Tests, students and transit stops – your questions answered on UK and French quarantines

Since the UK announced that all arrivals from France would be quarantined we have been flooded with questions from readers about restrictions on both sides of the Channel. Here are your most common enquiries answered.

Tests, students and transit stops - your questions answered on UK and French quarantines

The UK government announced late on Thursday that it would be imposing a 14-day quarantine on all arrivals from France, starting at 4am on Saturday, August 15th. For full details on the UK's announcement, click here.

Since then we have received dozens of questions from readers, some from French residents worried about trips to the UK, others wondering if they can still come to France for visits, work or holidays.

Here are some of the most common questions we have received:

Does everyone have to quarantine when they get to the UK?

The UK's quarantine covers all arrivals from France of all nationalities, so whether you hold a UK passport or not you are still covered. It also covers arrivals on all types of transport – flying, ferries or boats, train or tunnel.

However there are quite a few exemptions and they include;

  • Lorry drivers and other delivery staff and transport staff eg Eurostar drivers
  • Foreign officials travelling for work, such as the French police officers who work in British ports and the UK officials who work on the French side
  • Government contractors travelling to the UK for essential work
  • People who travel between the UK and France for work at least once a week
  • Diplomats or representatives of international organisations
  • Airline passengers on a connecting flight through the UK
  • Anyone travelling from Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man
  • Seasonal agricultural workers
  • Workers with specialist technical skills to ensure vital production, movement or storage of goods or vital utilities work
  • Nuclear personnel working on a licensed nuclear site
  • People arriving for pre-arranged medical treatment in the UK
  • People engaged in urgent or essential work for the BBC

For the full list of exemptions, and the supporting documents required, click here.  

Does this mean that I can't go to the UK for less than 14 days?

Most of the coverage has focused on British holidaymakers, but people who live in France also need to visit the UK for various reasons and don't always want to be there for a full two weeks.

The guidance from the British Embassy in Paris is that you can go to the UK for less than 14 days, but you will have to self-isolate for the entirety of your stay.

What about if I'm just passing through France?

The quarantine is focused on arrivals from France and is based on the increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases in France – but what about if you're just passing through France on your way from another European country?

This is quite complicated, but the rules say that you don't need to quarantine when you get to the UK if you have just travelled through France and have not had any transit stops.

There are full details on exactly what constitutes a transit stop here, but broadly if you have come straight through France and haven't had any contact with French people on the way or picked up any passengers then you are exempt. So if you are on public transport that goes straight through France with no stops (or no new passengers get on at the stops) then you don't need to quarantine.

If you are driving then stock up with petrol and snacks before you set out and make sure you have a strong bladder!

READ ALSO When can Americans travel to France again?

I have a child due to go to university in the UK

With just a couple of weeks to go until the start of the new academic year students had been preparing to travel to the UK.

The student themselves will need to self-isolate, but many universities are putting in place facilities for this so it is suggested that the student contacts the university they are attending to ask about the rules in place.

For parents who want to travel with their offspring and drop them off, travel to the UK for less than 14 days is allowed (see above) but you must self-isolate for the whole of your stay, so travelling to campus and meeting tutors/fellow students would not be possible.

If I get a Covid-19 test can I avoid the quarantine?

Many people have asked whether they can shorten the quarantine by having a Covid test before they leave France. Although this sounds logical, and is the way that France is dealing with arrivals from high-risk countries, the UK has no provision for testing within its border strategy.

So even production of a negative test result will not exempt you from the need to quarantine.

What's happening with the French quarantine?

This is the most commonly asked question, but unfortunately the one we cannot answer right now.

Immediately after the UK government's announcement on Thursday, France announced that it would impose reciprocal measures, but so far no details of these have been published.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday that full details were being worked out and France would put in reciprocal measures “rapidly” but so far no new details have been announced as to exactly what these will entail.

During the last period of UK quarantine in June and early July, France also said it would reciprocate, but in that case the measures were voluntary with no enforcement and no fines. Essentially people arriving from the UK were simply requested to self-isolate for 14 days, but there were no checks.

France's border strategy at present is leaning more towards testing than quarantines, with all arrivals from 16 'high risk' countries including the USA required to take a Covid-19 test before they are allowed into the country.

As soon as the French government releases details, we will update the site here.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is working on France's quarantine response. Photo: AFP

What about essential travel?

A few people have asked if they can travel to France for essential reasons, and what those reasons are.

There are two strands to this – French border regulations and UK travel advice.

On the French side there is currently no restriction on entry from the UK. Unlike during the lockdown, you can travel to France for any reason – holidays, family visits, work etc.

However the UK government is currently advising against all non-essential travel to France. This is only advice, no-one will actually stop you at the border, but it's important because the official advice invalidates most travel insurance policies.

So while you are free to come to France, if you do have an accident or fall ill, you are unlikely to be covered by travel insurance.

As to what exactly constitutes essential travel this is also complicated. Unlike during the lockdown, there is no list of types of trip that are considered essential and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office says that it is up to the individual to decide whether their journey is essential.

As the biggest impact of this 'essential' rule is on travel insurance, we would advise checking with your travel insurance provider before you travel.

If your query is not covered here, you can email [email protected] and we will do our best to help you.

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France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body outlined how Covid-19 rules changed starting on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules relaxed in France as the country brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes took effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 would return to normal starting February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 now also have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that began at the start of February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.