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HEALTH

Can American visitors use vaccine passports for travel or leisure in France?

With travel from the USA and Canada to France opening up at long last, fully vaccinated Americans have been asking if they can access the French and European health passports. Here is the situation.

Can American visitors use vaccine passports for travel or leisure in France?
Photo: Pascal Pochard Casablanca/AFP

There are two ways you can benefit from fully vaccinated status in France (aside from the obvious benefit of being at much lower risk of death or serious illness from Covid): travel and access to leisure activities.

In vaccine certificate terms it’s where you were vaccinated that counts, not where you live or what passport you hold, so this article refers to anyone who received their vaccines in the USA.

Travel

Both the USA and Canada are on France green list for travel, which means all travellers can come for any reason, including tourism and family visits.

EXPLAINED How does France’s traffic light system for travel work?

Non-vaccinated travellers need to show a negative Covid test at the border, while vaccinated travellers need to show only proof of vaccination.

From July 1st, the EU’s digital vaccine passport scheme is up and running, allowing free travel within the EU and Schengen zone. Unfortunately, however, people vaccinated in the USA cannot currently access this (talks are apparently ongoing).

In the absence of a digital vaccine passport, it is still possible to show a vaccine certificate at the border – this needs to be a certificate from the issuing health authority that complies to EU or WHO standards – showing the person’s details, date of vaccination, type of vaccine used and a batch number.

This can be presented either on paper or in a digital format, but any QR codes issued by American States or health authorities cannot currently be scanned by French border officials.

Onward travel

If you’re planning to travel somewhere else after France, it’s worth noting that all EU countries have their own rules on travellers from the USA and they are not all the same, so check the rules in your destination country before setting off from France.

Leisure

Once you’re in France, you may also need to prove your vaccine status to access certain venues.

The domestic pass sanitaire (health pass) is not needed for cafés, shops, museums or most tourist sites, but is required for larger events and nightclubs.

Any event that has a crowd of more than 1,000 people requires a health pass to enter – including sports matches, festivals or concerts.

READ ALSO When and where will you need a French health passport this summer?

You can access the pass via the French Covid tracker app – TousAntiCovid – which is available in the app store and is compatible with non-French smartphones.

It requires one of three things; a vaccination certificate, a recent negative Covid test or proof of recent recovery from Covid.

Unfortunately, however, non-EU vaccine certificates cannot be scanned into the app.

People vaccinated outside the EU therefore have a choice: take a Covid test in France and scan the result into the app or present a paper certificate of vaccination at the venue. Paper certificates are accepted, but it may take a little longer or involve going into a different queue if the venue organisers have an automated QR code scanning system in place.

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HEALTH

How long do you have to wait to see a doctor in France?

When it comes to making an appointment to see a doctor in France - even your GP - waiting times can be frustratingly long.

How long do you have to wait to see a doctor in France?

Back in 2000 a report by the World Health Organisation found France provided the “close to best overall healthcare” in the world.

But there is no doubt that it suffers from issues that mean patients don’t always have access to the healthcare they need.

How long patients have to wait is is one of those ‘how long is a piece of string’ questions, depending on a whole host of factors, notably where you live in France. As you’d expect, large urban centres attract more medics – but even these places are not immune from some serious healthcare issues.

According to data from international market research firm Ifop, more than 67% of French people have given up trying to make an appointment with their friendly neighbourhood doctor purely because of how long it takes to get an appointment.

The waiting time to consult a general practitioner varies between six to 11 days. It was only four days 10 years ago, according to the data.

The situation is not helped by the number of missed appointments. Le Parisien reported that an average of two appointments per doctor per day are missed. That may not sound much, but it amounts to 28million missed appointments annually – a workload the equivalent of 4,000 doctors.

At the same time, visits to hospitals’ emergency rooms are rising. Last year, 22million patients were treated by A&E doctors and nurses.

And, as more doctors retire, replacements are proving hard to come by. So-called “medical deserts” are a regular talking point in many rural areas of France – but residents in some areas of major cities are reportedly finding it increasingly difficult to register with a new médecin traitant when their long-standing family GP retires.

READ ALSO Medical deserts: Why one in three French towns do not have enough doctors

For an appointment with a specialist, expect to wait much longer. In France, you don’t need to see your GP before you make an appointment with a specialist medical professional, but most people do because it means the costs are more likely to be covered by state and “mutuelle” health insurance.

According to the Direction de la recherche, des études, de l’évaluation et des statistiques (DREES), getting an appointment to see an ophthalmologist involves an average wait of 190 days – more than six months. 

Dermatologist appointments can involve waits of between 60 and 126 days. As with other medical specialisms regional differences can be huge. In Paris, for example, the wait for an appointment with a dermatologist is at the lower end of the scale. But in rural areas where dermatologists are few and far between, it’s much longer.

Access to gynaecological care in France can also be difficult, taking between 44 and 93 days, or more than three months, to get a consultation, potentially critical time for anyone in need of cervical cancer screening, for example.

READ ALSO How France plans to transform its struggling health system

The wait for a cardiologist appointment in France, meanwhile, is in the average range of 50 to 104 days; a paediatrician’s consultation could involve waiting between 22 and 64 days; and a radiologists’ appointment ranges between 21 to 48 days.

Again these waiting times in big big urban centres like Paris or Lyon will likely be lower given the concentration of specialist doctors.

READ ALSO Have you fallen down the self-diagnosis rabbit hole?

The good news is that the ability to make doctors’ appointments online – especially specialist appointments – is starting to cut waiting times. But it’s clear France still has a long way to go. And those tens of millions of missed appointments are a major problem.

The Union Française pour une Médecine Libre group has called on politicians to allow doctors to penalise patients who do not turn up for their consultations, while online booking service Doctolib is working on a public awareness campaign to highlight the problem. 

Recently a meeting was organised with doctors’ unions and patients’ associations to discuss possible remedies, such as sending a warning email patients. But the portal is unwilling to deny those who repeatedly miss appointments access – “That would hinder universal access to care,” it warned.

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