Since removing France from its ‘amber plus’ list in August, the UK has also relaxed the rules on testing, meaning that fully vaccinated arrivals from France no longer need to take a pre-departure Covid test.
Travellers do, however, still need ‘Day 2’ tests on arrival – but from October 24th these can be antigen tests (known in the UK as lateral flow tests) rather than PCR tests, with the new tests on sale from Friday, October 22nd.
Travellers have been complaining for months about the extortionate prices and terrible service afforded by the Day 2 testing system, and the switch to lateral flow tests should make these cheaper – in theory.
You do still, however, have to use a test provider from the list of approved government suppliers and the test must be booked and paid for before you leave France.
What it means
All passengers, including children, have to take a test on or before ‘Day Two’ after their arrival in England. But – crucially – this Day Two test must be booked before you leave France.
The passenger locator form, required for all arrivals into England, cannot be completed without a reference number from a test, booked through one of the UK government’s approved list of suppliers.
For fully vaccinated travellers, the Day Two test marks the end of their Covid travel requirements, assuming it comes back negative.
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Unvaccinated travellers from France, however, must quarantine for 10 full days and take another test on or before Day Eight of their stay.
It is important to note that for test and quarantine purposes, the day of arrival is counted as Day Zero. The following day is Day One, the day after that Day Two, and so on.
Proof of purchase of the second test must be included on the passenger locator form, which everyone over age 18 must complete and submit within the 48 hours before they travel. Anyone who fails to take this Day Two test faces a fine of up to £2,000.
How to book a test
Tests must be booked from a company on the government’s list of test providers in England and Northern Ireland here.
Before October 24th
The test must be a PCR test, but PCR tests in the UK may be carried out at home, or by going to a clinic. Prices vary based on how many tests you require and how quickly you need the results – and many clinics offer a range of packages.
According to the government website, you’ll have a wait of 24 to 36 hours to get your test result.
However social media and the British media are awash with stories of people waiting considerably longer than that, never receiving their results or never receiving the tests in the first place.
On or after October 24th
From this date, the test can be a rapid-result antigen test, known as a lateral flow test in the UK, which travellers do at home with no need to send the sample to a lab.
However, this must still be booked in advance and from one of the approved government suppliers.
The UK government published its updated list including lateral flow tests on Friday, October 22nd and initially this looked good, with several tests listed at £20 or under.
However when we tried to book one on Friday lunchtime, none of the sites listing tests at or around £20 were actually selling them at that price – some sites said they had no tests available, while others only listed options to purchase the considerably more expensive PCR tests.
It remains unclear whether this will change in the days to come.
The new system should, however, eliminate the problem of long waits for results.
The world of Day 2 testing is an infuriating one.
You’ll find the companies offer packages depending on the status of the country you are travelling from, in other words green or amber. Even though the tests are the same. Some companies confusingly list products only for “UK vaccinated”.
Quick spin through UK's Day 2 Covid travel tests
🇬🇧 Extortionate pricing
🇬🇧 £50 difference between arrivals from green and amber countries, despite being the *exact same product*
🇬🇧 Day 2 tests 'unavailable' while more expensive Day 2&8 packages available from same supplier pic.twitter.com/14wTgfmvp6
— Emma Pearson (@LocalFR_Emma) September 27, 2021
Some we found appear to have minimum spends so even if you find a cheap test you can’t buy it, while others seem cheap, but once you get through the final ordering stage extra charges bump up the total.
The UK government says that it does not endorse companies on its list, and some firms have been removed for failing to provide a reasonable standard of service. However, many remain on the list despite being the subject of multiple complaints.
UK govt has published its list of providers for cheaper Day 2 tests for travellers . . . looks good . . . except that none of these sites currently appear to be actually selling lateral flow tests at these prices pic.twitter.com/jpsBRfeLqr
— Emma Pearson (@LocalFR_Emma) October 22, 2021
You also have to book individually for each passenger who requires a test – so if you’re travelling as a family of four you will have to go through the booking process four times.
Compare this to France, which does not require vaccinated travellers to take a test either before or after arrival. Tourists in France are changed a flat rate €22 for an antigen test and €44 for a PCR. Travel tests are free for vaccinated residents and can be accessed by simply popping into the local pharmacy or booking online with a medical lab.
In short for anyone used to the efficient testing system in France (particularly at pharmacies), the UK set up will appear completely bonkers.
So, what if you’re staying in the UK for less than two days? You still need the Day 2 test, because the passenger locator form cannot be completed without the booking reference, and you cannot enter England without the form.
So you must pay for a test even if you will no longer be in England when the time comes to use it.
Also be aware that the UK government’s definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ is not the same as the French government’s.
You need to have been vaccinated with a UK approved vaccine – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson – and be at least 14 days from your final dose.
After much confusion, the UK has finally agreed to recognise as vaccinated people who had a ‘mixed dose’ – ie one AstraZeneca and one Pfizer.
But while in France, people who previously had Covid are counted as fully vaccinated after a single dose of the vaccine, this is not the case in the UK.