Coronavirus in France: What should tourists do?

Coronavirus in France: What should tourists do?
Photo: AFP
The situation in France has changed rapidly in the last few days, leaving many tourists stranded in the country. So what should you do if you are here?

As of 12 noon on Tuesday, France is in lockdown with stringent restrictions on the daily life of everyone in the country.

You can find out the full extent of the restrictions here, but basically everyone has been told to stay indoors and is only allowed out for essential trips such food shopping and medical appointments.

The rules of course apply to tourists as well as locals and police will be out enforcing the restrictions and handing out fines for any breaches.

So should I stay?

Anyone with their own place in the French countryside might be tempted to just hole up there and wait it out.

But there are a couple of things to be aware of.

Firstly the lockdown at present is in place for 15 days but it could well be extended. The French government is continuously monitoring the situation and so far has been relatively quick off the mark in applying the restrictions it feels are necessary.

Further restrictions could also be imposed and borders could be closed. So if you choose to stay be prepared for it to potentially be a long stay.

The lockdown requires you to stay at home, you can leave only for essential trips and visits to family (except for urgent care reasons) are also not allowed. So be prepared for your trip to be very quiet.

All French ski resorts are closed until further notice.

Also make sure that you have a valid European Health Insurance Card, just in case you do fall sick and require treatment.

Or should I go?

Travel is currently heavily restricted, trains are running a reduced service and there are roadblocks on major and secondary routes with police checking if you are entitled to travel.

That said, there is an exemption for tourists who are travelling to a port/airport with the purpose of going home, France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner confirmed.

If you decide to head to the ports, you will need to download a copy of the official travel form – more detail on how to fill that in here.

Travel to a port/airport is not one of categories to tick, but you can write on it Je rentre au Royaume-Uni/  aux Etas-Uni en voiture / par avion (aeroport de: ville) / par train – I am returning to the UK/ the USA by car/ by air (name the airport you are flying from) / by train.

If you are travelling by train check on the SNCF website before you travel, the number of trains running has been reduced and is set to be cut further in the coming days.

The same is true for flights, ferries and the Eurostar. Apart from border restrictions (see below) passenger numbers have collapsed so transport operators are cancelling many services rather than run empty.

The Channel Tunnel is for the moment operating normally, but again check before you travel.

What about the borders?

Many countries have closed their borders and the EU has also moved to restrict travel from outside the Schengen zone.

This situation is changing quite rapidly and it's likely that further restrictions will be imposed in the coming days.

If you decide to leave France it would probably be better to do it soon rather than wait as no-one knows what the situation will be in the coming days. Some transport operators such as Air France and SNCF are offering free cancellations or ticket alterations – check with your operator. 

At present the USA has banned all entry from the Schengen zone (which includes France) but US citizens are exempt from this ban and can still get home.

The UK has not imposed any border restrictions.

France has not imposed any restrictions of its own, although Spain and Germany have closed their borders with France.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on TV on Tuesday night that the country “would find it hard to accept British citizens” if the UK did not impose more controls on population movement. However this is not official policy at this stage.

France is part of the EU though, and the EU has imposed restrictions on all travel from outside the Schengen zone – however this does not include the UK at the present time.

And if have a trip planned?

Most governments have now advised against all non-essential travel. As we have seen, travel is getting increasingly difficult and life in France faces heavy restrictions.

So while it breaks our hearts to ever say this, we really wouldn't advise coming to France on holiday just now.

France will still be here when this is over and hard-hit French tourist businesses will be very pleased to see you.

You can keep up with the latest situation in France here.

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  1. What should one do if one’s rental agreement ends soon? Are estate agents open? Can one travel to look for another home? What is the situation with the homeless who could be said to be travelling all the time?

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