Last-minute Covid tests and surgical masks – what to expect when flying from the USA to France

Last-minute Covid tests and surgical masks - what to expect when flying from the USA to France
Photo: AFP
For most people, travel from the USA to France remains off limits, but there are some categories of people who are allowed to travel. However they face a raft of new rules and requirements. Here's what to expect if you are making the trip.

As a designated 'high risk' country, the USA is still fenced in with travel restrictions.

All types of tourism from the USA to France are off-limits but there are some people who are allowed to travel, including French citizens, people who have their permanent home in France and international students moving to France to begin studying here.

But travel in the post-Covid age is very different and has many extra requirements in place.

These rules affect anyone travelling from the USA to France, regardless of their nationality.

READ ALSO When will American tourists be able to travel to France?

Testing is now mandatory before boarding. Photo: AFP

Covid-19 test

This is the big one and is a relatively new requirement for travellers.

Since August 1st, France has made it mandatory for anyone travelling from 16 'high risk' countries to have a Covid-19 test before being allowed in to France.

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However while travellers from most of these countries can choose to have the test either before departure or in the airport on arrival in France, for travellers from America the rules are stricter.

Anyone over the age of 11 travelling from the USA, the United Arab Emirates, Panama or Bahrain must present a negative Covid test result at the airport before boarding. You can be denied boarding if you do not have the test result.

The test must be a PCR virological test (not the finger-prick serology test) and must have been taken within 72 hours of flying.

Daniele Le, an American resident of Biarritz, was due to fly back to France after work and family commitments took her to the US when she found out that she needed the test.

She said: “I was in San Antonio, Texas – so a reasonably-sized city. However, with there being so many cases there, you have to find a facility that tests asymptomatic people, does the PCR test (versus the 15-minute rapid results antigen testing – the French embassy told me to “not waste my money on this test as I will likely still be denied boarding”) and can get results back to you within the 72-hour window.  

“Because we didn’t even see the updates on the Air France website until about 68 hours from our flight departure time, Thursday morning was the earliest I could even get in for a test.

“I found a private facility that does the PCR tests for $150 and just had to hope I got the results back within 1 business day versus the 1-2 business day promise.

“Fortunately I did get them back in time but there were simply no other options here; many urgent care centres said 5-7 business days for results.

“I could have driven about four-five hours round trip for a test that would have likely come back within 24 hours. But that’s a long time in the car with two little kids.”

As she flew on August 1st, Daniele was among the first passengers to experience the new regulations, which had been announced the week before.

She added: “Overall, I think the Covid testing before leaving the US is a great idea and protects France.

“Now that people have proper notice of the requirement, I think people will be able to properly prepare for this requirement when leaving the US and incorporate this cost (I heard $150 from most people) into their budget.” 

Passengers arriving from Algeria, Brazil, India, Israel, Kuwait, Madagascar, Oman, Peru, Qatar, Serbia, South Africa and Turkey also need the test, but have the option of getting it in the airport/port on arrival in France if it is hard to obtain in their home country.

Extra paperwork

As well as the usual passport and any visa/residency papers required you will now need three extra pieces of paper.

These are the statement of no Covid exposure (a self-declaration in addition to your negative test result) and the statement of essential travel, checking that you fit one of the categories of people allowed to visit France (see below). These are both available at the airport.

Once on the plane you will also be given a contact locator form so that you can be traced if anyone else on your flight later tests positive for the virus. Filling this in is compulsory.

Check the type of mask your airline requires. Photo: AFP

Masks

Masks are compulsory on all flights, as well as in all indoor public spaces once you arrive in France.

Check carefully with your airline before you travel on their mask requirements. Although French law specifies only that the mask must cover your nose and mouth, some airlines are specifying that high-grade medical masks must be worn and fabric masks are not sufficient. Check with your airline, as you could be denied boarding if you do not have the correct type of mask.

Daniele, who flew with Air France, said: “On the plane, they distributed and then collected a contact tracing form so that we could be contacted if someone nearby on the plane tested positive.

“The Air France employees on board did an excellent job of being the 'mask police' – I heard them walk through the cabin on several occasions telling people to put their mask on or correct its placement (not covering the nose) and they also made people use the surgical masks (one woman had changed to a fabric mask on board and they kiboshed that quickly).” 

Temperature controls

Most French airports have temperature screening via body scanners when you arrive and your temperature may also be taken at your departure airport.

What is essential travel? 

The EU definition of essential travel has expanded since the height of the pandemic so there are now more people who fit the categories.

French citizens and people who have their permanent residence in France are allowed to come home to France, but it's important to note that even people with French citizenship will be subject to the regulations above.

People who can travel into the European bloc include:

  • Citizens of an EU country
  • Non EU citizens who are permanent residents of an EU country and need to come home
  • Healthcare workers engaged in crucial work on the coronavirus crisis
  • Frontier workers and in some circumstances seasonal workers
  • Delivery drivers
  • Diplomats, humanitarian or aid workers
  • Passengers in transit
  • Passengers travelling for imperative family reasons
  • Persons in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons
  • Third country nationals travelling for the purpose of study
  • Highly qualified third-country workers IF their employment is essential from an economic perspective and cannot be postponed or performed abroad

Find more details on the exemptions here.

France has made a point of saying that it welcomes international students. Every year thousands of American students come to France to study, and those who are planning to start courses in September or over the summer can still come. 

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “In view of the stakes involved in making universities attractive, international students will be allowed to come to France, regardless of their country of origin, and the arrangements for their reception will be facilitated.

“Their applications for visas and residence permits will be given priority.”


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