‘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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Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France’s strangest festivals

From pig-squealing competitions to men in bear suits, these are some of France's most bizarre traditional festivals.

Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France's strangest festivals

France is home to hundreds of festivals every year, from small local celebrations to internationally renowned events such as the Strasbourg Christmas market, Nice Carnival and the Lyon Fête des lumières. But there are other festivals that are, frankly, a bit strange.

Here are France’s 9 strangest festivals;

Fête du Citron

When life gives you lemons…create a festival involving over 140 tonnes of citrus fruit and invite about 230,000 visitors annually? That is pretty much what Menton, a town on the French Riviera did in 1928 when a hotelier in the region wished to increase tourism. Known for its delicious lemons, Menton has grown the fruit since the 1500s and shipped them all over the world.

The hotelier’s idea, which came into fruition in 1934 ended up becoming a world recognised three-week festival, where the city and its garden show off giant sculptures – some over 10 metres in height – made of lemons and oranges, amid parades, shows, concerts and art exhibits. 

Fête de l’Ours

Recently added to the UNESCO ‘intangible heritage’ list, the Bear Festival takes place in the Pyrenees, along the border with Spain. Stretching all the way back to the Middle Ages, the festival has some surprising components: it involves a man dressing up as a bear and chasing humans.

At the end of the festival, the humans catch the man in the bear costume, and ‘skin’ him (take off his bear costume) so he can become a person again.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco

It is intended to be a celebration of the end of winter, and while it was practised in all villages in the region up to the 19th century, it still occurs in three villages in the Haut Vallespir, located in the Pyrenees-Orientales département.

La Pourcailhade (Festival of the Pig)

Every year the small village of Trie-sur-Baise in the Pyrenees hosts a unique festival dedicated to pigs. Throughout the celebration, you’ll see pigs in various forms – from piglets to pork and people in pig costumes. The Pourcailhade is known for one moment in particular: the pig squealing competition, where participants get on stage and attempt to give their best pig imitation. 

The festival first started in 1975, at the former home to Europe’s largest pig market, and it usually takes place in August, though the festival had a six-year pause and made its comeback in 2018.

There are also piglet races and competitions to see who has the best pig-costume, but the cri de cochon (pig squeal) contest is something to behold, as shown below.

The Underwear festival

Captain Underpants would fit right in to this village in the south of France, located the Lot département.

Started in 2016, this festival is meant to pay homage to a reporter who made the little town of Montcuq famous across France during a nationally televised segment in 1976. During the celebration, participants can compete with one another in games from sumo-wrestling to a race (in underwear).

The sausage and pickle festival

Andouillette might be one of the French foods that foreigners find least appealing, but its cousin, andouille, is perhaps a bit more appealing…though possibly not enough to join a contest for the fastest andouille and pickle eater.

READ MORE: Readers reveal: The worst food in France

Every August 15th, the village of Bèze, located in eastern France, hosts a festival celebrating the sausage. One key moment is the competition to see who can swallow one kilo and 200 grams of tripe as quickly as possible, all with their hands tied behind their backs. The festival also crowns a queen of andouille and a king of the pickles, and the proceeds go toward helping children with disabilities.

This is not the only andouille centred festival in France. Another one, the “Fête de l’Andouille” which takes place in northern France involves a very important step where the crowd tries to catch pieces of andouille thrown at them from a balcony.

Fêtes de Bayonne

Known as France’s wildest festival, the Fêtes de Bayonne are a five-day party celebrating Basque cultural identity, and they take place in Bayonne every summer. 

Starting in 1932, the Fêtes can be controversial because they have traditionally involved bull fighting, or corrida, which some French lawmakers have been working to outlaw.

READ MORE: Could bullfighting finally be banned in France?

Aside from the bulls, the festival consists of lots of singing, dancing, sports competitions, traditional dress, and crowd-surfing. 

Festival-goers wear red and white outfits to symbolise the northern Spanish province of Pamplona, though some purists wear the colours of Bayonne: white and blue.

One of the most notable parts of the festival is the paquito chocolatero – a type of crowd-surfing where a person is passed over a chain of people sitting on the ground. The Fêtes de Bayonne have beaten the world record for the longest chain of people several times, most recently in 2022, a chain of 8,000 people passed one person over the crowd.

The Historic Ladle Festival

In practice since 1884, the Fête Historique des Louches, this tradition takes place in northern France in Comines. The legend goes that the Lord of the town was imprisoned in a high tower, and to show his people where he was being held, he apparently threw a wooden spoon with his coat of arms from the tower.

The festival, which takes place each October, has plenty of other activities, including a pageant, but the most noteworthy part is the parade where wooden spoons are hurled at the crowd. The goal is to walk away with the most ladles, proving to everyone that you truly deserve to live in the town of Comines.

The Gayant Festival

Close to the border with Belgium, the city of Douai in France’s north engages in a festival to celebrate three large statues, representing a giant family. Called the “Gayants” – they symbolise the city and according to folklore, they helped the villagers survive battles, invasions and wars over the centuries. The procession involves a parade where the giant statues are taken around the city.

This is another French festival that was registered in the “intangible cultural heritage” list with UNESCO, specifically under the category of “Giants and processional dragons of Belgium and France.”

Festival of the Unusual Taking place in Finistère, on France’s western coast, this festival has been going on for almost three decades.

Every July 14th, villagers come to demonstrate one of their “unusual talents,” whether that be throwing an egg or demonstrating how long they can peel an apple. One highlight of the festival is the race – where contestants try to go faster than one another on bed frames with rollers. Some contestants use the festival as a way to show their prowess in the Guinness Book of World Records – one village member broke the record in bending beer caps at the festival.

While France’s many festivals might seem a bit odd to foreigners, they still pale in comparison to some festivals taking place in the anglophone world, such as the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling event in the UK, where participants race down a 180 metre hill to try to catch the Gloucester cheese rolling down it.