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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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For members


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.