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Reader question: Are antigen tests sufficient for entry into Switzerland?

As Switzerland requires all arrivals to present a negative Covid test, many people are confused about which of the two types — PCR or antigen — is required.

Reader question: Are antigen tests sufficient for entry into Switzerland?
Antigen test results are sufficient for boarding. Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP

This question is especially relevant as increasing numbers of people are planning to go abroad for Easter holidays and will need to know which test to present on their return to Switzerland.

The confusion is fuelled by the often-contradictory information provided by different sources. Some say only passengers presenting the PCR test results will be allowed entry, while according to others, rapid antigen tests are also authorised.

The difference between the two tests is explained here.

While the PCR test is considered to be more accurate of the two, it is not always realistic to have the results ready in time for travel. That’s because Swiss authorities require the test to be no more than 72 hours old, but in some countries it takes longer to get the results.

The antigen test results, on the other hand, are usually ready within 30 minutes.

To find out what the current requirements are, The Local put this question to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

FOPH spokesperson, Yann Hulmann, said that “at boarding, a PCR test or an antigenic test is required. At the border, a PCR test is required”.

What does this mean?

According to official Swiss government information, you should be allowed to board the plane with the antigen test results. 

Upon arriving, you may be asked by cantonal health authorities to present a PCR result.  

According to the FOPH spokesman, when you arrive without a PCR result “you must have a test at your own expense immediately after entering Switzerland”.

As tests results are needed immediately, both antigen and PCR tests will be done.

The screening can be done at all three international airports: Zurich, Geneva, and Basel.

READ MORE: Swiss holiday demand surges as Spain and Portugal removed from quarantine list

Therefore, while it will clearly be preferred to have a negative PCR test result ready upon arrival in Switzerland, you will have the option to take an antigen or PCR test upon arrival (at your own expense). 

Are there any exemptions?

There are, however, some exemptions to the testing rule, FOPH said.

No tests are needed for:

  • People travelling on business for an important reason that cannot be postponed.
  • People travelling for an important medical reason that cannot be postponed.
  • Transit passengers who have spent less than 24 hours in a state or area with an increased risk of infection.
  • Transit passengers who enter Switzerland for the purpose of transiting the country.
  • People who in the course of their professional activities transport passengers or goods across borders, such as lorry and bus drivers.

Additionally, cross-border workers are exempted from the testing obligations as well.

Why the mixed messages? 

The confusion comes largely from the way in which the government made the announcement on February 18th. 

Prior to February 18th, a PCR test was necessary to enter Switzerland – however the government on that date announced that an antigen test would also be accepted. 

When putting in place the rules however, the government narrowed the conditions in which an antigen test would be accepted to a few limited exceptions (as have been outlined above), leading to the confusion. 

As has been outlined by Switzerland’s Travel News portal, “this zigzag course outraged the travel industry… many travellers mourned the opportunity to be able to use the much cheaper and faster antigen tests instead of PCR tests before crossing into Switzerland.”

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What is the fine for not filling out Switzerland’s Covid arrival form?

There is one essential form all travellers to Switzerland must fill out, but many don’t. If caught, border guards will hand out fines.

A 100-franc fine could be imposed on those who don’t fill out the Personal Locator Form
Important paperwork: Switzerland-bound travellers must fill out the PLF form or risk getting fined. Photo by Zurich Airport

With constantly changing travel rules, it is difficult to keep up with all the regulations that need to be followed to enter Switzerland (and all the other countries, for that matter).

Since September 20th, everyone arriving in Switzerland, regardless of their country of origin, mode of transport, or vaccination status, must fill out the electronic Personal Location Form (PLF).

Once filled out and registered online, you will receive a QR code which you will have to show when entering Switzerland.

However, some people may be unaware of the requirement and enter the country without this form.

READ MORE: Here is the form you need to enter Switzerland

Checks are done randomly, so many travellers slip in without having filled this form. But if caught, you will have to pay a 100-franc fine.

So far, 200 people had to pay this fine, according to Tamedia media group.

The only people exempted from this rule are transit passengers, long-haul lorry drivers transporting goods across borders,  children under 16, cross-border workers, and residents of border areas.

The PLF requirement is an addition to other travel regulations the Federal Council implemented in September:

Two tests to enter Switzerland are now required for the unvaccinated and unrecovered.

Unvaccinated arrivals and those who have not contracted and recovered from the virus in the past six months must show two negative tests. 

The first proof should be presented when arriving in Switzerland.  Then, four to seven days later, travellers will have to undergo another test, which they must pay for themselves.

Both PCR and antigen results are accepted.

These rules only apply to arrivals from nations not on the Switzerland’s high-risk list. As the United States and United Kingdom are considered high risk, only vaccinated people from those countries can arrive in Switzerland.

This article contains more information on the rules which apply. 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s new travel and Covid certificate rules?

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