‘Detained, interrogated and returned to UK’: How France is enforcing its Covid border rules

A British woman has told how she was detained for several hours and then refused entry to France because she did not meet the Covid entry requirements to be fully vaccinated.

'Detained, interrogated and returned to UK': How France is enforcing its Covid border rules
British visitor Clare was refused entry and put on a ferry back to the UK. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

Although many restrictions both within France and for travel have now been lifted, there remain limits in place on who can travel from the UK.

The UK is on France’s orange list, which means that fully vaccinated people can travel for any reason, but those who are not vaccinated can only travel for a strictly-defined list of essential reasons.

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

Readers of The Local have previously reported varying levels of checks at the border – but checks do happen and those who do not meet the criteria for travel can and will be refused entry – as Clare found out.

Property owner Clare, 43, who is in the process of applying for residency, wanted to travel to France to visit her partner and complete some administration.

However, although residents of France are allowed entry if they are not fully vaccinated, this does not extend to property-owners.

Clare, who arrived into France by ferry, said: “I showed my paperwork and test but they insisted on a vaccine passport. 

“I was marched from my car to the customs office. I was interrogated alone for several hours and by several officials.

“They then went and checked my car, my bag, my car documents and looked at my phone. I showed them further evidence but they were not satisfied.

“I was accused of entering France illegally and I was told if I didn’t return I would be detained in a detention centre. I was told the police would be called if I did not sign.”

Eventually, after previously being told she would have to pay for her own trip back to the UK, customs officials found her a place on a ferry going back.

READ ALSO Revealed: How strictly is France enforcing Covid testing and quarantine requirements

Media coverage in the UK has largely centred on the removal of UK rules on quarantine, but travellers need to bear in mind that other countries have their own rules of entry.

For arrivals in France from orange list countries such as the UK these are;

Vaccinated travellers – can travel for any reason, including holidays and visits to second homes, and do not need to show a negative Covid test. A declaration that you are not suffering from any Covid symptoms is required, however – find that here.

Travellers who are not fully vaccinated – can only travel to France for essential reasons. You can find the full list of permitted reasons HERE. It includes French citizens and French residents returning, students arriving to start a new academic year and vital workers. However it does not include family visits, visits to second homes or holidays. Travellers who do satisfy the ‘essential reasons’ requirement need a negative Covid test from within the previous 24 hours and a declaration that they are free from Covid symptoms. They should also quarantine for seven days on arrival.

To be counted as ‘fully vaccinated’ under French rules you must be

  • Vaccinated with a vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, including Covishield)
  • Be at least two weeks after the second injection for double-dose vaccines or two weeks after a single dose for those people who had previously had Covid-19
  • Be at least four weeks after the injection for people who had the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Travellers going from France to the UK should bear in mind that the UK does not accept mixed dose vaccines (eg a dose of AstraZeneca and a second dose of Pfizer), neither does it accept as fully vaccinated people who previously had Covid being vaccinated with a single dose.

You can find full details on France’s traffic light system here.

Clare said: “I’m not vaccinated for one reason or another, I have had Covid and have had an antibody test and I also have an autoimmune condition which makes me hesitant, especially as I have also had Covid. 

“This has been an incredibly traumatic experience I never thought would occur in Europe. I have lived and worked in West Africa and the Middle East. I have never experienced this in my life at 43 years old!

“I have also been unable to visit my partner since I was in France on holiday last September for two weeks before these rules came in. 

“This issue is not just about holidays.”

Brits travelling between France and the UK are also reminded of the numerous changes since the end of the Brexit transition period.

Member comments

  1. I am sorry, but it is hard to have sympathy for this case. “Not vaccinated for one reason or another” is not good enough. The rules are there for a reason, they are clear and they are logical and fairly administered. Unlike the situation for entry to the UK, where there is an arbitrary block on single vaccinated covid recoverers despite that being the recommended treatment for people in those circumstances – certainly throughout Europe (I have not been able to find out the official policy in the UK despite looking).

  2. Like RWheeler, I have little sympathy for Claire. Does she not understand that there is a pandemic and that being vaccinated is probably the best way of not catching or, more importantly not spreading the disease. In the last week we have refused two couples (French and South African) contact because they refuse to be vaccinated. I understand the right to be ‘bolshy’ but not when your playing with my health.

      1. That is incorrect – even for Delta variant vaccination decreases the risk of catching COVID after exposure by 50-60%.

        1. Just get vaccinated. OK so one can still catch it and pass it on but at least the chances are you might end up with flu like symptoms but not dead.

  3. On balance, the empirical evidence shows that being vaccinated reduces some of the risks, but not absolute immunity. Fair enough – bit like wearing a seat belt that can reduce the consequences in the event of a crash – and it’s law for good solid reasons. Suggest we follow reasonable logic, get vaccinated, and belt up.

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‘Arrive early’: Passengers at European airports warned of travel disruption

Europe's airports chief told passengers to leave time for delays this summer as the air travel industry struggles to meet surging demand after the pandemic.

'Arrive early': Passengers at European airports warned of travel disruption

“The clear conjunction of a much quicker recovery with a very tight labour market is creating a lot of problems,” Olivier Jankovec, head of the Europe branch of the Airports Council International (ACI), told AFP.

He said there were issues from airports to airlines, ground handlers, police and border controls, but insisted: “The system still works”.

READ ALSO: Budget airline passengers in Europe face travel headaches as more strikes called

“It’s important for passengers that they communicate with the airlines in terms of when they should get to the airport, and prepare to come earlier than usual to make sure to have the time to go through, especially if they have to check luggage,” he said.

Strikes by low-cost pilots and cabin crew across Europe – including this weekend – are adding to the disruption.

Speaking at the ACI Europe annual congress in Rome, Jankovec said airports had taken measures to improve the situation, which would come into effect from mid-July.

“Additional staff will be coming in July, the reconfiguration of some of the facilities and infrastructure to facilitate the flows will also come into effect in July,” he said.

“I think it will be tight, there will be some disruptions, there will be longer waiting times.

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

“But I think that in the vast majority of airports, the traffic will go, people will not miss their planes, and hopefully everybody will be able to reach their destination as planned.”

He also defended increases in airport charges, after criticism from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents airlines.

Airports face “the same difficulties and inflationary pressures” as airlines, which he noted were putting their fares up, he said.

“Staff and energy is 45 percent of our operating costs, and of course inflation is also driving up the cost of materials,” he said.