‘I must quarantine to see my dying dad’: Brits in France left furious over UK travel rules for tourists

The UK will shortly lift its quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers - but not for Brits who are living in France and had their vaccines here. We spoke to some of the people most affected by this decision.

'I must quarantine to see my dying dad': Brits in France left furious over UK travel rules for tourists
Photo: Ben Fathers/AFP

For many people, crossing borders might be about holidays, but for people living abroad travel is vital to see loved ones – something that has been very difficult over the last 18 months.

Brits living in France have faced the prospect of a 10-day quarantine and paying at least £160 per person for testing if they want to travel to the UK, which has made the trip impractical or unaffordable for many.

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

So the news that the UK was lifting its quarantine for vaccinated travellers from July 19th came as a great relief – until it was revealed that this only applies to people vaccinated in the UK.

For Normandy resident Tina Abbott this devastating realisation means that she still cannot travel to the UK to say goodbye to her dying father.

She said: “I was so happy when I heard the quarantine was being lifted, I had my finger on the button to book the ferry, and then my husband said it was for UK residents only – I’m devastated.

“My dad is very poorly with a host of illnesses and the hospice have told us that it is a matter of weeks now.

“But if I go I have to quarantine for 10 days – I don’t have a home in the UK so I will need to pay for a hotel and then pay £160 for testing, or £300 if we want to shorten the quarantine to five days, so £600 for me and my husband.

“Realistically I know that we will also have to do the journey again in a few weeks for the funeral and I just can’t afford it. I work as an English teacher so I can’t work remotely and my husband is a heating engineer so he can’t work from quarantine either.

“I just want to go and say goodbye.”

From July 19th, Brits who fancy a holiday in countries including France will not have to quarantine on their return, but thousands of Brits like Tina who live in France will still be subject to quarantine and testing rules.

She said: “It’s a disgrace, I’m fully vaccinated with Moderna – that’s a vaccine that is used in the UK, in fact mine probably came out of the same factory, so why are we being treated differently?”

The problem is that the UK government will only accept NHS paperwork as proof of vaccination, despite the NHS certificates and NHS app being accepted as proof of vaccinated status in France.

Tina’s story was echoed by many other Brits living in France who want to travel.

Katherine, 39, who lives in Paris, said: “I haven’t seen my family for 18 months, my parents are both elderly so I wanted to wait until both they and I are fully vaccinated.

“I’ve had a double dose of Pfizer now but still the UK government says I have to quarantine for 10 days and pay a fortune for those travel tests – which are just extortionate. I can’t afford the money.”

The citizens’ rights group British in Europe has written to the UK government calling on them to overturn their “epidemiologically illiterate” policy which discriminates against UK citizens living abroad who had their vaccines in their country of residence.

A spokesman for the group said: “It would appear that yet again British citizens abroad are at best an afterthought, not considered at all, or at worst now caught up in the endless disagreements between the UK government and the EU.”

The British government says it hopes to have a further announcement on these issues by the end of July.

Transport minister Grant Shapps told Sky news that it was being discussed, although in the same interview he appeared to be unaware that the EU’s digital health passport scheme is already up and running.

We will update our Travelling to France section as soon as there is any news on this issue.

Member comments

  1. Why do we feel that we are PENALISED by the British government for choosing to live in France ? We are disenfranchised, having lived here for more than 15 years; we are prevented from saving in an ISA or contributing to a pension fund or applying for a new credit card; (why ? Is it not government policy to encourage people to save for their retirement ?). Brexit has made things worse, and now this ridiculous refusal to recognise vaccinations done in France is making it impossible for us to consider a visit to the UK to see our family. Yet in spite of all this, the British government still expect us to pay taxes to them. It is outrageous and I am tempted to refuse to pay any more taxes until these issues are resolved.

  2. We have lived in France for 19 years, are both fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. We have been told that the vaccine can’t be recognised in the UK, because of difficulties with the technology. Is this true?

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Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Amid accusations of racism at fancy seaside resorts and legal controversies surrounding US statesmen, we take a look at the law surrounding private beaches in France.

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Question: I read that all beaches in France are public property, but down here on the Riviera there are a lot of ‘private beaches’ – how do the rules actually work?

In France, everyone has the right to a dip in the ocean, though it might not seem that way when walking through certain areas.

There are 1,500 of these “private beaches” in France – the vast majority of them located on the Côte d’Azur.

They have become a source of controversy recently, after two private beaches in Juan-les-Pins were accused of racism and discrimination following an investigation and video circulated by French media Loopsider. The video (below) shows how a white couples receive different treatment than North African or Black couples.

So what are these ‘private beaches’ and are they even legal in France?

In reality, none of these beachfront hotels, resorts or beach operators actually own that land, as the sea and the beach are considered ‘public maritime’ and are therefore the domain of the French state.

This means that technically there are no private beaches in France, as no one is supposed to be allowed to own the beach, though there are some caveats to that rule.

Since 1986, the State has been able to grant ‘concessions’ to allow for parts of the beach to be temporarily rented. Thus, hotels, resorts or beach operators can request a temporary rental of the beach for a specific period of time – the maximum duration being twelve years, which is renewable. If the local town hall agrees, then the renter will pay a fee (typically between €15,000 and €100,000 per year). 

This might seem like a de facto way of allowing beaches to be privatised, but the few who manage to ‘rent the beach’ are still subject to some constraints. For instance, they are only allowed to occupy the beach for six months of the year (sometimes this can be extended up to eight months with the permission of the town hall, or twelve months in less common circumstances).

At the end of the season, they are required to dismantle their installations, so permanent private structures on the beach are therefore not allowed.

So you might see a waterfront resort, but they do not technically have ownership over the beach.

What about private deckchairs or sun beds next to the water? 

This is another rule that is not always perfectly respected. Legally, any organisation that rents a part of the beach is required to leave a strip of “significant width” along the sea.

This is usually about three to five metres from the high tide mark, where members or the public can walk along the water or bring down their own towels or deck chairs down to the beach.

If a ‘private beach’ has deck chairs or sun-loungers right up against the water, there is a good chance the renting organisation is not following the rules.

Beachfront property

As the public has the right to be able to access the beach, homeowners are not allowed to block passage and can even incur fines for doing so. 

The public must be able to pass through land to get to the beach, and cannot be blocked from the beach in front of a property.

Public access to the beach came into the spotlight due to a controversy surrounding a property of former American presidential candidate and statesman, John Kerry.

Kerry’s family owns a villa in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer in Brittany, and has fought a three-decade legal battle to be able to block the coastal trail on the property, which by French law, should be accessible to the public. 

Despite the family siting potential ‘security threats’ should the beach front path be open to the public, local authorities backed plans to continue allowing public access in 2019.

What about building a waterfront property?

First, keep in mind that building in general in France is a heavily regulated process that requires planning permission.

You will not be able to build within 100 metres of the shoreline. If you buy a pre-existing coastal property, you will need to remember the three-metre rule discussed above and, as the Kerry family discovered, you are not allowed to block public access to the beach. 

For ‘coastal zones’ specifically, there are more strict regulations and most plots of land by the sea are listed as protected natural areas, and therefore are not allowed to be built on.

Can access to the beach ever be forbidden?

Yes, as per the Coastal Law of 1986, local authorities can forbid access to the beach for “security, national defence or environmental protection.” During the Covid lockdowns several local authorities banned access to beaches to avoid illicit partying.

There are also several rules about what you are allowed to do – and not to do – while visiting French beaches, and some of them might surprise you. 

READ MORE: The little-known French beach rule that could net you a €1,500 fine