‘I’ve been to 8 pharmacies’: Visitors to France report struggles with Covid health passes

'I've been to 8 pharmacies': Visitors to France report struggles with Covid health passes
A restaurant owner checks customers' health passes on the island of Corsica. Photo: Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP.
A health passport is now required to visit tourist attractions in France, but the rules governing how foreign visitors can access the French health pass are often unclear, with many people being turned away from venues. We asked our readers to share their experiences.

France’s health pass is currently required in all cultural and leisure venues hosting more than 50 people, including cinemas and museums, and from August 9th, is set to be extended to bars, restaurants, cafés and long-distance bus and train travel.

This means that tourists visiting France will need to show a health pass in order to make the most of their trip.

France has instructions and advice in place for visitors from various countries including the US, the UK and the EU but the reality on the ground can be quite different, our reader report.

The fact the rules are often unclear for the health professionals in France who can supply health passes for tourists and staff who work in places that require them are often unaware of them, creates problems.

Exchanging a vaccination certificate in a pharmacy

For tourists from the USA, Canada and many other non-EU countries whose vaccination certificates are not recognised by the French TousAntiCovid app, currently the only way to access the French health pass is to exchange your vaccination certificate for a French version with a QR code.

In theory, pharmacists and other medical professionals are able to provide a French vaccination certificate which you can scan into the app, but in practice not all pharmacies offer this service.

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“I asked a pharmacist to load my CDC card into the system, but it took a while to find a pharmacist that would do it,” said reader Nina Starner.

Susan Butler, from the United States, recommends trying a pharmacy in “major tourist locations”. After being told only larger pharmacies exchange certificates, she found one in the Opéra district of Paris which “gave me one within 24 hours by email for €20 euros”.

Betsy Brill tried four pharmacies in Nice. “Each one said it was not yet possible for us to get the pass,” she said.

READ ALSO Can tourists use France’s health passport to access museums, cafés and trains?

Sandra added: “I have visited three pharmacies with my USA vaccination certificate, and no one knew what I was talking about when I asked about a bar code or registering on the French system.”

The confusion stems from the fact that the French government currently offers no advice for how people from these countries can use the health pass.

Here is what the US Embassy in Paris says: “As of July 21, the French government has not provided official information on obtaining a health pass for people vaccinated outside the European Union.  While some people have been able to have their information entered into the French system by a French doctor or pharmacist, others have been told this is not possible. At this time, the Embassy is not aware of the extent to which it is still possible to have the U.S. information entered into the French system.”

“I’ve gone to eight pharmacies in Nice and all except one refused to follow the steps that I was given by the American Embassy to show to the pharmacist as to how to do this,” said Lonnie Lanferman.

“The one pharmacist tried and all seemed to be working until a last step required some sort of patient number. He tried using my USA social security number but it didn’t work. I also went to the central vaccination center in Nice and they said that, ‘it’s just not possible.'”

While you should not require a French social security number to exchange your vaccine certificate, many places are still asking for one.

Lanferman still recommends contacting the embassy in order to have instructions to show to pharmacists.

Alternatives to pharmacies

With pharmacies proving hit and miss, some readers have had success with other medical professionals.

“We got our health pass from a vaccination center. The pharmacies that we initially went to didn’t know how to navigate the database to generate a health pass from a CDC card,” said American reader Mary.

“Persistence is key,” she added.

You can find a vaccination centre near you here.

The French health pass is required for sporting events. Photo: Christophe SIMON / AFP.

Similarly, Lawrence Myers “could not get it at 10 pharmacies but got it at Hotel Dieu Hospital, Paris.”

READ ALSO Will you need a health pass to sit outside at a French cafe?

Eloise Clark also had success at Hotel Dieu Hospital, but she said tourists should come prepared, and expect a long wait. “Bring your ID, local address (they accepted our AirBnB), know which arm you got each shot in, and be ready to help interpret the lot number on the immunization card if it was handwritten.”

Reader Julie was also unable to find a pharmacy willing to exchange her American vaccination card, but that hasn’t proved a problem so far. “To date, the museums have seen that it’s a CDC card and waved me through,” she said.

Meanwhile, the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs announced on Monday, August 2nd, that French people living in the USA and other countries where vaccination certificates are not compatible with the EU Covid certificate are now able to request a French certificate. All they need to do is send an email with their proof of vaccination, ID, and proof of residency.

For the moment, this possibility is not available to foreign nationals.

Using the NHS app

In theory, it should be simpler for people vaccinated in the UK to access venues where the health passport is required. It is now possible to upload an NHS vaccine certificate to the French health pass app. However, the QR codes generated are not currently compatible with the TousAntiCovid Verif app used by venues to check health passes.

For the time being, British tourists are advised to present proof via either the NHS app or a printout of their UK vaccination certificate. But this isn’t fool-proof either.

Philip Westbury said he was denied entry to the local swimming pool. “Staff are not aware that UK can use NHS app. The TousCovid app fails with the QR code and nobody is able to help clarify the situation,” he wrote to us.

Malcolm Bowler was refused entry to a prehistory centre in the Vendée département. While his sister-in-law, who was vaccinated in Germany, was allowed in, staff tried and failed to scan his wife’s NHS app. Malcolm’s advice? “Stay in England.”

READ ALSO Health passport: What changes in France on August 9th?

In this case, too, the problem appears to have come from staff not being aware that NHS certificates are accepted even though they cannot be scanned.

And French citizens living in the UK could face the same problems when visiting. Since NHS certificates are compatible with the EU health passport, French expats are not able to request a French vaccine certificate like those living in most non-EU countries can.

Anyone vaccinated in the UK could also try their luck at pharmacists.

European visitors

If you were vaccinated in an EU or Schengen zone country, it should be much easier to access venues in France, because you should have a certificate with a QR code which is recognised in France.

“We had no problems,” said Julia, who is living in Sweden. “We had the QR code scanned on our Swedish covidbevis [digital vaccination certificate] at the entry to a swimming pool and it worked first time. They could see our name and we could go straight in.”

Others have reported complications, however.

“The venue’s staff were using an old version of the TousAntiCovid Verif app on their work mobile and it rejected our Swiss (Schengen) health passes,” Harry said. “We also had the Verif app and showed them it verified our passes. The staff then tried the app on their personal mobile and it verified our passes.”

Harry recommends downloading the TousAntiCovid Verif app as well as bringing a paper copy of your vaccine certificate or negative test result, so that you can scan it with your own phone if necessary.

The Local has contacted the French Foreign Minister to ask for an update concerning the use of NHS vaccine certificates with the French health pass, but has not yet received a response.


Member comments

  1. We scanned the QR codes from the UK NHS app directly into TousAntiCovid and they worked first time. Got the advice how to do it from The Local. Bravo guys!

  2. I find it very amusing that people are whinging that they can’t get this done or that done. Wake up. You are on holiday in a foreign country. This is part and parcel of being on holiday in a foreign country and adds to your experience. Learn to embrace set backs like this and you might find yourself laughing about it besides, what type person traps themselves in a tin can for seven hours in the middle of a virus outbreak just for a holiday. Now that’s the question you should be asking yourselves.

    1. Those of us who are trying to accommodate to the system of a country whose president invited us to come and vacation here and, oh, spend our money here, so that we can eat in a restaurant don’t care what you do or don’t find amusing nor do we need your puerile advice on vacation travel during a pandemic.

      1. Hi Eric. This person, gender unknown, actually pays so as to be able, from a height of great superiority, to pour scorn & bile on visitors to his/her country, while, unless it is truly his/her real name, hides behind a nom de plume (I wonder if he/she knows, despite being bilingual, that bog is an alternative for toilet. It’s fitting anyway).
        Actually pays.

        1. There’s too much in Boggy’s comment that suggests American or Brit IMO, not français, but in any event, he/she/it gets no more of my time.
          Bonne soirée !

          1. Maybe bots & trolls target even The Local! Shame for those nice people who write helpful articles with such good humour.
            Bonne soirée à vous aussi!

  3. Well tourists, welcome to France! No surprises here…….. that’s it is difficult or impossible to exchange in this case the vaccination proof is normal for France. It would be news if it was easy!

    1. It is located on Rue de Chemin Vert in the 11e, above Rue Saint-Maur, towards Père Lachaise, it will be on your left, but I can’t remember if about Rue Servan or between Saint-Maur and Servan.

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