Coronavirus: Why are Swiss residents going to France to get tested?

As PCR tests are cheaper in France, people from the Swiss canton of Geneva are heading over the border to get the nasal swab. A third of those tested in French border centres are from Switzerland.

Coronavirus: Why are Swiss residents going to France to get tested?
Residents of Geneva get tested in France to save money. Photo by Valery Hache / AFP

This is putting a new spin on the old ‘shopping across the border’ phenomenon: instead (or maybe in addition to) stocking up on groceries, Genevans have been going neighbouring regions of France to save money on coronavirus testing.

The same procedure that costs between 100 and 200 francs if given to people without symptoms in Switzerland, costs 70 euros (just over 77 francs) for non-residents in France, according to a report by RTS public broadcaster. Testing for all purposes is completely free to people registered in the French health system.

Any resident of Switzerland who lives within 30 kilometres of a French testing site — which many Geneva and Vaud residents do — can hop over to France for the test.

People from Switzerland represent about a third of test customers in border-area laboratories.

“I live five minutes from the border”, a woman from the Meyrin section of Geneva told RTS.  “I already buy my meat for half the price in France, so why not a PCR test if it saves me money?”

Geneva authorities say they are aware of the cross-border testing tourism but they see no problem as long as all the positive cases are reported in Switzerland.

This trend may end or at least slow down as Switzerland announced last week its plan to give each resident five free coronavirus tests per month starting in mid-March. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How will Switzerland’s free coronavirus ‘self-testing’ scheme work?

And earlier this year, Switzerland has introduced a free nationwide coronavirus testing programme for people without symptoms in an effort to prevent large-scale outbreaks. 

From January 28th, “the federal government pays for persons without symptoms to be tested so that those who are particularly vulnerable can be better protected and local outbreaks of infection can be contained early on”, authorities said.

However, anyone who needs a test to travel abroad, or be able to come out of the quarantine early, will still have to pay the cost themselves.

 READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How does Switzerland’s mass testing scheme work?

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French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.