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

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?

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)

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. 

“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. 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!

  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. 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.

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COVID-19 NEWS

French parliament blocks return of the health pass for international travel

France’s new government has suffered an early setback as Parliament blocked a key part of the new Covid protocol bill, removing a clause that could have seen the return of the health pass at the French border.

French parliament blocks return of the health pass for international travel

The veille et de sécurité sanitaire bill is a roadmap for how the government intends to handle the Covid situation after the current health state of emergency ends on July 31st. 

The proposed legislation had provided for the possibility, if required, to restore the health pass for travel in and out of France, meaning travellers over the age of 12 would again have to show proof they have been vaccinated against the virus, have a recent negative PCR test, or have sufficient immunity after recently contracting the virus, in order to be allowed to enter France.

But, during a heated first reading – the atmosphere in the chamber was likened to a football match – MPs voted to remove the key article on the return of the health pass for travellers entering France from other countries.

The modified bill was adopted by 221 votes to 187 and 24 abstentions – mostly by MPs from the left – in the final vote on Tuesday night. 

The bill – which in its current form merely allows authorities to continue to collect health data on screening tests – must now go to the Senate.

“The times are serious,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Twitter, as she promised to “fight for the spirit of responsibility to prevail in the Senate.”

Health Minister François Braun also promised to “fight” in the Senate to restore the removed article to the bill, which he said had been “emptied of part of its content”. 

On July 8th, France passed 150,000 Covid-19 related deaths since the start of the pandemic in 2020. 

The country has seen a spike in infections since the end of June, due to the presence of the highly contagious Omicron and subvariants.

National health agency Santé Publique France reported around 120,000 infections per day over the week.

More than 1,000 patients with Covid are in intensive care, while over 17,000 remain in hospital.

France’s current health rules specify the use of the health pass only for hospitals and nursing homes – it is no longer in use for everyday venues like bars, restaurants, gyms or cinemas.

Masks are “strongly recommended” on public transport, but are only compulsory in hospitals and health establishments.

International arrivals from certain countries are required to show proof of either vaccination or a recent negative test, but most of the world is now on France’s ‘green’ list of countries with minimal travel restrictions. 

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