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France ends free Covid tests: What are the costs and who is exempt

People walking past a pop-up Covid test centre at the Opera square in Paris. Tests were previously free for residents.
People walking past a pop-up Covid test centre at the Opera square in Paris. Tests were previously free for residents. Photo: Thomas COEX / AFP.
Covid tests were previously free for all French residents, but from October 15th, you will have to start paying for tests under certain circumstances.

Unlike many other countries, France did not previously differentiate between tests for medical reasons – people with Covid symptoms or contact cases – or other reasons such as travel tests and offered all tests free of charge.

However, this had already changed for some groups – and further changes came into force on Friday, October 15th.

Tourists

After briefly offering free tests for tourists, France reversed this policy in July, citing a lack of reciprocity from other countries.

This means that in order to have the cost of tests covered by the state, anyone who wants a test must present a carte vitale, which proves that you are resident in France and registered with the French heath system.

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If you live in France but do not yet have a carte vitale (and if you haven’t yet applied for the card, here’s how to do that) you may need to pay for the test but can request a feuille de soin. This is essentially a receipt, and once you get the card you can send in your feuille de soin and get the cost of the test reimbursed.

In some holiday areas, pop-up testing centres were offering free tests on a walk-in basis, but others required either payment or proof of residency.

Residents

Previously, if you were resident in France and have a carte vitale, your tests were free for any reason and there was no limit on the number of tests you could take. However, this has all changed.

Friday, October 15th

From October 15th ‘convenience tests’ are no longer be free for unvaccinated people.

This measure, first announced by president Emmanuel Macron, is linked to the pass sanitaire (health passport) and is designed to push people into being vaccinated.

READ ALSO When and where you need a health passport 

The health passport requires one of three things: proof of fully vaccinated status, proof of recent recovery from Covid, or a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours. In order to stop unvaccinated people taking multiple tests, tests taken for non-medical reasons will cease to be free from mid-October.

Unvaccinated – from October 15th, if you are not vaccinated you will need a prescription (from a doctor or an alert from the Covid tracker site as a contact case) to access a free test. If you do not have a prescription you can still get the test, but will have to pay for it.

Vaccinated – if you have symptoms or are a contact case you can get a free test without a prescription. If you need a Covid test in order to travel, this will also be free on showing proof of vaccination. Tests for attending events should not be needed if you are vaccinated, you can show proof of vaccination on the health passport in order to enter.

Under 18s – tests for under 18s – vaccinated or not – remain free under all circumstances and children will continue to be regularly tested at school.

Access

Access to tests remains the same – either on a walk-in basis at a pharmacy for antigen tests or pre-booked at a medical lab for PCR tests. Pop-up testing centres offering both PCR and antigen tests remain available, although it is expected that these will be scaled back as fewer people use them.

How much?

The French government has capped the cost of tests, and prices are among the lowest in Europe.

PCR test – €44. These are taken at medical labs and usually need to be booked in advance. Some pop-up test centres also offer PCR tests. Considered the most reliable and advised for anyone who has symptoms, the test sample is sent to the lab to be processed and results sent out via email or SMS, usually within 24 hours.

Antigen test – €22. The antigen test offers on-the-spot results but is less reliable than the PCR test. Most countries accept antigen tests for travel tests, but check with the country you are travelling to. These are available at pharmacies, usually without appointment, and at pop-up test centres. Some pharmacies give you the results while you wait, others take your phone number and send them by SMS, within 30 minutes of the test.

Home test kits – €6. These are widely available at pharmacies throughout France, but most countries do not accept them for travel tests. They are also no longer accepted for the health passport.

Test certificates – all PCR and antigen test results in France come in the form of a certificate with a QR code that will work for both the health passport and travelling, so there is no need to request a different ‘travel test result’.


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