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Do I need a PCR test when travelling to Germany from a ‘virus variant’ country?

People travelling from the UK and several southern African countries face strict testing and quarantine rules. But there is some confusion over which test is needed. We take a look at a reader's question.

A sign to a Covid-19 test centre in Berlin's airport.
A sign to a Covid-19 test centre in Berlin's airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Question: Do I need to take a PCR test when travelling to Germany from the UK or is it okay to get an antigen test?

When the Omicron coronavirus variant was first detected in South Africa in November, experts quickly classed it as a ‘variant of concern’.

A number of southern African countries were placed on Germany’s ‘area of variants of concern’ list – the highest risk category – at the end of November. 

And as of Monday December 20th, the United Kingdom was added to the list. It was previously a ‘high risk’ area.

The full red list as of December 21st is: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Britain and Northern Ireland (and all overseas territories) and Zimbabwe. 

What does this mean?

A temporary “ban on carriage” is in force for most people in these countries, restricting tourist travel. 

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).

For people who are allowed to enter Germany from these countries, there are very drastic restrictions. 

These include:

  • Proving you’re allowed to travel to Germany (eg show a residence permit or passport)
  • Filling out the online digital register
  • Testing before departure
  • Possible testing at the airport on arrival
  • Quarantine for 14 days at place of residence with no option to shorten it

These restrictions apply to everyone, regardless of vaccination or recovery status.

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

In contrast, vaccinated or recovered people coming from a ‘high risk’ country (or a no-risk area) do not have to take a test before or after travel, or quarantine. They only have to upload proof of their vaccination or recovery certificate.

Unvaccinated people have to show a test and quarantine for at least five days when coming from a ‘high risk’ country.

What are the test requirements for coming to Germany from a ‘variant of concern’ area?

The current rules from the German government state that everyone over the age of 12 coming from ‘virus variant’ countries, has to show a negative PCR test or antigen test before boarding their flight. 

The PCR test must have been taken within 72 hours of entry to Germany. An antigen test can be taken within 24 hours of arriving in Germany. 

However, there has been some confusion over the testing requirements.

The Health Ministry posted this note on the latest Robert Koch Institute (RKI) announcement dated December 18th: “Before departure, please be prepared for your carrier (e.g. airline) to require from you an up-to-date PCR test if you spent time in an area of variants of concern at any time in the 10 days prior to entry.”

It left many readers questioning if an antigen test was still allowed. Antigen tests are cheaper than PCR tests, and in countries without reasonably priced testing infrastructure (like the UK) this is a huge factor. 

The Local asked the German Health Ministry for clarification.

A spokesman told us that “currently, the regulations shown on the website still apply”, but said rules were being tightened.

“The coronavirus entry regulation is currently being revised,” added the spokesman. “In future, stricter rules will apply for entry from virus variant areas.”

So at the moment if you are travelling from a red list country, you should be able to show a rapid test as proof. But keep an eye out for any changes and stay tuned to The Local for updates. 

The spokesman added airlines can require PCR tests. 

According to German daily Welt, airline Lufthansa now requires all travellers from variant areas to take a PCR test within 72 hours, and that antigen tests are no longer accepted. 

It is best to check with the airline in plenty of time before your flight to see what documents they need. 

What about testing after arrival?

The Health Ministry also says after your arrival, “further PCR testing may be ordered by the health authorities at the airport or at the place of isolation/quarantine”.

Welt reported on Tuesday that the state of Bavaria “requires a PCR test on entry, resulting in longer stays at the airport”.

Further tests are also ordered in Bavaria on day 5 and day 13 of the quarantine, according to Welt’s report.

This may mean you have to spend time more at the airport (and get tested during the isolation), however Germany does not currently charge for tests that are ordered by the state so you won’t be out of pocket. 

When you arrive in Germany, you will be contacted by the local health authority and they will give you instructions on any testing you have to do. 

Member comments

  1. Ugh – a PCR test on arrival at MUC! Can anyone clarify one aspect that I didn’t see clearly outline (although I could have missed it). I am flying from the States in to MUC after the holidays but we are flying through LHR (a three-hour layover where we stay inside the secured area). Does this mean that the rules for people coming from the UK will apply to us even though we are just in transit while there? Vielen dank!

  2. What tests are required if I am traveling from San Diego California to Berlin to visit my new born grandson?

    1. If you are fully vaccinated (two shots or one from J&J) you currently don’t need to show a test before travel when coming from the US. You have to show proof of vaccination.

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Germany considers ‘Klimaticket’ to replace €9 public transport offer

Germany could well be heading for more affordable public transport after the success of the €9 ticket.

Germany considers 'Klimaticket' to replace €9 public transport offer

More than 20 million people bought the €9 monthly travel ticket in June aimed at helping people during the energy crisis. 

And now the German government is thinking about introducing a ‘climate ticket’ as a replacement to the cheap transport offer that runs until the end of August. 

According to a draft of the emergency climate protection programme (Klimaschutzsofortprogramm), the government – made up of a coalition between the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP), could offer a “Klimaticket” for use on local public transport. 

The draft plans, which were made available to business daily the Handelsblatt, state that “tariff measures are to be used to permanently increase the attractiveness of local public transport”.

According to the government proposals, “a discounted ‘climate ticket’ as a standardised state local transport monthly or annual ticket for regional rail passenger transport and local public transport” would ensure low-cost rail travel in the future.

Germany’s states are responsible for local public transport. However, the federal government is prepared to “financially support” a “climate ticket”. Details are still being examined, however. For instance, the draft does not indicate how much a ‘climate ticket’ could cost consumers.

A similar ticket exists in Austria.

READ ALSO: Less traffic, more ticket sales: How the €9 offer has impacted Germany

Social rights groups and politicians have been calling on the government to extend the €9 offer, or consider another cheap transport deal, such as the €365 yearly ticket.

Since June 1st, people in Germany have been able to use the €9 ticket to travel on all public transport buses, trains and trams throughout the country. The ticket is not valid on long-distance trains. 

But Transport Minister Volker Wissing and Finance Minister Christian Lindner said that the offer would not be extended due to the tough economic situation. 

According to German media, the Federal Environment Agency is in favour of a successor model after the €9 ticket expires, which could be financed by abolishing climate-damaging subsidies in the transport sector.

Germany is trying to think of ways to reduce CO2 emissions by 2030 in order to achieve climate goals. 

All ministries have to submit proposals to Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck (Greens). The federal cabinet is expected to approve the climate protection programme in mid-July.

How does the ticket work in Austria?

The Klimaticket in Austria is billed as being a “valuable contribution to the climate of our planet”, according to its website.

It allows people to “use all scheduled services (public and private rail, city and public transport) in a specific area for a year: regional, cross-regional and nationwide”.

The national ticket – the Klimaticket Ö – includes all public transport throughout the whole of Austria, but at €1,095 for a year, it isn’t cheap. However, it is valid on both regional and long-distance transport. 

There are also region-specific Klimatickets which are much more affordable. The Salzburg ticket, for example, costs around €270 per year