For members


Fabric, surgical or filter – what are the rules in France on mask types?

As an increasing number of places in France become 'masque obligatoire' zones - many people have asked what type of masks should be worn. Here's what the rules say.

Fabric, surgical or filter - what are the rules in France on mask types?
Photo: AFP

If you're in a shop, on public transport, at secondary school, in a shared workspace or outdoors in one of seven French cities you will be required to wear a mask. In short, the odds of getting through your day without entering an area where masks are compulsory are now pretty low.

READ ALSO These are France's new rules on masks in the workplace

But with several different types of mask available, what do the French rules say about which one you should be wearing?

Mask types

Broadly there are three types of mask – the FFP masks with filters, which are generally used by medical professionals, the single-use surgical masks and multi-use washable fabric masks.

FFP masks offer the highest level of protection. Initially due to shortages these were reserved for medical personnel only in France however that rule has been relaxed as production was stepped up and they are now available to the general public.

These are the most expensive types at around €20 each and you will also need to keep buying replacement filters.

Surgical masks are effective but bad for the environment. Photo: AFP

Surgical masks – the single-use surgical masks offer the next highest level of protection, filtering out around 95 percent of particles in lab tests.

Their disadvantage is the cost – as they are only supposed to be worn once you will need a constant supply – and their environmental impact. There has been much alarm about masks thrown onto the street or even into the watercouses, but even if they are disposed of correctly they create an enormous amount of waste over time.

Emmanuel Macron rocks a patriotic fabric mask with the colours of the French flag. Photo: AFP

Washable fabric masks – these filtered between 90 and 70 percent of particles in tests, which the Haut Conseil de la santé publique (council of public health) considers sufficient for everyday use, but advises that people in vulnerable groups should wear surgical masks.

These are more expensive than surgical masks for a single mask, but have the advantage that you can keep washing them and wear them again. They also have a much lower environmental impact than the surgical ones. There are lots of these available, but not all meet official standards – the guideline says that if you hold your mask up to the sun and can see through it, then it's not thick enough.

The fabric masks now come in a huge variety of colours and patterns, if you're interested in the fashion aspect.

The face visor alone does not count as a mask in France. Photo: AFP

Visors – the full-face plastic visors suspended from a headband do not count as a mask under the French rules.

These should not be confused with transparent face masks – often worn to help lip-readers and people hard of hearing – which are a valid mask type under French rules.

Face masks with a transparent panel – legal under French rules – can be helpful for lip-readers. Photo: AFP

What do the French rules say?

Other than ruling out visors, the French national regulations do not specify mask-type, only that the mask must fully cover your nose and mouth (and thus wearing it dangling from your ear or tucked under your chin can earn you a fine).

The government advice site states that the mask “may be a surgical mask or a fabric mask” and some local authorities have gone further in their own mask rules, with the commune of Creil spelling out in its decree that the mask must be “a cloth mask, a surgical mask or a disposable mask”.

The government has been largely recommending fabric masks, both on environmental grounds and supply grounds – many French factories are now making fabric masks while surgical masks are still often imported from countries including China.

Health minister Olivier Véran said: “I am committed to wearing masks that are not surgical masks, which I reserve for caregivers, but masks that are washable, renewable and certainly less polluting. Surgical masks are limited resources, produced under different conditions.

“We consider that, for the general population, fabric masks are the best option.”

If you are one of those who received free masks – either from the national distribution to low income families or via your local authority – they will be fabric masks.

Are there any exceptions?

While the French state doesn't differentiate between fabric and surgical masks it seems that some businesses do, and we have received reports of some private sites specifying surgical masks only.

Private businesses are free to set their own rules on condition for entry so you could in theory be refused entry if you are wearing a different type of mask, even if you are within the French government rules.

This seems to be a rare occurrence, but airlines do seem to be creating very specific mask rules.

Some airlines are specifying surgical masks only while others want the FFP filter masks. If you are planning to fly check carefully which type of mask your airline is demanding, as you could be refused boarding if you don't have the correct mask type.

If Amber Heard ever wants to come to France she will need to get a proper mask. Photo: AFP

What about scarves, bandanas and other options?

These are less common now but you still see some people trying to style out their mask-wearing with an adapted scarf or other item of clothing.

The French government decree on masks of July 10th does specify that masks must meet technical standards around fit, filtration and breathability. So while you are unlikely to be fined if your home-made mask is a millimetre too thin, this rule does give police flexibility to warn or fine people who are wearing something that obviously isn't a proper mask, even if it does cover their nose and mouth.




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For members


What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.