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Traveling to Germany: Questions and answers

Felix Schlagwein
March 26, 2021

Germany is in a strict lockdown. Travel has not been banned entirely, but an appeal issued to refrain from non-essential trips. The borders remain open. Here's what you need to know about Germany's entry regulations.

Germany border crossing sign
Image: picture-alliance/imageBroker/J. Tack

The coronavirus pandemic is causing great uncertainty in travel worldwide: regulations and restrictions are changing frequently. This is also the case in Germany. Since December 16, a hard lockdown has been in effect in Germany.

Despite the lockdown, the borders remain open and entry into Germany is still possible. However, travel in the country is limited to essential travel — such as mandatory business trips, and this does not include vacations. Hotels are not allowed to offer overnight stays for tourist purposes, nor are tourist visas being issued at the moment.

As of March 30, anyone entering Germany by airplane will need to take a coronavirus test in advance. Only those with a negative test will be allowed to fly into the country. The rule applies irrespective of the pandemic status in the country of departure or for what purpose they are traveling to Germany. This also applies, for example, to vacationers from popular holiday destinations like Mallorca, although the island is not currently considered a risk area. 

Everywhere in the country, retail (except for stores that sell daily necessities), restaurants and pubs are closed, as are theaters and concert halls, museums and recreational facilities. In addition, distance and hygiene rules apply. Medical masks — surgical masks or FFP2 respirators, which also protect the wearer — must be worn in stores and on buses and trains. Simple fabric masks are no longer sufficient. In areas with a particularly high incidence, where the seven-day incidence rate exceeds 100 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants over three consecutive days measures such as a nighttime curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and limits on social contacts apply. 

Entry conditions from risk areas

Germany has instituted a new classification system that divides geographical regions into risk areas, high-incidence areas and virus variant areas. High incidence areas are countries where the incidence value is more than 200 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days. Virus variant areas are regions with a particularly high risk of infection due to widespread occurrence of certain SARS-CoV-2 virus variants. The website of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) shows which country falls into which category.

For high incidence and virus variant areas, stricter rules apply when returning to Germany. Only persons with residence or right of abode in Germany and transit passengers may enter the country. A negative COVID-19 test must be presented both before departure and upon entry. When traveling by air, the airline is obliged to check the test result before departure. The same applies to trains, buses and ferries. Random checks are carried out at national borders without systematic border controls. Travelers from risk areas have it easier; they only have to present a negative coronavirus test within 48 hours after entry. 

In principle, according to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, all travelers from all three categories must fill out the digital entry application at www.einreiseanmeldung.de.  and enter a ten-day quarantine after entry — regardless of the test result. PCR, LAMP, TMA, and rapid antigen tests are accepted. Antibody tests are not accepted. The quarantine can be terminated at the earliest on the fifth day upon proof of subsequent negative test result. 

The regulations do not apply to people who are only passing through Germany. They must leave the country by the quickest route. Those who have spent less than 24 hours in a risk area as part of border traffic with neighboring countries are also not affected by the quarantine obligation. Other exceptions include commuters, doctors and nursing staff, and those visiting close relatives.

Differing travel restrictions

The travel restrictions in the individual German states are not always the same and can also change at short notice. Therefore, everyone is well advised to inform themselves thoroughly before packing their suitcase. What applies in Berlin does not necessarily apply in Bavaria.
The rules in the EU also vary from country to country. Quarantine requirements and entry conditions are applied differently. 

We at DW receive many questions from our readers and users of our social media channels about the situation in Germany. We have investigated the most pressing questions.

Please note: The information listed here is not exhaustive, serves as a reference only and is subject to change at any time. All travelers to and within Europe, the EU and the Schengen Area are strongly advised to keep informed with the official guidance and regulations of local, state and national authorities of the relevant countries.

Question 1

The list of countries from which I can enter Germany is constantly changing. Where can I find the latest information?

The German Interior Ministry is responsible for the entry regulations to Germany. Here travelers can find all current information, also in English. In addition, travelers should consult the website of the German Foreign Ministry , the German Federal Police, and the German Ministry of Health for information on current travel regulations. The European Union also maintains an informational portal with an EU-wide overview

The list of risk areas, which is compiled by the Robert Koch Institute in cooperation with the German Foreign Office and the Ministries of Health and the Interior, is constantly updated. It is therefore essential to find out before you travel whether your country or region of departure is classified as a risk area, high incidence area or virus variant area. Even if your country of origin is not classified as a risk area, but you have been in a risk area in the ten days before entering Germany, the quarantine requirements will apply.

Question 2

Under what conditions can I enter Germany from a country that is subject to an entry ban? Are there exceptions and if so, which ones?

The list of exceptions to the ban on entering Germany is long. The German Interior Ministry has compiled a list of those who have a valid reason to travel and are thus allowed to enter Germany. 

Question 3

How do I find out if I have to be quarantined after entering from a third country and where do I have to remain while I do so? Can I avoid the quarantine with a negative coronavirus test?

In principle, those entering Germany from countries that the Robert Koch Institute classifies as risk areas have to quarantine. It is important to note which category the country falls into, as there are different testing and quarantine rules for risk, high-incidence and virus-variant areas. Common to all risk areas is the quarantine of ten days after entry. A further PCR test can be performed on the fifth day at the earliest; if it is negative, the quarantine period can be shortened. Free testing on return from a virus variant area is not possible. In addition, travel is prohibited for persons entering from a virus variant area, with the exception of German nationals with residence or those with right of residence in Germany and transit travelers.

The list of risk countries and regions is constantly updated. So, if you are planning to travel to Germany, it is essential that you find out whether your country of origin or departure is on this list before you leave. This also applies to returning travelers. The specific quarantine regulations are issued by Germany's 16 states. Travelers can find out which conditions apply in which state here.

Question 4

What if I am a citizen of an EU country, but Germany has declared my country a risk area — Can I still enter the country?

Citizens from EU member states and countries in the Schengen Area can enter Germany without restrictions. But here too, the quarantine rules apply to entry from risk areas. This means: you must also undergo compulsory quarantine for ten days. From the fifth day at the earliest you can have a coronavirus test, which if negative will end the quarantine. You must be tested no later than 10 days after arrival.

Because persons entering from another EU country are usually not checked at the border, it is your responsibility to comply with the mandatory quarantine. You must report to the responsible health department immediately after entering the country and provide your address. For further details you can call the telephone info service from within Germany at 116 117. If you fail to comply with the obligations of testing, reporting or quarantine, you risk considerable fines.

The health department may ask you to submit a negative test result within ten days of entry or, if you do not have such a result, to take a test. You will have to pay the costs for this yourself. You can find out where you can take a test near your home by calling 116 117 or online at www.116117.de. If you want to be tested by your general practitioner, you should definitely call first. It is important that you remain in quarantine until the test result is available.

Question 5

If I test positive and have to go into quarantine, where do I have to stay and who pays for it?

If you have had a coronavirus test and it turns out positive, the health authorities will automatically be informed and a ten-day quarantine must be completed, if possible, in your own apartment or other suitable accommodation.

What constitutes "suitable accommodation" is decided by the local health authority in the event of quarantine. There are no concrete guidelines on the type of accommodation, neither at the federal nor the state level, and the local health department will give you specific instructions and information. Compliance with the quarantine obligation is monitored by the local authorities. Violations can be punished in some states with a fine of up to €10,000.

If additional costs are incurred, for example for hotel stays or visits to the doctor, these are not covered by the German government. However, tour operators and international health insurance policies may cover these costs if these conditions were agreed upon beforehand. Foreign citizens are also advised to inform their embassy in Germany about their quarantine stay.

Question 6

I want to enter Germany: Does the law differentiate between the country I enter from and my citizenship?

In this case, whether you can enter Germany depends on whether you have a valid residence permit or visa for Germany or the Schengen area.  In this case, the place of residence or long-term stay takes priority over nationality. An example: An Australian living in Nigeria wants to travel to Germany. Australia is on the "positive list" for entry to Germany (see above). However, since this Australian lives in Nigeria, he may not enter Germany without an urgent reason for travel. However, a Brazilian who lives in Austria can enter without an urgent reason. Do note that visas for the Schengen area will not be issued until further notice — with a few exceptions in urgent cases. You can find out whether you need a visa to enter Europe here.

Question 7

What happens if I want to enter from a country for which Germany has issued a travel warning? For instance, I am Turkish and live in Turkey. Germany has issued a travel warning for my country. Can I enter Germany, or will I be turned away at the airport?

On October 1, 2020, the general travel warning for all third countries was replaced by differentiated travel and safety information. However, the travel warning will automatically continue to apply to risk areas. Travel warnings are primarily aimed at German citizens who want to travel abroad and are therefore not directly related to the entry restrictions to Germany.

For entrance into Germany from Turkey you need a valid reason (see above). In addition, Turkey is currently on the list of risk areas. This means that you would be bound by the quarantine requirements (see above) after a potential entry.

For departure to Germany: Turkish air carriers require proof of a PCR test carried out no more than 48 hours before departure. Without this test, you are not allowed to board the aircraft. However, even if you leave Turkey successfully, this does not automatically mean that the German border officials will let you enter the country. If they rate your reason for travel as insufficient or if there are last-minute changes to the entry restrictions, you have to fly back.

Question 8

Individual EU countries seem to deal differently with entries from third countries. Can I make use of this? So, I might be able to enter Greece, but not Germany. Once I have made it to Greece, can I travel from there to Germany?

Not necessarily. Each EU and Schengen country — despite relatively uniform decisions at EU level — has the power to decide on its own entry restrictions. If you have successfully entered Greece, this does not mean that you will automatically be granted free entry to Germany — unless you live in the Schengen area or have a valid visa. Therefore, before you plan your trip, you should find out exactly what the current regulations are for entering Germany. If you have any further questions, please contact the relevant embassy in Germany.

Question 9

I am in Germany and am developing coronavirus symptoms: What do I do?

Immediately inform the responsiblehealth authority . In the event of more severe symptoms, also contact a doctor or the coronavirus hotline (Tel. 116 117 from German phones). If you show serious symptoms, go to hospital, or call an ambulance. Before you start your journey, find out the contact details of your embassy in Germany in case you need to contact them if you become seriously ill.

Question 10

What happens if the regulations change during my stay in Germany? For example, if my return becomes impossible because Germany or my home country closes its borders again?

Please contact your embassy in Germany as soon as possible. In principle, it should be possible to leave Germany and re-enter your home country — provided you are not in quarantine or actively infected. How you can leave the country and who will cover the costs depends on your booking conditions. Ask the tour operator or airline whether and when a return is possible and who will cover the potential costs. As a precaution, make sure you have a financial buffer before departure if additional costs are incurred. Because if the building, city or region where you are staying in Germany is placed under quarantine, you will have to remain there until the authorities allow you to leave the area again.

Question 11

Germany's 16 states have different rules regarding coronavirus prevention and restrictions. How do I best inform myself if I want to travel in Germany?

The regulations and rules for the individual states can be found here. It is particularly important to bear in mind the different rules on quarantine requirements for entrants coming from locations designated as risk areas. Also keep an eye on the news situation in Germany and your region of residence. It could happen that certain cities, districts or regions are quarantined because of a high number of new infections and may also be declared a risk area within Germany. The individual states may also decide on a lockdown. This can impact your travel within Germany and your return or onward journey abroad. If you have any questions, please contact the local authorities or the embassy of your country in Germany.