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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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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.

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“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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