EXPLAINED: Can Brits living in EU transit through France from the UK?

France has in place strict rules that ban most types of travel from the UK - but what about Britons who need to pass through France in order to get to their EU country of residence?

EXPLAINED: Can Brits living in EU transit through France from the UK?
Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

It was reported on Thursday that UK nationals are banned from travelling through France – even if they live in another EU country and need to get home.

However, the situation seems to be slightly more complicated than that.

Since December 18th France has had in place strict rules on travel both to and from the UK, with only those who fit the criteria for essential travel allowed.

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

You can find the full list of essential reasons HERE, but it bars all tourism, family visits and visits from second-home owners.

UK nationals who live in France are allowed to return home.

Also allowed are “EU nationals who have their main home in France” or who are “in transit through France to their main home in an EU country”.

Since Brexit, this of course no longer includes Brits who live in EU countries.

However also allowed to travel are “UK nationals who benefit from the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement” (ie those who lived in an EU country prior to December 31st 2020).

However it makes no mention made of having to be a permanent resident in France.

The essential motive just says: “British nationals and family members enjoying the provisions of the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community.”

The essential rules also allow for “travellers in transit for less than 24 hours in an international zone”.

So it seems that Brits can indeed transit through France to another EU country of residence.

However, there appears to be an important caveat – how you travel. In other words are you transiting France by air, road or rail?

The transit clause ends with “in an international zone” – which refers to airports – passengers on transit flights do not leave the international zone of the airport and therefore in immigration terms do not enter a country.

The British Embassy in France states that: “UK nationals may only transit France if travelling by air”.

The French embassy in the UK provided more detail on the rules. It said: “Whatever your nationality, you are authorised to transit through France, in the international zone of an airport (connection between 2 flights) for a maximum of 24 hours

“If you are a national of the European Union, you are authorised to return to your main residence in France or in another European Union country. Your spouse (married, civil partner, cohabiting partner) and children are allowed to travel with you, regardless of their nationality. You must be able to show proof of your main residence at the border.”

So it seems that Brits can travel through France – but only by air.

This must also be a transit flight – ie two flights booked together so that you stay within the international zone at the airport.

So what about by road? We know that many Brits and their families travelled to the UK by car for Christmas passing through France and crossing the Channel either by boat or Channel Tunnel.

On Thursday Eurotunnel alerted travellers to an apparent update to the way French border police were enforcing the travel rules by warning Brits could “no longer transit France by road to reach their country of residence in the EU.”

This naturally sparked anger and confusion, not least among those Brits who were now stuck in the UK.

It also prompted British authorities and media sites including The Local to contact the French government and ask for urgent clarification on behalf of our readers.

Initially a French Interior Ministry official told the AFP news agency it had not changed its list of “compelling” reasons enabling Britons to travel to France, but had clarified their application this month by border police.

“It seems logical to consider them like all other third-country citizens, and to not allow their transit toward another EU country,” the official told AFP, asking not to be named.

Speculation grew that the French government was set to make a U-turn and in the end the announcement came early on Thursday evening.

France suspended the transit ban for Brits heading to EU countries by road over the Christmas holidays.

Although the French government stood by the actual ban it said it would allow a period of tolerance to allow those who had travelled from to the UK via France to return home. It did not state when this period of tolerance would end.

“Faced with this situation, instructions of tolerance have been sent to police officers at the borders with the United Kingdom, in order to allow these nationals to transit through France to reach their residence in a country of the European Union, after this Christmas and New Year period,” read the statement given to The Local by the French government.

British travellers are advised to carry with them proof of having travelled to the UK prior to December 31st. 

So as it stands – and bear in mind things can change quickly and certain border guards may have their own interpretation – Brits can only transit France to other countries by air, however over the festive period they can do so by road and rail as well.

We would advise people who plan to travel to the UK from December 31st not to rely on the period of tolerance – it seems that your only option is to get a transit flight.

We will bring you all the latest news and information if this changes.

Member comments

  1. i travelled through france yesterday (29.12) – headed across on eurotunnel, of course had to complete a load of paperwork prior to travel and uploaded onto eurotunnel site. i live in switzerland so was heading back to my permanent residence in switzerland. had no issues with travel, the border police wanted to see my residence certification and marriage certificate but all went well with no issues.

  2. My English neighbours were turned back at Dover ferry port this morning, now they don’t know how to get home. Apparently Germany is doing the same thing.

  3. If you are travelling by car, there is an option to take a ferry to Holland. Belgium may have that option also.
    Another complication from being outside the Single Market.

  4. We are UK Nationals and are supposed to be travelling back to Uk from Italy by car and ferry 15/16 th January. Will this be possible? I read that returning nationals were exempt from the travel ban.

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Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

The UK is set to scrap all Covid-19 travel restrictions in what the government described as a "landmark moment".

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

Testing is no longer required for vaccinated travellers, but the UK government has announced that it will scrap all Covid-19 travel rules on Friday, March 18th.

“As one of the first major economies to remove all its remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions, this is a landmark moment for passengers and the travel and aviation sector,” said the Government in a press release. 

From 4am on March 18th:

  • Passengers going to the UK will no longer be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form before travel;
  • Passengers who are not vaccinated will not be required to take a pre-departure Covid test, or a Day 2 test following arrival. Fully vaccinated travellers are already exempt from having to do this;
  • Hotel quarantine for travellers coming from ‘red list’ countries, of which there are currently none, will also be scrapped by the end of the month. 

“We will continue monitoring and tracking potential new variants, and keep a reserve of measures which can be rapidly deployed if needed to keep us safe,” said UK Health Minister Sajid Javid. 

The UK has lifted all Covid-related rules including mask rules and mandatory self-isolation if you test positive for Covid.

Some European countries still have Covid restrictions in place for unvaccinated people coming from the UK. 

Until March 18th

Until the new rules come into effect, all travellers are required to fill out a passenger locator form. 

Unvaccinated travellers are also required to take pre-departure test and a test on or before Day 2 following their arrival. 

The UK border officers will recognise proof of vaccination provided with an EU Covid Certificate.

For the UK “fully vaccinated” means 14 days after your final dose of a EMA/FDA or Swiss approved vaccine (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson). 

After a period of confusion, the UK government says that it will accept mixed doses administered in the EU (eg one dose of AstraZeneca and one of Pfizer).

However people who have only had a single dose after previously recovering from Covid – which is standard practice in some European countries – are not accepted as vaccinated by the UK.