How airport testing works in Germany – and what happens if you test positive

Paul Sullivan
·4-min read
Results can vary between several hours and several days, depending on the specific test centre’s backlog, though the former is more normal - getty
Results can vary between several hours and several days, depending on the specific test centre’s backlog, though the former is more normal - getty

The whole of the United Kingdom was added to Germany’s Covid at-risk list this week, obliging British arrivals (including children in some states) to prove that they’re not importing the virus.

As a general rule, and at the time of writing (see below for expected new regulations from November 8), anyone who has spent time in a risk area up to 14 days before arrival in Germany is obliged to self-isolate (in a hotel or private residence) for a period of 14 days or take a test. However, since Germany is divided into 16 federal states, with each responsible for their own rules and regulations, it’s important to check before you travel to see what the situation is in your respective destination. 

It is possible to offer proof that you are not infected in advance, which requires a medical certificate showing a negative result from a test conducted no more than 48 hours prior to entry. The test must have been carried out in a European Union member state, or a state with comparable standards. 

If you can’t do that, a test is ideally to be carried out upon entry, at the airport or port, or at a test centre at the place you’re staying (free for travellers from risk areas up to 72 hours after entry). The latter scenario means reporting to the local health office at your destination, providing the address of where you are staying, and proceeding to your accommocation, with as little public contact as possble, until a negative test result is available. A list of health offices can be found here.

A positive test result usually means self-isolating for 10 more days, while a negative result means home quarantine is no longer required, but a repeat test might be necessary several days later in some states. Your test result must be retained for at least 14 days after entry, regardless of whether the test was conducted prior to or following entry, and must be submitted to the health office upon request.

From November 8, it’s likely that the rules will change so that a stay in a risk area will be defined as a stay in the area concerned at any point within 10 days prior to entry, and that after arriving at your destination you must self-isolate at home for 10 days – unless you provide proof of a negative test result on arrival. 

Which airports are offering tests on arrival?

All of the country's major airports – Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Cologne and Berlin included – now have testing stations. Note that at some airports, such as Frankfurt, registration is necessary, and in other places it is a good idea just to avoid waiting times. Some others are walk-in only. If no test can be performed at an airport, port or train station you need to arrange, in advance, a test at a local doctor’s surgery. Arrivals to Germany can find out from the medical appointment service centre where in their vicinity they can get the test by calling 116 117. 

There are test centres at all major airports, including Berlin - getty
There are test centres at all major airports, including Berlin - getty

How long does the process take? 

Most tests are so-called ‘RT-PCR test (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction Test)’. In Germany, the procedure is usually carried out by means of a quick throat swab rather than the less pleasant nose swabs. Tests are free of charge up to 72 hours after arrival. Be sure to have your ID, boarding pass, health insurance card, proof of your stay and accommodation address, plus any relevant travel tickets. 

How long until the results arrive? 

Results can vary between several hours and several days, depending on the specific test centre’s backlog, though the former is more normal. Results can be sent by post, via various portals depending on registration, and also via Germany’s Corona Warning App, which you should download upon landing anyway as it’s a useful way to keep track of potential infection. The app is anonymous, works with Bluetooth and is available in English. 

Coronavirus Germany Spotlight Chart - cases default
Coronavirus Germany Spotlight Chart - cases default

Will the rules be enforced? 

Anyone not consenting to testing within 14 days of entering the country from a risk area can expect to pay a fine if they’re caught. Since all test centres are obliged by law to report positive test results to the competent public health office, local authorities will have your information, and they carry out random spot checks to monitor adherence to home quarantine. 

How to conduct yourself when in Germany

Germany now has a ‘hotspot strategy’, which means certain cities such as Berlin where infections are climbing fast, have more stringent rules. Check your destination for specific guidelines, but throughout the country face coverings are required on public transport and in shops. If you develop symptoms associated with Covid-19 (coughing, a runny nose, sore throat or fever), contact a local doctor or the hotline on 116 117. Be sure to also keep the contact details of your embassy or consulate in Germany in case they need to contact them. Protect, Recognise, Act, is the slogan. Further info for travellers to Germany can be found here, here and here.