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COVID-19 TESTS

Vienna: How tourists, visitors (and residents) can get free Covid tests

Austria has changed its testing policy, but tourists, visitors (and residents) can still easily access free Covid tests. Here's a step-by-step guide to registering for the free tests.

Vienna: How tourists, visitors (and residents) can get free Covid tests
Covid-19 cases have been rising in Austria since May. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

From April, free Covid-19 tests are no longer unlimited in Austria, and people will be limited to five PCR and five antigen tests a month. There has been a lot of confusion about how the government will keep track of the number of tests and whether or not non-residents could still access them.

Austrian capital Vienna has confirmed it will continue offering several testing options, including the home PCR tests known as Alles Gurgelt and test streets and boxes throughout the city. Tourists can access all these options – there is no need to show proof of residence or a social security number.

Alles Gurgelt

One of the easiest ways to get a Covid PCR test, especially if you don’t speak German, is using the Alles Gurgelt offer. For this, you need to sign up to the website, which is also available for Upper Austria. 

When you click “jetzt registrieren“, you are taken to the partner company website. There are several languages to pick from, including English, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Portuguese, and Romanian.

READ ALSO: Easter holidays: What to expect if you are coming to Austria

From there, you provide your name, email a new password to create a new user. Then, as you are testing privately and not through a school or company, it’s time to fill out some personal data, including telephone and address.

The website also asks for a social security number but already has some info: “You will find your social security number on your e-card. Citizens of other countries enter the digits 0000 together with their date of birth”, so tourists and non-residents can quickly sign up as well.

People who have already taken the tests before will notice that a new page shows up, where you can choose whether to start a new test or pick up the kits. Tourists and visitors are also entitled to five tests a month.

The five-a-month limit

There was a lot of confusion about how the limit would be measured. Would it be how many tests you can pick up a month? Or how many you can submit? Turns out, it’s both.

Users get a new pickup code every month and are entitled to get five test kits. If they choose to start a new test, they will also see how many they have already taken of the “five monthly free tests based on the regulation of the Ministry of Health”.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are Austria’s current entry and Covid rules?

However, there are many exceptions and several different possibilities that won’t count towards the monthly quota. 

Users are prompted with the question “why do you want to do a PCR test?” and the five free tests is only one of the possibilities. 

One of the listed reasons is “official testing”, and people can check if they have symptoms, if they need to test themselves to leave quarantine, if they are a contact person, or if the antigen test was positive.

These options will give them a free PCR test that won’t count towards the five-a-month limit.

But that’s not all. Users can also select “I have the following reason for doing the test”, which will extend different reasons to get “extra” free tests. These include “I am visiting someone in a hospital/rehabilitation institution, residential care facility/disable care facility”, for example. 

You can also get free unlimited tests if you work at residential care facilities, hospitals, schools, daycare centres, or if you are a student. 

Some bugs and problems

While testing, we found that the system is not perfect. 

You can’t use your ‘old’ test kits if you choose to take a test that will be counted as one of the five monthly ones. The system will say that you have no tests available. 

READ ALSO: Austria: I’ve stashed away Covid tests. Can I use them from April?

However, you can move forward if you choose any other option. 

This will mean that tourists will have to first pick up new test kits and not use the five-free tests quota before starting a new test. 

You can pick up the kits at any BIPA outlet in Vienna – and you can drop off your tests at any REWE outlet in the city (BILLA, BILLA PLUS, BIPA, and PENNY), but also several ÖBB train stations – Wien Hauptbahnhof/Vienna Central Station, Wien Meidling, as well as at the petrol station shops of BP, JET, SHELL, ENI & OMV).

You will receive your result via email within 24 hours if you hand in your sample before 9 a.m. The samples are picked up at the REWE outlets twice a day (between 9 a.m. and noon and between 2 and 5 p.m.).

The test streets and testing boxes

Another option in Vienna is the testing streets and boxes – a good choice if you don’t have the time to pick up a new kit, or don’t want to go to the trouble of taking the test at home, filming yourself and then dropping out the test. 

The streets and boxes work the same way as before. The City Hall confirmed that all of them will remain working “for the time being”. 

Here you can find a list of all the testing centres in Vienna. Registering a new user is very simple, but it is in German. The forms are pretty straightforward, though, and they will ask for information such as name and date of birth. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are Vienna’s new Covid measures?

A social security number (Sozialversicherungsnummer) will also be asked, but you can check a box stating if you don’t have any (Keine Sozialversicherungsnummer vorhanden). 

After the registration, you will get a personal QR code that needs to be shown before your test appointment. Then, you can choose one of the several streets and boxes to schedule your test.

All you need to take, according to the official website, is an official picture ID (a passport, for example), the QR code (printed or on your phone), the confirmation of the appointment (also printed or on your phone), and an FFP2 mask. 

They also ask you to take your e-card if you have one, but it’s not mandatory, so tourists and non-residents can easily take the tests.

There was no mention of reasons to take the test or the five-a-month limit during the entire process, so it is still unclear how they will control the limited tests of people going to centres, streets and boxes.

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Reader question: Can I get a refund after cancelling my Austria trip due to Covid?

Summer vacations and rising Covid-19 infection numbers are a dangerous combination for travellers. Here is what you need to know about your rights if you get sick and need to cancel your holidays to or from Austria.

Reader question: Can I get a refund after cancelling my Austria trip due to Covid?

You are all set for your long-awaited vacations, but just before you leave, the coronavirus test comes back positive. What to do and what are your rights? Is it possible to get a refund on your trip to or from Austria?

Will the airline let you move your flight to a different date, or will the hotel reschedule your reservation?

As summer vacations arrive, with most European countries having no or almost no coronavirus restrictions, travelling is back – and with a vengeance, it appears. Austrian Airlines boss Annette Mann said that “people [now] have an insane desire to travel”.

READ ALSO: Will Austria see travel chaos in airports this summer?

At the same time, Austria has been facing rising Covid-19 infection numbers for weeks, and there is a fear of an intense summer wave.

On Thursday, June 30th, the country reported 12,506 new cases in 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry.

What to do if you have symptoms?

If you have any symptoms of Covid-19, including mild flu-like symptoms like coughing or sneezing, you should get tested. In Austria, there are many alternatives for those looking for the test, from free PCR at home to antigen tests.

If you test positive with an antigen test, you should confirm the result with a PCR test. Once you are a suspected case, you should quarantine until your result is confirmed. If the PCR test is positive, you need to self-isolate for at least five days.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Austria

Self-isolation after a positive test is mandatory in Austria and most countries worldwide. That means that, by regulation, you are not allowed to leave your home for non-medical purposes during those days – or even longer,, depending on the course of the disease.

If you have a trip scheduled during your isolation period, that could be a problem.

What happens to my flight tickets?

Airline companies are not required to refund you or allow you to make changes to your flight for free – unless the ticket you purchased entitled you to these rights.

Most companies sell tickets for the same journey with different fares. Not only prices can change depending on the classic “economic, business, first class” divisions, but they can also increase dramatically depending on the type of ticket.

For example, an Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna to Rome in economy starts at €59.92. There are then three options: economy light, economy classic, and economy flex.

An empty Austrian Airlines check-in counter. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

READ ALSO: Austria sees scores of flight cancellations after airline staff contract Covid

The first, with the lowest tariff, does not entitle you to a refund and will charge you €70 for rebooking plus a possible tariff difference.

A “economy classic” ticket costs €89.92, and will allow you to rebook without a charge (you only need to pay the difference in prices). It will not give you a refund.

Finally, the “economy flex” costs €129.92, allows for a refund (minus a €70 fee), and lets you rebook without a charge (you only have to cover the price changes).

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

The tickets have other differences, including allowing you to carry more luggage or reserve your seat, for example. Depending on which one you purchased, you may or may not be entitled to a refund.

What about my hotel reservations?

The same is valid for hotel reservations. Most of them, especially if you have used an online booking platform, will have different fees and travellers have different rights. It is essential to understand each tariff and what they entitle you to.

For example, a twin room in a hotel in downtown Vienna could cost you €92, but it is non-refundable and you need to pay in advance.

READ ALSO: EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

The same twin room can be found for €108, but with free cancellation – read the fine lines and you will see that even the free cancellation is only valid until three days before the booking date in some cases.

Just like airlines, hotels are not mandated to refund you if you can’t make it to your reservation because you or a travel companion got Covid-19. Unless you paid for the more flexible (and more expensive) rate.

Photo by Jorgen Hendriksen on Unsplash

What can I do, then?

It is worth mentioning that there are a few things you could try. For example, if you purchased travel insurance, or if your debit or credit card has it automatically, you might be able to get a refund. So, check those insurance documents.

Additionally, it may be possible to negotiate directly with a hotel. While airlines are major corporations and it might seem next to impossible to find a human being able to perhaps negotiate, this is not the case with a hotel.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

It may be that you are able to swap your reservation dates, depending on occupancy and how much wiggle room the hotel manager has. It won’t solve all your problems, but if it’s a trip to a nearby place, sometimes accommodation is more expensive than flights.

You also need to always be careful and double check the policies of tickets and hotel (or private accommodations) you buy and reserve. If you have booked through a travel agent or online platform, it is also worth looking if they have different cancellation or rescheduling policies.

Finally, if you have not made it to your hotel reservation because of a flight problem, if your flight was cancelled or delayed, for example, you have rights under the EU law.

*Prices for this story were checked on June 30th.

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