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Reader question: Can I travel between Spain and the UK via France?

With flight cancellations and travel restrictions, many of our readers have been asking if it's possible to drive between Spain and the UK, going via France. Here's what you need to know.

Reader question: Can I travel between Spain and the UK via France?
Image: Larisa Koshkina/Pixabay

******* Here is an updated version of this article from May 21st 2021********

Question: We want to go from Spain to the UK but it’s proving very difficult, can we drive and go via France instead?

The short answer to this question is that it may be possible in some circumstances, but don’t expect it to be easy – it will require plenty of PCR tests, forms, restrictions and extra expense.

From Spain

If driving from Spain, the first step is assessing whether you are allowed to travel out of your region or even your municipality, as movement in many areas is severely restricted.

For example, Catalonia has closed its borders and travel within the region is only allowed within different comarcas, not between them.  Andalusia has also closed its borders, as well as the borders of each province within the region.

To drive between provinces and regions to even get to the French border in the first place, you will need to justify your reasons for travel and have a special form to allow you to pass through. At the moment, the main justifications are for work, for the purposes of study, to seek medical care or because you have to care for dependants.

To make things more complicated, each region seems to have its own forms for you to fill out in order to justify your journey and cross the borders. This is the one you will need to exit Catalonia. 

Before you arrive in France, you’ll need a negative Covid-19 test carried out no more than 72 hours before departure. This must be a PCR test, not one of the rapid-result antigen tests.

You will also need a completed travel certificate from the French authorities – the ‘Attestation’ – explaining the reason for travelling through the country. Like in Spain these are specific such as for work, medical appointments or imperative family-related responsibilities. Be prepared to show proof of your reason to travel as well. 

You must also complete a sworn health declaration, which you can find here. There are different forms for those 11 years old and over and those under.

There is currently a curfew in France running from 6pm to 6am. If you intend to drive within these times then you will need to complete a Travel Exemption Certificate stating your reasons for travelling outside curfew hours.

You can find and download the certificate here. It’s only available in French, but if you want something in English you can download the TousAntiCovid app on your phone and present this to the authorities instead. Failure to have a filled-out form, or breaking curfew for a non-authorised reason, can result in a €135 fine.


Image: Pexels/Pixabay

Shops, apart from large malls, are open in France, so you’ll be able to stop and buy food for your journey, however restaurants and cafés remain closed so if you want something more substantial, you’ll have to get a takeaway.

Some hotels remain open, so if you need to stop overnight along the way, this will be possible.

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces in France, as well as in the street for 400 towns, which includes all of the larger French cities.

When you arrive at the ports, you may find limited ferry availability. P&O Ferries are currently running services between Dover and Calais, check their Twitter page for updates on schedules. Brittany Ferries are only running one weekly service between Cherbourg and Portsmouth, however there may be more routes starting in March 2021.

Before arrival in the UK you must fill out a passenger locator form. You must also buy a travel testing package costing £210. This pays for you to get a Covid-19 test on day two and day eight of quarantining. The test package must be booked before you start your journey. Full details can be found here

When you arrive at the UK border, you’ll be asked to show another negative PCR test, no older than three days and when you finally reach your destination, you’ll need to quarantine for a total of 10 days. For the moment, neither Spain nor France are on the UK’s ‘red list’ so you can quarantine at home.

From the UK

If all this wasn’t complicated enough, driving to Spain from the UK will prove even trickier. 

Entering France from any non-EU country requires a vital reason for travel from a pretty short list. If you have residency in France or Spain, however, you are allowed to return home but be prepared to show proof of your residency status with a residency card or visa, plus tickets from your outward journey. This exemption does not apply to second home owners.

France has a quarantine in place for non-EU arrivals, but this does not apply to people transitting through France.

Once you leave the UK and enter France, you’ll have to show another negative PCR test and the same health declaration and travel certificate as described above.

Once you get to the Spanish border, you’ll again have to show a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours, as well as your green residency card or TIE and any valid reasons for travel, plus travel forms if you are going to or across a region that has travel restrictions. 

READ ALSO: LATEST: These are the updated Covid-19 rules for regions across Spain

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TRAVEL NEWS

France to use iPads to check biometic data of travellers from UK

France has revealed its plans for new border checks of passengers arriving from the UK next year - including using iPads to take biometric data like fingerprints.

France to use iPads to check biometic data of travellers from UK

France plans to use tablet computer devices to register non-EU car passengers at land and sea borders – including its border with the UK – when the new EU border system EES becomes operational next year, a new document has revealed. 

In May 2023, countries of the Schengen area will introduce the new Entry & Exit System (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens at their external borders. The EES was created to tighten up border security and will ensure the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors. 

You can read full details of how the system will work HERE.

The system will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. Data collected will include the person’s name, type of travel document, fingerprints and facial images, as well as the date and place of entry and exit. The information will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that will be re-set at each entry.

The system will come into effect around the EU, but there have been major concerns about the France-UK border due to both the high volume of traffic and the Le Touquet Treaty border arrangements that mean French officials work in British ports of Dover and Folkestone – both of which saw long queues this summer as travel resumed after the pandemic. 

A document shared recently by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties, shows how countries are preparing. 

In the responses to the EU questionnaire, French authorities vowed they would be ready, saying simply Oui, La France sera prête (yes, France will be ready).

“The French authorities have carried out numerous studies and analyses, in cooperation with infrastructure managers, to map passenger flows at each border crossing post… and evaluate the EES impact on waiting times,” the document says. 

“France has prepared very actively and will be on schedule for an EES implementation in compliance with the EU regulation,” French authorities say.

Test runs of the new system will begin at French border posts at the end of this year, they added.

However despite the vow that the new system will be ready on time to deal with thousands  of passengers each day authorities admitted “the prospect of the impact of EES on waiting times at the borders worries infrastructure managers.”

French authorities admitted they are concerned about queues and backlogs at border crossings.

“The fact remains that fluidity remains a concern, and that exchanges are continue with each border post manager to make progress on this point,” they told the EU.

This same concern was expressed by the CEO of the Port of Dover, Doug Bannister earlier this month when he told The Local he was concerned the time it takes to check each vehicle under EES could jump for around one and half minutes currently to 10 minutes.

Tablets to be used at land and sea borders

The way checks would be carried out for passengers at France’s sea borders with the UK has been a major concern especially at the Dover-Calais crossing, the busiest car route between the UK and continental Europe, with 8.6 million passengers passing through in 2019. 

Bannister, told The Local that first-time registration at Dover was the most concerning part of the new process, as it would require taking four fingerprints and facial images “at the border in front of an immigration officer”. 

Bannister said the current process was “designed around an airport” but this would not suit “a busy ferry terminal”. He demanded a system be introduced whereby registrations are carried out without passengers needing to leave the car.

French authorities’ response to the EU questionnaire has revealed they plan to use tablets, such as iPads to register car passengers’ details under EES.

The responses by French authorities to the EU questionnaire seem to clarify that agents will use tablets to register passengers directly in their cars under the “close supervision” of border guards, who will validate the biometric data on the spot. 

France will set up “‘mobile’ registration solutions (tablets) to record the biographical and biometric data of travellers eligible for the EES directly on board vehicles,” the document revealed.

People getting off buses will instead be able to use self-service kiosks similar to those set up at airports.

Airports

For non-EU visitors arriving by plane, France will set up self-service kiosks “supervised remotely via video by a border guard”.

Here, third-country nationals will be able to pre-register their biometric data and personal information, and complete the entry questionnaire. They will then be directed to the booth for verification of the data with the border guard. 

According to the document, France plans to maintain the eligibility for certain third-country nationals to go through automated ‘Parafe’ checks for subsequent entries and exits. E-gates are currently available for the citizens of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand the United Kingdom and Singapore (as well as EU citizens).

Doubts on gradual introduction

To facilitate the process, the European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months. 

Dover had also favoured some kind of transition period to allow the port to get used to the new system. But the French appear to have rejected this idea. 

They described the option of “progressive” introduction as “not satisfactory”, because it would require other adaptations of the system. 

France has called for “flexibility” to mitigate the impact of EES in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, French authorities called for the possibility of not creating EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later. 

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” the document says.

Responding to the questions, French authorities also said they intend to seek the support of Frontex, the EU border agency, in a more general context than the the entry in operation of the EES, in view of the 2024 Olympics. 

Non-EU residents in France

EES applies only to people entering the EU as tourists or making short visits – it does not apply to non-EU nationals who live in an EU country with a residency card such as a carte de séjour or a visa.

You can read full details on the system for residents HERE.

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