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France to offer free PCR tests to tourists and visitors this summer

The French government has announced that tourists coming to France this summer won't have to pay for PCR tests – a requirement for returning home to many countries.

France to offer free PCR tests to tourists and visitors this summer
Covid tests are already free for residents in France. Photo: ALAIN JOCARD / AFP

France is one of the only countries to offer free PCR tests – which can cost up to €120 in Spain, £100 in the UK and €300 in Sweden – to residents for all purposes, including travel.

But now that is being extended to tourists who visit the country over the summer.

The French government hopes the free testing will make the country an attractive tourist destination, and will also allow it to welcome back tourists while staying safe. 

Announcing the new policy, Europe Minister Clément Beaune told radio station Europe 1: “We need and we want to continue to be the first tourist destination in Europe and the world, in safe conditions.”

Last summer, there were many pop-up testing centres in tourist resorts that offered free tests, but free testing for all non-residents was not systematic throughout the whole country.

The minister did not clarify exactly how the free testing would work for non-residents.

At present some testing centres offer tests for free while others, particularly pharmacies, charge customers – a fee which residents of France can reclaim 100 percent via their carte vitale.

Testing prices are capped in France at €54 for PCR tests, €38 for the rapid result antigen tests and €6 for home-testing kits. All countries accept the results of PCR tests, but not all accept the results of antigen (called lateral flow tests in some countries) or home-test kits so check which type of test your home country requires.

EXPLAIND How visitors can book a Covid test in France

The EU is also working on its own app or the ‘digital green pass’ which aims to launch in June, and will have options to upload either a vaccination certificate or a recent negative test, with a third option of a medical certificate for people who have recently recovered from Covid-19. France’s own ‘health passport’ app TousntiCovid is compatible with the EU app.

However until the apps are launched, even fully vaccinated travellers have to follow the rules on testing and quarantine.

There are also efforts to offer free tests in more European countries. “The European parliament is asking for tests to be free everywhere in Europe, but I can’t say if everyone will agree on this,” said Beaune.

June 9th is the first date of France’s reopening calendar that involves the health pass, but it could be postponed if the health situation deteriorates.

Member comments

  1. I’m an Australian visitor ( a bit stuck in France) who just received a free PCR test in Avignon, booked using the Doctolib website. I’ve also had my 2 vaccinations – gratuit. Gotta love France

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TRAVEL

Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

Ever seen those drivers who avoid the queues at toll booths and driving straight through? Here's how they do it.

Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

If you’re driving on French autoroutes one of the things you need to know is that they are not free – you will have to pay regular tolls, payable at toll booths known as péage.

Usually, drivers pick up a ticket from a booth at the start of their journey, then pay the required amount at a booth at the end of it – or when they move onto a different section of autoroute – based on the distance they have travelled.

But the toll booths themselves can be busy, especially during the summer, and long queues sometimes build up.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

This is where automated pay systems – known as télépéage – come in, especially for those who use the motorway network regularly.

As well as allowing you to pass straight through péages without stopping for payment, it’s also very useful for owners of right-hand drive vehicles, who may otherwise find that they’re sitting on the wrong side for easy and speedy payment.

Here’s how it works

Order your télépéage badge online

Click on the Bip&Go website here and follow the instructions to order a scannable personalised device (up to a maximum of two per account for private users). You will need to set up an account to arrange electronic payment of charges.

The website is available in English, French, German or Dutch.

You will need to supply bank details (IBAN number), address (for delivery), mobile phone number (to activate your account) and the vehicle’s registration details.

Your badge will be dispatched to your address within 48 hours from the opening of your online account. You can have the device sent to addresses outside France, but allow longer for it to arrive. 

If you’re in France, you can also pick up the device at one of Bip&Go’s stores, if you prefer – you will need need your bank details, proof of identity and a mobile phone.

Attach your badge 

Place your device on on the windscreen to the right of the rearview mirror. It is activated and ready to go. Then, simply, drive.

At the péage

All toll booths are equipped with the sensors that recognise that the vehicle is carrying the necessary device. At most, you will have to stop briefly for the device to be recognised and the barrier to lift.

You will also be able to drive through certain booth areas without stopping. These are indicated by an orange t symbol on the overhead signs. The maximum speed you can pass through these booths is 30kph.

Payments

Payments are processed automatically. You can monitor the amounts you have to pay on an app.

Do I need separate badges for motorway networks run by different companies?

No. The badge allows holders to travel on the entire French motorway network, no matter which company manages the motorway, and you can also use it to cross a number of toll structures in France such as the Millau Viaduct, the Tancarville Bridge or the Normandie Bridge, and pay to park in more than 450 car parks. 

Is it only valid in France?

No, with certain packages, you can also as easily travel on motorways in Spain, Portugal and Italy, and use a number of compatible car parks. You can even use them on Italian ferries.

Okay, but how much does it cost?

Subscriptions to the Bip&Go service depend on what type of service you want. A fixed price rolling subscription is €16 a year – plus toll charges – but assumes you’re a regular user of French motorways. 

A pay-as-you-go subscription is €1.70 for every month the badge is in use – plus toll charges – and carries a €10 additional fee if the badge is not used in a 12-month period.

How much are the toll charges?

They depend on the road you’re on, how far you travel along it, and the vehicle you’re driving.

Heading from Toulouse to Biarritz along the A64 will cost a total €23 in fees for a private car and if you’re driving all the way from Calais down to the Mediterranean coast expect to pay around €70 once you add up the various tolls along the way.

You can find out tariffs for autoroutes on the website of France’s official autoroute body AFSA – where you can also calculate the cost of your journey – including fuel.

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