraZeneca and one of Pfizer).

READ ALSO:

However, people who have only had a single dose after previously recovering from Covid – which is standard practice in Germany – are not accepted as vaccinated by the UK.

You are only permitted to use a test provider from the list of government-approved firms – find that HERE and find our guide to the world of Day 2 tests HERE.

Anyone over the age of four needs to take a test on day two of arrival in the UK.

If you are staying less than two days in the UK, you still need to book the Day 2 test, but are allowed to leave quarantine in order to travel out of the country.

Click the following links to read more about travelling to EnglandWalesScotland and Northern Ireland.

And a word of warning – once you are in the UK, if you are pinged as a contact case, you may have to self-isolate for 10 days as the NHS Test and Trace programme refuses to recognise vaccinations administered outside the UK.

What about if you are travelling from the UK to Germany?

The travel rules for people coming from the UK into Germany remain unchanged. 

Fully vaccinated people coming from the UK need to upload proof of their vaccination to the digital register. Unvaccinated people travelling from most non-EU countries like the UK can only enter Germany if they can prove they have an urgent need to do so.

There are some exceptions, such as for German citizens or residents and members of their immediate family. If you fall into one of these categories you are allowed to enter the country even if unvaccinated – but will need to complete a quarantine for 10 days because the UK is classed as a ‘high risk’ country. 

This period can be ended earlier for those who can present a negative Covid test taken at least five days into the quarantine.

People travelling into Germany from anywhere in the world will need to show proof of vaccination, proof of recovery or a negative Covid test before being allowed entry. The airline carrier will usually check this, and spot checks around borders may be carried out on drivers. 

Note that all travellers need to fill in the online form before travel from the UK to Germany.

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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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