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Who can travel to France as the country lifts its lockdown?

As France enters phase one of its reopening plan, tourism is again possible from some countries, with conditions in place. Here's a quick rundown of who can travel.

Who can travel to France as the country lifts its lockdown?
Photo: Marcel Mochet/AFP

Monday, May 3rd marks phase one of France’s gradual reopening plan, which is a four-step process to loosen restrictions on both domestic life and international travel.

IN DETAIL: France’s calendar for lifting lockdown

The rules on travel into France, however, vary depending on where you are coming from.

EU and Schengen zone countries

Travel into France is allowed for any reason including tourism and family visits. This has in fact been the rule for several months, but since April 3rd the 10km rule has been in place in France. This rule banned any non-essential travel unless it was within a 10km radius of home – in effect ruling out any international tourism.

However, this rule is lifted from Monday May 3rd and travel within France is now allowed for any reason, with no need for a permission form. Travel between regions of France is also allowed for any reason.

Testing – however, if you are coming from an EU country you will still need to present a negative Covid test at the border, as well as a declaration that you are symptom-free and have not been in contact with any Covid cases. There is no quarantine requirement. You can find the relevant forms, and the exempt groups, HERE.

France is also on the ‘red list’ for several EU countries, meaning you may need to test and quarantine on your return, so check your home country’s restrictions carefully before travel.

Restrictions – there are still restrictions in place in France, the main one being the 7pm curfew. Travel by car is not an accepted reason for being out after curfew, but if your train or plane arrives after 7pm, you can continue to your destination after curfew time, although you will need an attestation permission form. Find the form HERE.

Bars, cafés, restaurants, museums and tourist sites remain closed until at least May 19th, and after that there is a phased reopening, if the health situation permits. Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across France, and in the street in most of the larger towns and cities. Failure to wear a mask can net you a €135 fine.

From the UK, Australia, South Korea, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore

Travel into France from most non-EU countries is still allowed for essential reasons only, but there are seven countries that are exempt from that rule, including the UK.

This exemption has been in place since mid-March, but the recent partial lockdown and 10km limit on travel within France has effectively ruled out travel for tourism, family visits and second-home owners.

However, this rule is lifted from Monday May 3rd and travel within France is now allowed for any reason, with no need for a permission form. Travel between regions of France is also allowed for any reason.

However, some countries on the list, including the UK and Australia, are not currently allowing their citizens to travel abroad for non-essential reasons (although the UK rules do have an exemption for second-home owners), so check first that your home country also allows travel.

Testing – if you are coming from one of these countries you will still need to present a negative Covid test at the border, as well as a declaration that you are symptom-free and have not been in contact with any Covid cases. Arrivals are asked to quarantine for seven days and then take a second Covid test. The quarantine can be done at a location of your choice, and there are no police checks on this. You can find the relevant forms HERE.

You should also check the rules in your home country for returning from France as many countries require a quarantine and extra testing on all arrivals from France, including their own citizens.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know on travel between France and the UK

Restrictions – there are still restrictions in place in France, the main one being the 7pm curfew. Travel by car is not an accepted reason for being out after curfew, but if your train or plane arrives after 7pm, you can continue to your destination after curfew time, although you will need an attestation permission form. Find the form HERE.

Bars, cafés, restaurants, museums and tourist sites remain closed until at least May 19th, and after that there is a phased reopening, if the health situation permits.

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across France, and in the street in most of the larger towns and cities. Failure to wear a mask can net you a €135 fine.

Non-EU countries

For those non-EU/Schengen zone countries not on the exemption list, travel is still allowed for essential reasons only.

Reopening of non-essential travel from all non-EU countries is scheduled for June 9th, however this could be delayed if the health situation deteriorates.

Americans should also bear in mind that France is currently on the US State Department’s ‘Level 4’ list, of countries where travel is not advised due to the health situation. This is advisory, and not a ban, but travelling to a Level 4 destination can invalidate your health or travel insurance, so check your policy before travelling.

Health passport – when travel from these countries reopens, President Emmanuel Macron announced, it will be possible only with a pass sanitaire, or health passport. The full details of exactly how these will work have not yet been revealed, but it seems that the pass will involve an option for inputting either a vaccination certificate or a recent negative Covid test. Here’s what we know so far about health passports. 

France is also on the ‘red list’ for several non-EU countries, meaning you may need to test and quarantine on your return, so check your home country’s restrictions carefully before travel.

Restrictions – even after June 9th, there will still be some restrictions in place, the main being an 11pm curfew. Travel by car is not an accepted reason for being out after curfew, but if your train or plane arrives after 11pm, you can continue to your destination after curfew time, although you will need an attestation permission form. Find the form HERE.

Bars, cafés, restaurants, museums and tourist sites are scheduled to have reopened by June 9th, but reopening could be delayed in certain areas if Covid cases remain high. Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across France and in the street in most of the larger towns and cities. Failure to wear a mask can net you a €135 fine.

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France’s strangest festivals

From pig-squealing competitions to men in bear suits, these are some of France's most bizarre traditional festivals.

Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France's strangest festivals

France is home to hundreds of festivals every year, from small local celebrations to internationally renowned events such as the Strasbourg Christmas market, Nice Carnival and the Lyon Fête des lumières. But there are other festivals that are, frankly, a bit strange.

Here are France’s 9 strangest festivals;

Fête du Citron

When life gives you lemons…create a festival involving over 140 tonnes of citrus fruit and invite about 230,000 visitors annually? That is pretty much what Menton, a town on the French Riviera did in 1928 when a hotelier in the region wished to increase tourism. Known for its delicious lemons, Menton has grown the fruit since the 1500s and shipped them all over the world.

The hotelier’s idea, which came into fruition in 1934 ended up becoming a world recognised three-week festival, where the city and its garden show off giant sculptures – some over 10 metres in height – made of lemons and oranges, amid parades, shows, concerts and art exhibits. 

Fête de l’Ours

Recently added to the UNESCO ‘intangible heritage’ list, the Bear Festival takes place in the Pyrenees, along the border with Spain. Stretching all the way back to the Middle Ages, the festival has some surprising components: it involves a man dressing up as a bear and chasing humans.

At the end of the festival, the humans catch the man in the bear costume, and ‘skin’ him (take off his bear costume) so he can become a person again.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco

It is intended to be a celebration of the end of winter, and while it was practised in all villages in the region up to the 19th century, it still occurs in three villages in the Haut Vallespir, located in the Pyrenees-Orientales département.

La Pourcailhade (Festival of the Pig)

Every year the small village of Trie-sur-Baise in the Pyrenees hosts a unique festival dedicated to pigs. Throughout the celebration, you’ll see pigs in various forms – from piglets to pork and people in pig costumes. The Pourcailhade is known for one moment in particular: the pig squealing competition, where participants get on stage and attempt to give their best pig imitation. 

The festival first started in 1975, at the former home to Europe’s largest pig market, and it usually takes place in August, though the festival had a six-year pause and made its comeback in 2018.

There are also piglet races and competitions to see who has the best pig-costume, but the cri de cochon (pig squeal) contest is something to behold, as shown below.

The Underwear festival

Captain Underpants would fit right in to this village in the south of France, located the Lot département.

Started in 2016, this festival is meant to pay homage to a reporter who made the little town of Montcuq famous across France during a nationally televised segment in 1976. During the celebration, participants can compete with one another in games from sumo-wrestling to a race (in underwear).

The sausage and pickle festival

Andouillette might be one of the French foods that foreigners find least appealing, but its cousin, andouille, is perhaps a bit more appealing…though possibly not enough to join a contest for the fastest andouille and pickle eater.

READ MORE: Readers reveal: The worst food in France

Every August 15th, the village of Bèze, located in eastern France, hosts a festival celebrating the sausage. One key moment is the competition to see who can swallow one kilo and 200 grams of tripe as quickly as possible, all with their hands tied behind their backs. The festival also crowns a queen of andouille and a king of the pickles, and the proceeds go toward helping children with disabilities.

This is not the only andouille centred festival in France. Another one, the “Fête de l’Andouille” which takes place in northern France involves a very important step where the crowd tries to catch pieces of andouille thrown at them from a balcony.

Fêtes de Bayonne

Known as France’s wildest festival, the Fêtes de Bayonne are a five-day party celebrating Basque cultural identity, and they take place in Bayonne every summer. 

Starting in 1932, the Fêtes can be controversial because they have traditionally involved bull fighting, or corrida, which some French lawmakers have been working to outlaw.

READ MORE: Could bullfighting finally be banned in France?

Aside from the bulls, the festival consists of lots of singing, dancing, sports competitions, traditional dress, and crowd-surfing. 

Festival-goers wear red and white outfits to symbolise the northern Spanish province of Pamplona, though some purists wear the colours of Bayonne: white and blue.

One of the most notable parts of the festival is the paquito chocolatero – a type of crowd-surfing where a person is passed over a chain of people sitting on the ground. The Fêtes de Bayonne have beaten the world record for the longest chain of people several times, most recently in 2022, a chain of 8,000 people passed one person over the crowd.

The Historic Ladle Festival

In practice since 1884, the Fête Historique des Louches, this tradition takes place in northern France in Comines. The legend goes that the Lord of the town was imprisoned in a high tower, and to show his people where he was being held, he apparently threw a wooden spoon with his coat of arms from the tower.

The festival, which takes place each October, has plenty of other activities, including a pageant, but the most noteworthy part is the parade where wooden spoons are hurled at the crowd. The goal is to walk away with the most ladles, proving to everyone that you truly deserve to live in the town of Comines.

The Gayant Festival

Close to the border with Belgium, the city of Douai in France’s north engages in a festival to celebrate three large statues, representing a giant family. Called the “Gayants” – they symbolise the city and according to folklore, they helped the villagers survive battles, invasions and wars over the centuries. The procession involves a parade where the giant statues are taken around the city.

This is another French festival that was registered in the “intangible cultural heritage” list with UNESCO, specifically under the category of “Giants and processional dragons of Belgium and France.”

Festival of the Unusual Taking place in Finistère, on France’s western coast, this festival has been going on for almost three decades.

Every July 14th, villagers come to demonstrate one of their “unusual talents,” whether that be throwing an egg or demonstrating how long they can peel an apple. One highlight of the festival is the race – where contestants try to go faster than one another on bed frames with rollers. Some contestants use the festival as a way to show their prowess in the Guinness Book of World Records – one village member broke the record in bending beer caps at the festival.

While France’s many festivals might seem a bit odd to foreigners, they still pale in comparison to some festivals taking place in the anglophone world, such as the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling event in the UK, where participants race down a 180 metre hill to try to catch the Gloucester cheese rolling down it. 

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