For members


Germany tightens rules on UK travel: What you need to know

Germany has banned most travellers from Britain, and tightened the restrictions for residents arriving from the UK. Here's what you need to know.

Travellers at BER airport in Berlin
Travellers at BER airport in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

What’s happened?

German authorities on Saturday December 18th announced that the UK was being added to its highest risk category – the ‘virus variant area of concern’ list – due to the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

At the end of November, Germany began adding a number of southern African countries to the list after the Omicron variant was detected there. 

The German Health Ministry says that “areas of variants of concern” are regions with “widespread occurrence of a virus variant (mutant strain) of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that is not widespread within Germany and that can reasonably be believed to pose a particular risk”.

The UK has seen a surge in Covid cases, reporting over 90,000 new infections on Saturday. This figure included 10,059 new confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

The new German rules came into force at midnight on December 19th.

However, the way in which the rules have been introduced has created some confusion. When the RKI released its updated risk list on Friday evening, there were no new ‘virus variant’ countries included. 

Instead, a handful of countries, including Denmark and France, were added to the ‘high risk’ list. The decision to add the UK to the ‘virus variant’ list a day later suggests that pressure from German state health ministers contributed to the decision.

What does this mean?

A temporary “ban on carriage” is now in place for almost all travellers who want to come to Germany from the UK. 

There are exceptions, including for German nationals and people with residence rights in Germany plus their close family (such as spouses, partners they live with, and children).

Those people who are allowed to enter Germany do face extreme restrictions, though. They have to quarantine for 14 days on arrival in Germany even if they are fully vaccinated, or have recently recovered from Covid. 

Travellers over the age of 12 also have to show a test before boarding. The Local checked with the Health Ministry who said currently people can show a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours, or an antigen test no older than 24 hours but that the rules were being changed soon. It is expected people will only be allowed to show a PCR test soon.

READ ALSO: Do I need a PCR test when travelling to Germany from a ‘virus variant’ area?

People travelling to Germany from any kind of risk country have to fill in the digital register before entering.

Those coming to Germany will also have to prove they are a resident/citizen under the new rules – for example, they will have to show a German passport or residence permit. Some Britons in Germany still do not have this documentation yet after the Brexit transition period ended.

As has been the case in previous travel bans, people who don’t have this proof could show an address registration certificate (Meldebescheinigung) or a certificate of application for a permit (Fiktionsbescheinigung), or other proof – like a work contract – to show they live in Germany. 

How long will this rule be in place for?

When the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) published its updated risk list, it included a note stating that  the ‘virus variant’ countries would remain on that list until January 3rd, with the possibility of extension. 

How will this affect people?

Tourists or non.residents who planned to come to Germany over this period will most likely have to cancel their trip.

The restrictions are also a huge blow to people based in Germany who planned to or have already travelled to the UK for the holidays. Many people now face difficult decisions on whether to cancel their journey or deal with the new rules. 

There is also the added complication that airlines will cancel some of their flights during travel bans. So travel to Germany from the UK could become much more difficult and possibly more expensive.

Another issue is that it can be tricky to get a Covid-19 test in the UK before travel. Unlike Germany, Britain does not have a readily-available and fairly priced testing infrastructure. 

In the UK people can’t just go to any test centre to get a PCR test and instead have to book and pay for “fit to fly” tests offered by private companies specifically for travel.Cities like London have more opportunities for testing but those in rural areas or further north, may have to travel a long way and pay high costs for a test.

Wasn’t the UK on this list before?

Yes, the UK was placed on the ‘virus variant’ list in May 2021 due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant at the time. The risk factor was then downgraded in July when Delta became the dominant variant in Germany. 

And last Christmas, Germany controversially imposed a strict ban on travel from the UK, leaving many people stranded, including German nationals and residents.

What else should I know?

German experts and politicians are saying that an Omicron wave is inevitable. But they are trying to slow it down to buy time to get more people boostered.

Scientists said recently they expected the Omicron wave to build in Germany in the next two to three weeks. 

There are already estimated to be hundreds of Omicron cases in Germany, RKI boss Lothar Wieler said at a recent press conference.

The RKI said the outbreaks have also been found in community settings.

Experience shows that Germany removes countries from the ‘virus variant’ list when the variant becomes dominant in Germany. For people who are in quarantine when that happens, the quarantine ends immediately. 

What about the rules on travel to the UK?

The UK had already tightened restrictions on international arrivals. 

The British government demanded 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.


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

 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. 

You cannot leave self-isolation until the test result arrives. You can find the Passenger Locator Form HERE which has to be filled out before travel.

Read more on Day 2 tests in our story HERE but be aware that the travel rules from Germany to the UK have changed (as we’ve detailed above).

Should I travel to the UK?

Travel from Germany to the UK is not banned, so individuals have to weigh up the risks, read about the measures and decide for themselves. 

You should check the RKI risk list regularly to see if there are any changes, and keep an eye on any destinations you want to travel to.

Some people in Germany have already decided to cancel their trip to the UK for now because of the Covid situation there. So that could be an option for you if you feel that the risk is too high. 

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For members


‘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 (out of 26) 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.