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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.

READ ALSO:

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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TRAVEL NEWS

German states threaten to block €9 ticket in Bundesrat

Germany's cut-price transport ticket is supposed to go on sale next Monday - but a battle over financing is threatening to torpedo the government's plans.

German states threaten to block €9 ticket in Bundesrat

An feud between the federal and state governments intensified on Monday as state leaders threatened to block the government’s most recent energy package when it is put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Friday. 

The battle relates to the government’s plans for a budget transport ticket that would allow people to travel on local and regional transport around Germany for just €9 per month.

Though the 16 states have agreed to support the ticket, transport ministers are arguing that the low-cost option will blow a hole in their budgets and lead to potential price hikes once autumn rolls around.

They claim that current funding promised by the Federal Transport Ministry doesn’t go far enough.

READ ALSO: 

“If the federal government believes it can be applauded on the backs of the states for a three-month consolation prize and that others should foot the bill, then it has made a huge mistake,” Bavaria’s Transport Minister Christian Bernreiter (CSU) told Bild on Monday.

The government has pledged €2.5 billion to the states to pay for the measure, as well as financial support for income lost during the Covid crisis. 

Transport Minister Volker Wissing. of the Free Democrats (FDP), said states would also receive the revenue of the €9 ticket from customers who take advantage of the offer. 

“For this ‘9 for 90 ticket’, the €2.5 billion is a complete assumption of the costs by the federal government,” said Wissing on Thursday. “In addition, the states are also allowed to keep the €9 from the ticket price, so they are very well funded here.”

Transport Minister Volker Wissing

Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) speaks ahead of a G7 summit in Düsseldorf.

However, federal states want a further €1.5 billion in order to increase staff, deal with extra fuel costs and to plan for the expansion of local transport in Germany.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Reinhard Meyer (SPD), told Bild that there would be “no approval (on Friday) as long as the federal government does not provide additional funds.”

Baden-Württemberg’s Transport Minister Winfried Hermann (Greens) also warned that “the entire package of fuel rebate and €9 euro ticket could fail in the Bundesrat” if the government doesn’t agree to the state’s demands on funding.

The Bundesrat is Germany’s upper house of parliament, which is comprised of MPs serving in the state governments. Unlike in the Bundestag, where the traffic-light coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) has a majority, the CDU is the largest party in the Bundesrat. 

What is the €9 ticket?

The €9 monthly ticket was announced early this year as part of a package of energy relief measures for struggling households.

With the price of fuel rising dramatically amid supply bottlenecks and the war in Ukraine, the traffic-light coalition is hoping to encourage people to switch to public transport over summer instead. 

The ticket will run for three months from the start of June to the end of August, and will allow people to travel nationwide on local and regional transport. Long-distance trains like IC, EC and ICE trains will not be covered by the ticket. 

It should be available to purchase from May 23rd, primarily via ticket offices and the DB app and website. 

Some regional operators, including Berlin-Brandenburg’s VBB, have also pledged to offer the ticket at ticket machines.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get hold of the €9 travel ticket in Berlin

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