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Revealed: How strictly is France enforcing Covid testing and quarantine requirements?

Since the beginning of the health crisis, France has imposed restrictions including quarantine, Covid tests and proof of essential travel on arrivals from certain countries - but just how carefully are these things checked at the border?

Revealed: How strictly is France enforcing Covid testing and quarantine requirements?
Photo: Thibault Camus/AFP

We asked readers of The Local to share their experiences of pandemic travel to give us an idea of exactly how strictly checks are being carried out on the ground.

READ ALSO How does France’s traffic light travel system work?

We received well over 100 responses, with a wide range of different experiences when crossing the border.

Here is a summary of what people told us.

Red list countries

The rule – Travel from red list countries including India is very heavily restricted, with entry allowed for essential reasons only for both vaccinated and non-vaccinated travellers, although French citizens and residents are allowed to return.

All arrivals over the age of 11 need a negative Covid test. Vaccinated arrivals must quarantine at home for 7 days, while non-vaccinated arrivals need to quarantine for 10 days and this quarantine is enforced with visits from the police.

The reality – French citizen Olivier, who lives in Paris, said: “I’ve travelled to and from very many places since the start of the pandemic – United States 4 times, Colombia 4 times as well, Kenya once, and most recently Tanzania (once, last week of June).

“The border checks have consistently been much easier than they make it sound on paper. At most I’ve been asked to show my covid test, but never (never!) have I been required to supply my attestation de déplacement professionnel or certificat sur l’honneur. If anything, the checks the airlines perform to get on board the aircraft have always been more thorough than the checks performed in Paris on arrival.”  

But non-French national James Middleton, travelling from Dubai, had a very different experience, saying: “It’s a miracle I got on the plane. The airline is charged €10,000 for each “inadmissible” they allow to arrive in France by the French state so I understand their motivation to be especially diligent, but my copious documents (each time I travel) are typically vetted by three different levels of review prior to being allowed to board. All serious about proper evidence of essential reasons for travel.”

Verna West, who was also travelling from Dubai, said: “Everything was checked. I then had a PCR test on arrival. Mandatory 10 days isolation at home – the gendarmerie checked five times.” 

Orange list countries

The rule – Arrivals from orange list countries which include the UK can travel for any reason – including holidays – provided they are vaccinated. Non-vaccinated people can only travel for essential reasons and at present anyone who received AstraZeneca’s Indian-produced Covishield vaccine is regarded as ‘unvaccinated’ in France, due to the product’s lack of a European licence.

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

Everyone over the age of 11 needs a negative Covid test and unvaccinated people must quarantine for seven days at home.

The reality – The most regularly-checked document was the negative Covid test, which 78 percent of respondents said had been checked by either border guards or travel representatives when they boarded the plane/ferry/train/tunnel.

Michael Whitehouse, who travelled from London on the Eurostar, said: “They seemed most interested in the test result. I was not asked if I was vaccinated. Passport and test result were all I needed. I have an EU passport so maybe that helped.”

John Wood, who travelled from Portsmouth by ferry, had all his documents checked and added: “They asked us purpose of visit only (holiday) not our date of return. Passport was stamped with date of entry.”

Of the people who travelled via the Channel Tunnel, more than 80 percent reported having their Covid test, health declaration and vaccination certificate (if applicable) checked, with EuroTunnel producing its own checklist for passengers to fill in. 

Likewise most people who travelled via Eurostar reported that Covid tests, health declarations and vaccine certificates were all asked for by Eurostar staff when checking in.

Gary Mofield, travelling from London, said: “Very easy journey. No delays or long queues. Immigration officials who checked paperwork were very nice.

“I had documentation for one vaccine done in the UK on the NHS App which they accepted and another done in the USA on a paper document which they accepted. I thought that might create a problem however it was not an issue and it all went very smoothly.” 

Susan Burrow, who flew from Stanstead, had all documents checked prior to boarding. She said: “All checks were done before getting on the plane, the health declaration was not looked at by French border control.

Several people travelling from the UK flagged that the necessity to have a declaration of good health is not well explained on UK travel information sites – this form is a requirement for all entries into France and can be found HERE.

Green list countries

The rule – Arrivals from countries on the green list, which includes the whole of the EU and Schegen zone and was recently expanded to include the USA and Canada, can travel for any reason whether they are vaccinated or not.

Non-vaccinated people need a negative Covid test, but vaccinated people do not. No arrivals from green list countries are required to quarantine.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about travel between France and the USA and Canada

The reality – As people who regularly travel over Schegen borders will know, checks are usually minimal and although some crossing points have tightened controls during the pandemic others have not, especially for arrivals by road.

Judith Hale, who was travelling from Italy, said: “I had so many documents, both for us and for our dog and was dreading the French border. No border controls, nothing. It took some miles into France before I would believe my husband that we were actually in the country.”

Charles Tyack, also travelling by car from Italy, said: “Nothing was checked at the border but there were gendarmes in motorway parking near Nice, about 25km from the border.”

Sarah Rousse, who travelled by car from Spain, echoed this, adding: “I have travelled across the border France/Spain and Spain/France many times during the past few months. I have never had my Covid test checked going into Spain and only once re-entering France. The police at the border seem to favour the toll booths on the left hand side, so we tend to go to the right!”

For people travelling by air, there were more checks in place.

Steve Strandberg flew to Paris from San Fransisco and said: “Air France checked the Covid test, and on the airplane were ruthless about staying masked, but border guards had no interest in seeing my vaccination certificate.”

Nicolas Sturman, who flew from Boston, had a similar experience, saying: “The checks were only done when boarding in Boston, nothing at the layover in Iceland, and nothing at Charles de Gaulle airport.”

There had been concerns over whether US vaccine certificates, which are generally on paper and do not have QR codes, would be recognised, but none of the respondents travelling from the US reported any problems.

Thank you to everyone who filled out the questionnaire and shared their experiences.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting France

Ever wondered how to avoid paying exorbitant roaming fees when travelling in France? There are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by a big bill.

How to avoid huge 'roaming' phone bills while visiting France

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country than you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but non-Europeans need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with “Three” for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in France. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in France.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

Orange Holiday

This is one of France’s largest and most reputable telephone companies. The “Orange Holiday” SIM card exists specifically for tourists. At €39.99, you will get a SIM card that will enable you to make and receive calls and texts from a French phone number. You will have unlimited calls and texts within Europe, as well as two hours of calls and 1000 texts outside of Europe (for messaging people at home, for example). You will also have access to 30GB of data in Europe. 

The initial plan is valid for 14 days, and begins as soon as you begin calling, texting, or surfing the web. In order to get this SIM card, you can go into any Orange store and request it. Some supermarkets and airport kiosks might also carry this SIM card.

SFR

SFR is another well-known French phone company. Their pre-paid SIM card is called “La Carte,” and they offer several different options based on how much internet, calling, and texting you want access to. The basic plan is for 30 days and starts at €9.99 a month, which includes a €10 credit. Once the card is in your cellphone, you can add on a top-up option as needed.

You can buy this SIM card either online or in an SFR store. 

La Poste Mobile

This is the French phone company that operates in conjunction to the post office. What is especially convenient about this SIM card is that you should be able to get it at any post office in France. Plans range from €5 to €30 based on the number of days and the amount of calling, texting, and internet you are looking for. 

Bouygues Telecom

Finally, Bouygues Telecom also has some offers for prepaid SIM cards. Their plan, the “My European SIM” is especially made for tourists. It costs €39.90 and allows you unlimited calling and texting in France and Europe. The plan offers 20Gb of data. You can plan ahead for your trip by ordering this card online, but you can only activate it once you arrive in France.

The card actually comes along with a tourist guide (offered in 10 languages) and a map of Paris Metro.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in France, it is important to be sure you are buying a pre-paid SIM, rather than accidentally signing up for a monthly plan.

Some mobile phone carriers offer very affordable monthly plans, which might look appealing to tourists. However, these plans will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, and many involve complex processes, including sending a registered cancellation letter (in French), in order to cancel the plan.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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