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Switzerland: What Germany’s new Covid rules mean for cross-border shoppers

The escalating Covid situation in Switzerland’s northern neighbour has led to tighter measures in several states. What does this mean for people from Switzerland visiting Germany for shopping or leisure, i.e. Christmas markets?

A picture of German supermarket Rewe
Cross-border shopping and leisure in Germany from Switzerland is still possible, but the rules are tight. Picture: Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Germany has been a popular shopping destination for people living in Switzerland’s border areas for decades, with German supermarkets and retail outlets offering much cheaper prices than those available in Switzerland.

Other than for petrol – which as The Local Switzerland reported recently is cheaper in Switzerland than in most neighbouring countries – most goods are cheaper in Germany. 

Fuel in Switzerland: Why are Germans crossing the border to fill up?

As of Wednesday, November 17th, the border state of Baden-Württemberg has put in place stricter measures as Germany struggles with a resurgence of the virus. 

This includes contact restrictions as well as replacing the 3G rule with a 2G rule, i.e. which requires that people are either vaccinated or recovered from the virus to take part in certain activities (i.e. negative tests are insufficient). 

3G refers to the German words for vaccinated, recovered and tested – geimpft/genesen/getestet – and has been used to describe the conditions required to take part in many activities in German-speaking countries. 

This will impact cross-border shoppers from Switzerland, as well as people visiting Germany for leisure – such as to attend Europa Park or visit the state’s Christmas markets. 

Keep in mind that you can use your Swiss Covid certificate in Germany, as Switzerland and the EU – of which Germany is a member – have agreed to recognise each other’s Covid passes. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

What do I need to enter Germany? 

Although there is a 3G requirement to enter Germany, this is waived if you will be in the country for less than 24 hours. 

READ MORE: Is Switzerland likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?

Therefore, unless it’s an excessively long shopping trip, you can enter without evidence of vaccination, recovery or a negative test. 

You do not need to fill in Germany’s entry form if you stay for less than 24 hours. 

Can people from Switzerland go cross-border shopping in Germany? 

Cross-border shopping in Germany is allowed, however the type of evidence you need to provide will depend on what type of shopping you will do. 

If you are visiting essential shops – i.e. supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations or bakeries – you do not need to show your Covid certificate. 

However, if you are shopping retail – i.e. non-essential stores selling electronics, clothes or other items – you need to be 3G compliant. 

What about meeting friends? 

Meeting people in private is restricted in Baden-Württemberg, unless you can show 2G compliance (recovered or vaccinated against Covid). 

If you are unvaccinated and not recovered from the virus, only one household can meet with one person. 

Couples who do not live together are counted as one household. 

What about Christmas markets? 

Generally speaking, you do not need a certificate to visit outdoor Christmas markets which are not fenced off. 

There are different rules in different states, however. 

State by state: Germany’s Covid rules for Christmas markets

In Baden-Württemberg, the rules are relatively tight. 

You can buy many of the arts and crafts which are on offer without a certificate. 

However, things change where the markets are fenced off or where you are consuming something, i.e. food or drink. 

Here, either 3G or 2G rules apply, depending on the Covid situation. 

Where the region is in the ‘warning’ area, the 3G rule will apply. 

If the region is in the ‘alert’ area, a 2G rule will apply. 

Several Christmas markets in Baden-Württemberg have already indicated they will adopt 2G rules. 

In Bavaria, things are comparatively relaxed. Generally speaking, you will not need to comply with 3G rules as long as you are outdoors, although fenced off areas and indoor areas may have 3G or 2G rules. 

Measures will be put in place on a regional level, so check ahead of time to see what rules will apply. 

What about cafes and bars?

Bars and restaurants in Baden-Württemberg have a 2G-plus rule in place. This applies on both the indoor and outdoor areas of the restaurant or bar. 

This means you need to be vaccinated, recovered from the virus or negatively tested with a PCR test. 

Antigen tests are not sufficient. 

READ MORE: What are the Covid rules for Switzerland’s Christmas markets?

What about everything else? 

3G rules are in place in hairdressers, 2G plus is required in hotels, and 2G rules are required in theatre, cinemas, clubs, concerts and museums. 

What about Europa Park?

If you’re headed to Europa Park over the festive season, you will need to comply with the 2G rule. 

Everyone aged 17 and under does not need to comply with this rule, however they will need to show a negative test to enter the park. 

Children aged 7 and under will not need to show a negative test. 

What do I need to show? 

Fortunately, you can show your Swiss Covid certificate in Germany due to a reciprocal agreement. 

As Germany still loves paperwork, any paper evidence you can bring will help, but the Covid certificate app should be sufficient. 

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For members


Reader question: Will tourists or visitors to Germany be able use the €49 ticket?

With a rollout now announced for May 1st, there’s nothing – so far – saying that visitors can’t use the national public transport ticket along with residents. But some practicalities might make it harder.

Reader question: Will tourists or visitors to Germany be able use the €49 ticket?

Federal and state transport ministers have finally laid to rest the ongoing question of when the €49 successor to last summer’s popular €9 ticket will start. Over the weekend, they pledged that the ticket would – as rumoured – come into effect May 1st.

The ticket will allow holders to travel on local and regional public transport anywhere around the country for €49 a month. Higher speed trains though, like Inter-City trains on Deutsche Bahn, will be exempt from the ticket. So if you want one of those, you’ll have to pay full fare as normal.

In general, the ticket will require a subscription. But you can cancel that on a monthly basis. So if you were willing to pay at least €49 for a full month, could you theoretically use it as a visitor for a month and just cancel it for when you left the country?

The Local contacted regional public transport authorities around the country and received replies from Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, and Berlin and Brandenburg’s combined VBB.

As of now, the authorities say, there is no rule against a non-resident purchasing and using a €49 ticket when it becomes available – although it’s still not precisely clear when the ticket will go on sale ahead of the May 1st rollout.

However, the subscription model and logistical setup of the ticket could make it difficult to access for anyone who doesn’t have a German – or at least European – bank account.

A regional train in Hamburg.

A regional train in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Bockwoldt

This can depend on where you purchase the ticket. A €49 ticket, once bought and subscribed to, can be used anywhere around the country. But you’ll still have to buy it from a regional transport authority. Berlin and Brandenburg’s VBB only allows you to pay for subscription tickets using a direct debit from your bank account. They don’t take credit cards. What’s more, according to their online form, that bank account must be European.

READ ALSO: How employees in Germany could get a discount on the €49 ticket

Generally, someone who wants to open a bank account in Germany must first be registered as a resident in Germany. That means many visitors to Germany may simply not have the payment method to actually buy the ticket from VBB.

Frankfurt, however, may be a different story. The RMV transport authority there tells The Local the €49 ticket will be available for purchase within its app – where, you can either provide your bank info for a direct debt or a credit card. Depending on what credit cards they accept, it may end up being practically possible for a visitor to Germany to buy a €49 ticket from Frankfurt but not from Berlin – even though the ticket itself is valid in both these places.

Where can you buy it and how will it be available?

Not all transport authorities will allow you to buy subscription tickets from ticket machines. Berlin, for example, only allows you to subscribe to its current €29 ticket online or in a service centre after you fill out the necessary forms.

This may be different depending on the city, so it’s worth checking the local situation wherever you land.

Lastly, it’s important to note that local and regional transport authorities are still working to iron out several details before May 1st, including precisely how the ticket will be available – such as whether a paper ticket will be available as a transitional measure. Certain details could change between now and then.

READ ALSO: Will Germany’s €49 public transport ticket launch on May 1st?