‘Strict and stressful’: What travel between France and UK is like under Covid rules

Passengers queue to board the Eurostar in the hours before new travel restrictions came into force.
Passengers queue to board the Eurostar in the hours before new travel restrictions came into force. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)
Earlier this month, France barred all non-essential travel to and from the UK just as many people were preparing to cross the Channel for Christmas. So how are those rules being applied in reality?

France introduced new travels rules for people going to and coming from the UK on December 18th, banning all non-essential travel and introducing a mountain of paperwork for people who wanted to make the journey. 

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

This led to widespread confusion and panic as people rushed to cross the Channel to join their loved ones over the holidays. 

We put out a survey to ask those readers who are eligible to travel how the rules are being applied at the border.

Overall, 65.8 percent of respondents said that the rules themselves were clear and 63.2 percent said border authorities are enforcing the rules as they are written. 

READ ALSO Essential reasons – who can travel between France and the UK?

Here’s what else you had to say: 

Documentation is key

Overwhelmingly, you wrote in to tell us that the key to making the journey successfully was to have all the right paperwork – and to arrive well in advance of departure time. 

Clara Cronin, who was travelling from France to the UK, wrote in to tell us that travel was “Fairly easy as long as you have all the necessary paperwork, and you need a lot of it.” 

“The paperwork was a nightmare,” added said Harri Ritchie, who has travelled in both directions since the new rules came into place. 

“It does take a lot of organisation & time sorting all these things out in advance, but so long as you work through it methodically and leave enough time to get everything sorted then my experience on arrival at the airport was very positive,” said Simon Hale, who travelled from the UK to France. 

Ben McPartland, the managing editor of the Local Europe, came back to France from the UK after eating an obscene amount of mince pies with relatives over Christmas. 

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“The British border police didn’t seem too fussed but the French border guards were checking everything – at least from those going through in British cars. They were asking for all the paperwork. So the advice is, make sure you have it all and arrive well in advance,” he said.  

You can read our complete guide to the paperwork you need for France-UK travel, in both directions, HERE

Testing is a pain 

Under the new rules, everyone travelling from the UK to France must take an antigen or PCR test no more than 24 hours before departure, vaccinated or not. 

People travelling from France to the UK, vaccinated or not, are required to do a Covid test no more than 48 hours before departure. Vaccinated travellers are required to do a PCR test on or Day 2 of their time in the UK – and must remain in self isolation until the negative test result arrives. Unvaccinated travellers must take a Day 2 and Day 8 test and quarantine for 10 days on arrival. You can read more about these rules HERE

That means that you need to take at least two tests while in the UK – one after arrival to let you out of quarantine and another to allow you to board transport out of the UK.

Jo Tait, who lives in France, had been in the UK for her son’s wedding and returned with her husband after the new rules were passed. One of her children was unable to make it to France to join the rest of the family for Christmas.

“It’s been a nightmare and cost a fortune in PCR tests,” she said. “Thank goodness France doesn’t charge.”

“Booking a test was the most stressful part of arranging my trip ,” said Robert Darke, who also travelled from the UK to France. 

Some of you did provide some useful tips for the Day 2 testing following arrival in the UK. 

“We had PCR tests at a lab in St Pancras and got our results the following day so we only really lost a day in quarantine,” said Sarah Jackson. 

“Had a drive-thru PCR test for 5 of us at Collinson LGW on arrival: four results arrived by email two days later, one result never arrived. Took 45 mins to test five of us at 1pm UK time,” said James Langley. 

“It took 90 minutes to complete the tests and paperwork to upload to the Eurotunnel website and then probably an extra hour at the tunnel but it all went smoothly,” said Jo Todd who was travelling from the UK to France. 

Ben McPartland noted that for Eurotunnel users, even if you have to upload proof of a negative Covid test in advance, there were further checks on arrival at Folkestone. “We had to park up and go to the Covid-19 check point and show all our documents along with everyone else it seemed,” he said. “That took about 30 minutes, then getting through passport control was another fairly long wait.”

French residency

Sydney Cormack, who is British but lives in France and has a carte de séjour, recommended not immediately showing proof of French residency to border guards when travelling to the UK.

“French border officials said that as we had a carte de séjour we would be treated like French citizens despite being UK passport holders. They asked us for evidence of owning property in UK but we don’t have any assets in UK as we live permanently in France,” he said.

“I believe the problem has arisen from the translation of the French form and the definition and relevance of country of origin. We did manage to persuade them to let us go to UK. I would suggest that you don’t show your carte de séjour unless they ask for it, but that may lead to your passport being stamped.” 

The list of ‘essential reasons’ for travel for exiting France says that people can travel to their ‘country of origin or country of residence’ – however several people reported border guards telling passengers that they needed to show proof of residency in the UK, not merely a British passport.

This appears to have been a misunderstanding of the rules by individual officers in the early days of the new travel rules. 

Others complained that you have had your passports stamped by French border officials, despite owning a carte de séjour. This is an issue that we have raised with the UK Ambassador to France who has promised to follow up with the French authorities.

Quarantine

Once back in France you are required to quarantine for 10 days – although this can be shortened if you test negative 48 hours after your arrival time.

You need to provide a quarantine address in advance to French authorities, and several readers reported that police turned up at their homes to check they were quarantining.

READER QUESTION: What do I have to do on returning to France from the UK?


Member comments

  1. I got caught up in this personally. I had tickets on the Eurostar from Paris to London, and then a flight back to my home country of the USA, when suddenly the French changed the rules a few days befoe I was to leave.

    I found these changes out, late a night in a remote village of France, giving me 24 hours to get to UK when all the trains to UK were booked the next day, and ost of the trains even to Paris were booked. No one had any clear infomration – online, or even talking to employees at the Eurostar office in Paris. We seemed to have a valid reason to leave – on a one way trip out of France, and in route back to home. But it was not until we paid for our covid tests, and packed up, and stood in a few lines until we finally met a French police woman who refused to allow us to board our train. Eurostar gave no refund.

    If the French government is going to close a border with barely 24 hours notice, at least they could make the rules clear, and possibly provide a help line or help desk. This country makes 10% of its income from tourists, and it seems reasonable not to simply screw those tourists.

    It seems apparent to me that the French just wanted to screw the British and didnt care who was caught in the middle. There has been a long standing series of disputes between France and Britain – fishing license, boatloads of dead migrants, leaked private letters, etc. If the French were protecting the French people from Omicron, then they should be happy to get rid of dirty foreigners who might be spreading it – rather than forcing us to stay in their country.

    After coming to France for 15 years, and spending tons of money, I am disgusted by France. If its not the train strikes, or the narrow restaurant times and they are full any way, or the tourist office closed for a 2 hour lunch, or the hour to stand in line to buy a new ticket, or the disdainful police …. I think those outweigh seeing some reconstructed castles and drinking some cheap wine.

  2. You can call me obtuse, but I do not understand the rules preventing people to travel back and forth from the UK to the EU and viceversa. COVID omicron is moving freely in the EU and in the UK. Go anywhere in the UK or EU and you will see COVID rules being flouted, packed shops, bars and restaurants not to mention parties, anti-vaxx demos or people mingling around uncontrollably, yet governments keep adding red tape, eye watering costs and imposing restrictions to travellers who for the most part are thrice vaccinated and can produce a negative test on demand. Where is the logic of this? The only explanation I can find is that minorities ( UK citizens resident or owners of a property in the EU are a minority in the UK population) are being punished and used as convenient punch bags for the souring of relations between the UK and the EU ..

  3. Our daughter travelled to UK just before Christmas and has just returned, carte de sejour in hand. The only problems were finding a slot for the tests in UK (both in and out, given they wanted up front payment she was loathe to do so before she was sure she could come) and one of the test companies giving her a PCR test with too long a return time instead of the required one (long phone pleading call, got it well in time). The secret seemed to be check the requirements and associated documents, then double check, print everything out and keep it all immediately available in plastic sleeves so she could appear totally organised and prepared. Getting off the flight fourth helped, no big queue with the unprepared in front of her. She is now isolating with her cat in Caylus, ready for her sith test in nine days tomorrow. Two final comments, read official websites (both French and gov.uk) not comments on social media and read thelocal.fr, as it helped immensely!

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