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Revealed: Just how strict are post-Brexit checks at the French border?

The end of the Brexit transition period has ushered in a host of rules for arrivals in France covering everything from your paperwork to your snacks for the journey - but exactly how strictly are these being enforced at the border?

Revealed: Just how strict are post-Brexit checks at the French border?
Photo: Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/AFP

Since the Brexit transition period ended on January 1st 2021, arrivals from the UK have a lot of extra rules to be aware of. These are not new rules, they have always applied to arrivals into France from non-EU countries such as the USA and Canada, but they are now applying to arrivals from the UK.

You can find a full list of what is now required HERE, but in brief this covers paperwork such as passports, visas, health insurance and the attestation d’accueil as well as any items you bring with you including food, plants, household goods and DIY equipment.

Travel to France: What has changed since Brexit?

And it’s not just humans who are affected, your pet may need extra paperwork too.

With travel at a low level over the last six months for obvious reasons, this summer marks the first time that many people will have made the trip under the new regime, so we asked our readers just how strictly these rules are being enforced in reality.

Several hundred people responded to our survey, which asked people what checks were carried out as they entered France and how they arrived – by plane, ferry, Eurostar or Eurotunnel.

Passports

The rule – British passports are of course still a valid travel document, but now need to have at least six months left to run before they can be used to enter the EU.

The reality – As you would expect, all our survey respondents had their passports checked at the border.

The biggest problem flagged up was the issue of passport stamping. UK residents have their passports stamped on entry and exit of the EU in order to comply with the 90-day rule. This should not apply to UK nationals who are resident in France, but several people reported having their passports stamped anyway or having to have a lengthy argument with officials to avoid being stamped.

Lyn Thompson, a resident of Charente-Maritime, said: “The biggest issue on each of my three trips has been persuading French Border Force officials NOT to stamp my passport, despite the fact I have a (valid Withdrawal Agreement) Titre de Sejour which I have shown alongside my passport.

“I was unable to prevent this the first time I returned (via Eurostar) despite arguing with the official, so my passport has a stamp which effectively says I have only 90 days from April to stay in Europe. The most recent time I travelled (by air) I had yet another argument with French Border Force who told me that the rules were that every British passport should be stamped.

“I pointed out that the stamp allowed me to stay for only 90 days whereas my Titre de Sejour meant that I was resident in France and therefore didn’t need to/shouldn’t have my passport stamped, and our discussion went on for some time. He only eventually let me through without a stamp because a massive queue was building up and he obviously wanted to get rid of this difficult woman.”

France resident Gillian Price added: “The French border control insisted they stamped our passports even though we showed them our new carte de séjour residency cards, EDF bill and bank statements with our French address.

“We now have a 90 day visa stamp. The border control insisted every UK passport holder need to be stamped even though we are resident in France!”

Advice previously issued by the British Embassy has simply been not to worry about being stamped in error, but The Local has requested updated guidance.

It may sound obvious, but do remember to show your carte de séjour (or receipt of your application for the carte de séjour if you have not yet received the card) along with your passport every time you both enter and exit France.

Visas/residency cards/attestation d’accueil

As well as a passport, you may also need extra documentation to enter France.

The rule – If you intend to stay for longer than 90 days you will need either a visa or a residency permit, depending on your circumstances.

You are entitled to spend 90 days out of every 180 in the EU without needing a visa, but if you are coming as a visitor you may be questioned about where and how long you are staying and asked to show extra documentation including proof of resources, health insurance and a booking for a hotel/gite/Airbnb or – if you are staying with friends or family – an attestation d’acceuil (full details here).

The reality – only around a quarter of our survey respondents reported having residency-related paperwork checked, with the strictest checks seeming to be at Eurostar and ferry ports.

John Counsell, a resident in France, said: “The French border official examined my residency card as if he had never seen one before. He then quizzed me in French, that I was truly resident in France. He was pleasant, but in retrospect it felt like an interrogation.”

Richard Stevens added: “It was simple and easy but they did want details of the residency to allow entry.”

Pamela Elizabeth Gully, who was visiting her second home, said: “We did have to show the address where we are staying in France. As it is a house we own, this didn’t lead to any other questions.”

More common than paperwork being checked was people being asked about the purpose of their visit and, if they were travelling visa-free, being reminded of the provisions of the 90-day rule limiting stays in the EU.

Tom Kirk, who was travelling through France to reach Italy, said: “The border official was very keen to ensure we understood the 90-day rule.”

READ ALSO How the 90-day rule works in France since Brexit

This tracks with the experiences of other non-EU nationals like Americans, Canadians and Australians who have long reported France as being one of the more relaxed EU nations on checking residency paperwork.

A word of warning however – just because checks don’t happen every time doesn’t mean that they don’t happen at all and you can be denied entry to the country if you don’t have the correct documents. 

Food

It was one of the defining early images of the new regime – polite Dutch customs officials confiscating drivers’ ham sandwiches with the words ‘Welcome to the Brexit, Sir’.

The rule – there are strict rules on bringing any foodstuffs into the EU, and they cover visitors and tourists as well as commercial importers. You can read the full rules HERE but broadly anything with an animal product in it (from ham sandwiches to chocolate or pet food) is banned. The rules also cover fruit, vegetables, plants and flowers.

The reality – Very few people reported checks on this, and of those who were asked, most officials seemed satisfied with a verbal assurance that they were not bringing in banned items.

Checks or questions on these were most likely to happen at ferry ports or the Channel Tunnel, where people travel by car.

Sue Clarke, who arrived by ferry, said: “No one was interested in what we had in the car even though our back seat was piled high and our boot was full”.

Carolyn Roberts, who lives in Manche, Normandy, reported: “It was very straightforward – no mention at all of food or other items that we might be bringing in.”

Pamela Kelly, who travelled by ferry, added: “I was asked if I had stuff for the house but I didn’t and he didn’t look. No question on food but would have been vegan so all ok!”

Goods

As well as foods, there are also limits on certain items including household goods and DIY equipment – a frequent occurrence for second-home owners since many DIY items are cheaper in the UK than in France.

The rule – bringing in items with a total value of more than €430 can see you subject to customs duties. You will also need a detailed inventory of what you are bringing in, and may be required to either pay customs duties or leave your items at the border – full details here.

If you are bringing in equipment (other than a laptop) for work, you are likely to need a carnet.

The reality – checks on this were most likely to happen at ferry ports and the Channel Tunnel (since airline hand luggage rules tend to rule out bringing a new bathroom suite with you) but fewer than a quarter of people reported having their cars checked.

Of people who were checked, however, some ended up paying out significant amounts.

Second-home owner Tony said: “I brought over a car-full of stuff to do some work on my property including kitchen tiles and a toilet. I was pulled over at the ferry port and my car checked – it ended up costing me €60 in customs duties and an extra hour on my journey time by the time the forms were completed.”

Pets

And it’s not just two-legged travellers who need new paperwork.

The rule – the European Pet Passport no longer applies to pets who are UK resident (although cats, dogs and ferrets that live in France can still use the Passport to enter the UK and then return to France). Instead you need an Animal Health Certificate from the vet, and unlike the Pet Passport this requires a new form every time you travel – full details here.

The reality – everyone travelling with a dog, cat or ferret reported having their paperwork checked (OK, no-one actually admitted to travelling with a ferret, but they are covered by the rules too).

Liz Harrison said: “The Animal Health Certificate – 14 pages long – replaces the Pet Passport. AHC is time consuming and where a Passport is one document for use each time you travel.”

Jackie Brockman said: “Our vet hadn’t completed the form correctly. Chip date was wrong. Fortunately we had proof of correct chip implantation date so were allowed to proceed, but without that wouldn’t have been allowed in. Apparently other people have been prevented from travel due to this being wrong.”

Debra Clayphan, who went via the Channel Tunnel, said: “Pet reception was excellent, they knew what they were doing. They checked some date on the AHC against the old passport.”

Queues

And one thing that many people noted was the increase in check-in time due to the extra controls.

At present there are also checks on health paperwork such as vaccination or test certificates, which hopefully will not be needed in the future, but set against this is the fact that the volume of travellers is much lower than normal due to the pandemic.

Many respondents recommended allowing 60 to 90 minutes to get through the pre-boarding checks.

Ace Powell, a UK resident arriving for a visit on the Channel Tunnel, said: “Delays to get through border control and customs were extensive. There have never been enough staff in the booths and all these new forms have exacerbated the delays.

“Once I had had the pet passports checked and got back into my car it took over two hours of queuing to get checked by UK and French officials. And I had a Flexiplus ticket which should mean it was faster for me than others.”

Member comments

  1. Actually the ham sandwich routine was also repeated by the Irish in Dublin who impounded an M&S lorry because the driver didn’t have a separate vets certificate for his lunch.

  2. re: Passport Stamping
    The procedures to be adopted by officials at EU border crossings are defined in the “Practical Handbook for Border Guards”, of which the 2019 version is the most up to date. Clearly this handbook will be readily available and familiar to anyone entitled to stamp your passport. It is available to download on-line.

    Under “Stamping of Travel Documents”, the handbook states this:

    “6.2. No entry or exit stamp must be affixed in the following cases:
    i) to the travel documents of nationals of third countries who present a residence card provided for in Directive 2004/38/EC.”

    Directive 2004/38/EC underpins rights under Withdrawal Agreement and in particular the WA rights of British EU residents to the new biometric ID card, which therefore qualifies under 6.2.i) above.

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TRAVEL NEWS

‘We will be ready’ vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

Transport bosses have raised fears of long queues in British ports when the EU's new EES system comes into effect next year, but French border officials insist they will be ready to implement the new extra checks.

'We will be ready' vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

The EU’s new EES system comes into effect in 2023 and many people – including the boss of the Port of Dover and the former UK ambassador to France – have raised concerns that the extra checks will lead to travel chaos on the UK-France border, and see a repeat of the long queues experienced last summer.

Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister told The Local that he feared “tailbacks out of the port and throughout Kent” because the new system could take up to 10 minutes to process a car with four passengers, as opposed to 90 seconds currently.

EXPLAINED What the EES system means for travel to France in 2023

But French border control have insisted that they will be ready, replying to questions from the European Commission with “Oui, La France sera prête” (yes, France will be ready).

French officials said they had already undertaken extension preparation and would begin test runs of the new system in French border posts at the end of this year.

document shared recently by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties, shows how countries are preparing. 

“France has prepared very actively and will be on schedule for an EES implementation in compliance with the EU regulation,” French authorities say.

“The French authorities have carried out numerous studies and analyses, in cooperation with infrastructure managers, to map passenger flows at each border crossing post… and evaluate the EES impact on waiting times,” the document says. 

However, despite the preparation, the French admit that long waits at the border remain a worry, adding: “the prospect of the impact of EES on waiting times at the borders worries infrastructure managers. The fact remains that fluidity remains a concern, and that exchanges are continuing with each border post manager to make progress on this point.”

The EES system is due to come into effect in May 2023 and will be applied at all EU external borders – find full details on how it works HERE.

However there has been particular concern about the France-UK border due to three things; the high volume of traffic (in total over 60 million passengers cross the border each year); the fact that many travel by car on ferries and the Eurotunnel (while the EES system seems more designed with foot passengers in mind); and the Le Touquet agreement which means that French border control agents work in the British ports of Dover and Folkestone and at London St Pancras station.

EES is essentially a more thorough passport checking process with passengers required to provide biometric information including fingerprints and facial scans – border checks will therefore take longer per passenger, and this could have a big effect at busy crossing points like Dover.

The UK’s former ambassador to France, Lord Ricketts, told The Local: “I think the EES, in particular, will be massively disruptive at the Channel ports.”

The EU consultation documents also revealed more details of how EES will work on a practical level for car passengers – those travelling by ferry or Eurotunnel to France – with border agents set to use computer tablets to gather biometric information like fingerprints so that passengers don’t have to get out of their cars.

READ ALSO France to use iPads to check biometric data of passengers from UK

Doug Bannister added that Dover agents were “awaiting an invitation” to France to see how the new systems will work. 

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