UK travel to France: What are the new rules?

·11-min read
UK travel to France: What are the new rules?

The French ban on British travellers that began on 20 December 2021 has ended.

The Interior Ministry in Paris said: “Faced with the predominance of the Omicron variant both in France and in the United Kingdom, the government has chosen to ease the specific health control measures at the borders which had been decided last December for vaccinated travellers from the United Kingdom.”

These are the key questions and answers about travel from the UK to France .

What do I need to travel to France?

As a British traveller going on holiday, visiting family or friends or embarking on a business trip, you will need proof of full vaccination. For the purposes of crossing the frontier, that comprises being double-jabbed with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax or a single Janssen dose.

According to the train operator Eurostar, the final vaccine of an initial course of jabs must have been administered in the past nine months – or a booster must have been given (with no time limit at present).

You can upload the QR certificates generated by the NHS showing your vaccinations to the TousAntiCovid app.

This is most easily done using a smartphone with a download of the NHS certificates.

Must I take a test?

Yes. The rules say: “Travellers (12 years old or more) have to provide the result of a negative PCR or antigen test (in paper or digital format) carried out less than 24 hours prior to departure.” But on 4 February a minister, Alexandre Holroyd, tweeted that the timeframe has been extended to 48 hours “with immediate effect”.

Antigen means that cheap and swift lateral flow tests are allowed. This test must be privately obtained and paid for; you cannot use an NHS test.

The French authorities say: “Arrival screenings may be conducted at the places of arrival. If the result is positive, the traveller will be placed in isolation.”

Any forms to fill in?

You must sign a “sworn undertaking to comply with rules for entry” – asserting that you have not been suffering from coronavirus symptoms and “have no knowledge of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 during the last 14 days”.

This simple one-page form can be downloaded from near the foot of this document. Ferry firms and airlines may have their own version for you to sign.

What about entry for children?

Under 12s need not be vaccinated nor take tests.

For the purposes of admission to France, young people aged 12-17 can travel according to the rules that apply to their accompanying adult: if the adult is fully vaccinated, the child is regarded the same. This will be particularly useful for families who are travelling through France by car to reach other destinations.

However, for the purposes of accessing venues in France – from cafés to ski lifts – the position for children is more complicated. Full vaccination appears to be mandatory for those aged 12-17: see below.

What is the position for unvaccinated travellers?

Travel to France for unjabbed visitors is permitted only for “compelling reasons” – such as urgent family issues – and with mandatory quarantine on arrival.

Unvaccinated travellers must complete the passenger arrival form (known as eOS) and say where they will be isolating.

“They must, on their arrival in France, observe a strict quarantine period of 10 days at this place,” say the authorities.

“This quarantine will be controlled by the security forces.”

What do I need for travel within France?

Access to almost any venue in France requires you to prove – usually via a smartphone app – that you are a low-risk person.

The key is the TousAntiCovid smartphone app. It is well designed and intuitive to use, with instructions in clear English.

British travellers over 16 can upload the QR codes from NHS vaccinations to the app. Once you have done that, you can tap on “Health pass” to get a QR code that every venue will be keen to scan.

For access to venues such as restaurants and museums, use the “Activity” version – not the “Border” one.

Up to now the TousAntiCovid pass has been acceptable with evidence of a negative test or recovery. From later this week, though, the health pass (pass sanitaire) becomes a pass sanitaire vaccinal – with only vaccinations acceptable.

Proof that you have been fully vaccinated has a tighter definition than simply being double jabbed. Broadly, all adults who had their second jab over seven months ago must have proof of a booster vaccination.

The tougher rules are part of the French president’s plan to “cheese off” unvaccinated citizens.

And for children within France?

The exemption for entry to France (ie if the adult is fully jabbed, accompanying children are also deemed to be) does not apply for access to venues.

For proof of vaccination, 16-plus people should be able to access the NHS app.

Vaccinated children aged 12-15, or their parents, can apply online for an NHS Covid Pass letter, which is then posted out to them. From 3 February this should be available through the NHS app.

Under-16s can instead take a rapid antigen (lateral flow) test in the 24 hours before intending to access the venue. This option will not be open to 16 -and 17-year-olds.

What are the rules on mask wearing in France?

In any indoor venue (except when sitting in a café or restaurant), and on all public transport, masks are mandatory – penalty €135 (£114).

Individual departéments make their own rules on mask wearing outdoors. In general, they are mandatory for large gatherings and crowded places such as markets and queues for ski lifts.

Even when it is not compulsory, many citizens choose to wear masks outdoors at all times. You may wish to do the same out of courtesy.

Fabric masks are generally frowned upon, with FFP (filtering facepiece) medical-type masks advised.

For winter sports, there are increasingly many snood (neck warmer)/facemask combinations – described variously as cache-cou avec masque buccal or tours de cou. The outdoor supplier Decathlon sells one for €20 (£17).

How soon will normal transport services to France resume?

Ferry firms, Eurotunnel shuttles (carrying cars from Folkestone to Calais) and Eurostar trains (carrying passengers from London to Paris) have been running services throughout. Ferry operators are reporting “phones red hot” as travellers book trips to France.

Eurostar currently runs only two trains each way between London St Pancras and Paris Nord. The train operator will increase frequency “in line with demand”. Nine daily returns between London and Paris are scheduled for February half term.

Airlines are ramping up quickly. Ali Gayward, UK country manager for easyJet, said: “With flying already scheduled to increase in the coming weeks we will continue to review our schedule to meet demand.”

Jet2 says its ski flights to France will begin again on 22 January. The chief executive, Steve Heapy, said: “This is the positive news that skiers and snowboarders have been looking forward to, and the spike in bookings for ski flights has been both sharp and immediate.”

What are the rules if I fly into Geneva but my final destination is in France?

This is the situation for thousands of British travellers heading for the French Alps.

Geneva airport is shared between France and Switzerland. In normal times that is an excellent arrangement, offering equally easy access to both the fine Swiss lakeside city and the mountains of France. But during a global pandemic the arrangement triggers complexity.

While I believe you need not be certified for travel to Switzerland, there is always the possibility that ground staff at your departure airport will ask for evidence. So I suggest you comply with Swiss rules.

Complete the very straightforward Swiss passenger locator form and, if asked, produce proof of vaccination and the test result that you need for France.

Taking this easy precaution should ensure there are no problems at the departure airport or on arrival. And in the unlikely event that you get diverted to Zurich because of bad weather at Geneva, being compliant with Swiss rules will allow you to breeze out of the airport and find a train.

I only want to drive through France to get somewhere else. Do I need to go through all this?

Yes. You must also meet all requirements for your destination country.

What do I need to do to come back to the UK?

Book a so-called “day two” test (lateral flow will do) to be taken on the day you return or either of the following days, and use the reference number to complete a passenger locator form. More details in this explainer.

I am based in France and want to travel to the UK. What rules apply?

Fully vaccinated travellers are able to enter the UK subject to the same regulations: book a post-arrival test and fill in the form.

Note that travellers based in France who make short visits to the UK can use the mandatory “day two” test, required by the British authorities, for their return journey. For example, someone arriving in London on Friday could take their test at 5pm on Sunday and use the result for returning to Paris on Monday at any time up to 5pm.

“Travel by unvaccinated travellers is authorised provided they can justify an overriding reason,” say the French authorities. Such people will need to provide a test before departure for the UK, self-isolate on arrival for 10 days, and take PCR tests on days two and eight.

Why was a ban imposed on British travellers?

When France closed its borders to UK visitors on Saturday 18 December, the Interior Ministry in Paris said the move was “in response to the extremely swift spread of the Omicron variant in the UK”.

It now adds: “These measures were taken as the epidemic progressed dramatically in the United Kingdom, France still remaining relatively unscathed in the face of the Omicron wave.”

The ban applied regardless of the traveller’s vaccination status. A few “compelling reasons” were permitted for travel from the UK to France, including the automatic right for French citizens to return and for EU nationals to pass through to their main place of residence.

Exemptions were later extended to include essential business trips and for British residents of other European Union nations to be able to transit to their homes on the Continent.

Why did the French ban continued for so long?

The frontiers were closed for almost four weeks. The ban was very damaging: emotionally to many people deprived of family visits and holidays, and economically to ferry, train and air operators as well as the French tourism industry.

The kindest explanation of why France continued with the pointless closure of its frontiers for so long is that there were fears that large numbers of British visitors testing positive for coronavirus could add to the pressure on the French health service.

But politics provides more plausible explanations – in particular the need leaders around the world feel to look tough by imposing travel bans.

Some say the French ban was a political response to the UK’s bizarre decision in July 2021 to create a special “amber plus” category in coronavirus travel rules, requiring all arrivals from France to quarantine.

British ministers ascribed that effective travel ban to a Covid variant of concern prevalent on the French island of Réunion, but have never fully explained why the isle itself was exempt from the category.

In addition, opening frontiers to Brits while closing down big events in France and making people work from home is unlikely to prove popular – except among people and businesses who benefit directly from UK tourism.

But the continuation of a pointless travel ban may simply have been yet another example of the tendency of governments to be very swift to impose Covid restrictions yet to be very slow to ease them.

Do other countries have a blanket ban on British travellers?

China, Australia, New Zealand and other nations in the Asia-Pacific region have very strict rules in force against arrivals from most or all foreign locations, which amount to travel bans.

Elsewhere, restrictions are less onerous – although the Foreign Office says: “Entry to Turkmenistan is prohibited except for Turkmen nationals and accredited diplomats, permanently registered foreigners and some employees of international companies and organisations.”

What is the general view on travel bans?

The World Health Organization (WHO) does not believe they do much good. On 30 November 2021, as concern grew about the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the body said: “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.

“In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivising countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.”

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