Who will be able to travel to France this Christmas?

As the French government reveals its strategy on health restrictions over the Christmas period, we look at what that means for people who have trips planned.

Who will be able to travel to France this Christmas?
Christmas lights on the Champs Elysée. Photo: AFP

On December 15th France lifted its lockdown. This easing of restrictions is taking a slightly different form to the one initially planned, since the country's health data is not as good as the government had hoped.

From that date lockdown restrictions were eased, meaning permission forms are no longer be needed for travel between regions and visits to family and friends will once again be allowed.

So can I travel into France?

It depends on where you are coming from.

Outside Europe – The external borders of the EU remain closed to all non-essential travel, as they have since March. Only countries that are on the EU's (short) list of 'safe' countries can travel into Europe for tourism or family visits. The countries currently on the list are; Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Uruguay and China (subject to reciprocity).

That means that visitors from the USA and Canada are still barred. You can find full details on what counts as an essential reason for travel HERE.

The decision on lifting restrictions lies with the EU. Although individual member states are free to set their own entry policy, France has always said that it will abide by the EU's recommendations.

Inside Europe – from December 15th, travel from within the EU or Schengen zone into France will be allowed for any reason.

The UK – when lockdown lifts on December 15th, the UK is still (just) within the Brexit transition period, so counts as an EU member for travel purposes, meaning that people can travel from the UK to France for tourism or to visit family.

However on January 1st this situation changes and the UK is outside the EU. This means that the non-EU rules as outlined above apply.

This would mean that no non-essential travel would be allowed into France from January 1st, unless the European Commission makes a special concession for the UK. Officially the Commission's position is that nothing has been decided on this, but sources suggest that there are no immediate plans for concessions. People who are already in France can travel home, but anyone planning a trip in the early part of 2021 may find themselves barred.

If you are travelling between France the UK after January 1st, bear in mind that this is no longer an inter-EU journey, so travel rules will be different.

READ ALSO What Brits in Europe need to know about travel after December 31st

And what about leaving France?

If you want to head out of France for a visit there will be no restrictions on the French side from December 15th, but many other countries have measures in place for arrivals from France, including quarantine and compulsory testing – find out more here.

Will there still be restrictions in place in France after December 15th?

Yes. Lots. Although lockdown lifts on that date, that doesn't mean life will immediately go back to normal.

A strict nationwide curfew comes into place from 8pm to 6am, and any trip outside during those hours requires both an essential reason and a permission form. The curfew will be lifted on the night of December 24th, but not on New Year's Eve. Find full details on the curfew rules here.

For people travelling, however, there is some good news – if your train/plane/ferry arrives after 8pm you are allowed to travel onwards to your destination, just keep your tickets with you as well as your attestation in case of a police stop.

Throughout the country bars, restaurants and cafés remain closed and cinemas, theatres, museums and other tourist attractions – which were scheduled to reopen on December 15th – will now stay closed until at least January 7th. All types of shops are now open.

Ski resorts remain closed – you can travel to a ski resort and stay there, but all the mechanical lifts and other ski infrastructure will be closed (along with all the bars, cafés etc) until at least January.

Face masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces and in the streets in most of the big cities and around 400 smaller towns.

Breaking any of France's health rules can net you a €135 fine and police officers will be performing spot checks on people outside after curfew.

Are there restrictions on meeting people?

Large gatherings in public are banned, but there is no restriction on the number of people you can meet in a private home.

French politicians are asking people to keep their social gatherings to a minimum, and are using six adults around the dinner table as a suggested maximum, plus children, but this is a recommendation and not a rule.

READ ALSO 'Six adults around the table' – PM recommends festive limits


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EU delays passport scan system and €7 travel fee until 2023

Two major changes that were due to come into force in 2022 for travellers entering the EU - an enhanced passport scanning system and the introduction of a €7 visa for tourists - have been delayed for a year.

EU delays passport scan system and €7 travel fee until 2023

Although both the EES and ETIAS schemes are still due to be introduced in the European Commission has pushed back the start dates for both until 2023.

It comes amid a chaotic summer for travel in Europe, with airports struggling with staff shortages and strikes while some crossings from the UK to France have been hit by long delays as extra post-Brexit checks are performed during the peak holiday season. 

The two separate changes to travel in the EU and Schengen zone were originally due to come into effect in 2020, but were delayed because of the pandemic. Now the EES system is expected to come into effect in May 2023, while ETIAS will come into effect in November 2023. 

The EES – Entry and Exit System – is essentially enhanced passport scanning at the EU’s borders and means passports will not only be checked for ID and security, but also for entry and exit dates, in effect tightening up enforcement of the ’90 day rule’ that limits the amount of time non-EU citizens can spend in the Bloc without having a visa.

It will not affect non-EU citizens who live in an EU country with a residency permit or visa.

There have been concerns that the longer checks will make transiting the EU’s external borders slower, a particular problem at the UK port of Dover, where the infrastructure is already struggling to cope with enhanced post-Brexit checks of people travelling to France.

You can read a full explanation of EES, what it is and who is affects HERE.

The ETIAS system will apply to all non-EU visitors to an EU country – eg tourists, second-home owners, those making family visits and people doing short-term work.

It will involve visitors registering in advance for a visa and paying a €7 fee. The visa will be valid for three years and can be used for multiple trips – essentially the system is very similar to the ESTA visa required for visitors to the USA. 

Residents of an EU country who have a residency card or visa will not need one.

You can read the full details on ETIAS, how it works and who it affects HERE.

Both systems will apply only to people who do not have citizenship of an EU country – for example Brits, Americans, Australians and Canadians – and will be used only at external EU/Schengen borders, so it won’t be required when travelling between France and Germany, for example.