If you want to travel to France under Covid rules you need persistence and knowledge of the new regulations. But it’s not as daunting as you might think.

We went to France from the UK on Sunday August 15 and booked to return on Friday September 3, 2021. Here are my experiences of travel to and in France under covid rules. We took the ferry, but the requirements are the same if you are travelling by plane (though the queues are longer).

I start with the UK regulations; Canada requirements are at the end and are easy as it is on France’s Green list.

PLEASE NOTE: The status of the USA has changed. For France, and many other European countries, you have to be vaccinated to enter France though you can enter France if you follow certain rules (see below under USA rules).

Before you Travel:

Requirements to enter France from the UK (Amber country)

At the time of writing France is on the Amber list for the UK and similarly, the UK is on France’s Amber (Orange) list.

The UK government website on travel to France is not comprehensive, so I would advise using the French government website for full information.

You will need the UK website for the return journey.

If you are vaccinated you must demonstrate your COVID-19 status before travelling to France. (See below for advice on the NHS app you need to use to get this from the UK). You are also asked to fill in a Sworn Statement form which you find on the French website.

If you are not vaccinated you must present a compelling reason to travel (which can be to get your second home ready to let, etc.)

You must also provide a negative test 24 hours before departing for France, agree to quarantine for 7 days when you arrive and get another test on day 7.

You’ll find the conditions on entry into France from an amber country (i.e. the UK) here.

You don’t have to quarantine on arrival in France.

Rules for USA citizens for entering France

This is the website telling you about valid reasons for travel to France.

1. When boarding, you must present a negative PCR test of less than 72 hours or a negative antigenic test of less than 48 hours. (PCR or antigen negative test less than 24 hours for travellers from the UK)

2. You must give a compelling reason to be admitted into metropolitan France.

3. You may be required to take a random test on arrival and you must agree to self-isolate for seven days on arrival.

You will need to fill in a travel certificate which you can download from the website above on valid reasons for travel to France.

Booking the Ferry

New Cote d'Opale DFDS ferry beside a dock with white cliffs of Dover behing
The new Cote d’Opale DFDS Ferry

No problems here. We went with DFDS Ferries, booking on a straightforward site that was easy to navigate.

Taking the Ferry

We were going down to the Loir Valley (not the Loire valley but its lesser known, delightful cousin), and then on to Le Mans. So Newhaven to Dieppe was the obvious route.

Uncertainty about queues/passport control/covid regulations) we arrived at Newhaven at 7pm, half an hour before the check-in opened. 7 cars/campers in front of us and I regretted the early start for the 9am ferry. But what about the hundreds of cars about to turn up?

There were a few driving up but not many. The passport/check-in took perhaps four minutes per car. Oh well…

Entering France

It was equally relaxed in Dieppe. Two Gendarmes asked for passports and evidence of vaccination on our mobiles.

And that was it. No mention of the ‘Sworn Undertaking to Comply with Rules for Entry into Metropolitan French Territory from amber list countries. Had they even heard of it? We didn’t ask or offer the paper and with a cheery wave and a ‘Bonnes vacances’ we were on our way., slightly confused by the ease of it all.

Ferries to France Guide

Rules for travel in France

So you’ve got here. What do you need to travel in France on holiday?

Health Pass (Passe Sanitaire)

If you plan to travel to France under covid rules, you must have a health pass (passe sanitaire) to get into hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars and all attractions. Plus some large hypermarkets and malls are required to ask for it (though we haven’t had to show it in any large supermarket so far).

What is a Health Pass?

Health Passes can be your NHS digital pass (displayed on your mobile phone) or in paper form (proof of vaccination or test result). The third option (by far the easiest to use in France) is to the TousAntiCovid French app on your phone with the NHS details.

PLEASE NOTE: The following is important for families from the UK and may impact on people already on holiday in France. The health pass is required from September 30, 2021 for young people aged 12 to 17 though not for children under 12.

The pass must prove:

That you are fully vaccinated (with an EMA-approved vaccine or similar):

Seven days after the second shot for two-shot vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca)
Four weeks after the shot for one-shot vaccines (Johnson & Johnson)
Seven days after the shot for vaccines administered to people who have already had COVID-19 (only one dose is necessary).

If you are not vaccinated and from the UK, you must present a negative test certificate less than 24 hours before you travel.

OR The result of a positive RT-PCR or antigen test attesting to recovery from Covid-19, dating at least 11 days and less than 6 months.

How to get the UK Covid vaccination proof

This requires you to jump through a few hoops. If you go onto the NHS Covid pass website, you’re given two options: a letter or the digital version. BUT: Forget the letter version; it doesn’t work in France as it has the wrong barcode. And it takes 5 days to reach you.

So you must get the NHS app and register for the digital version. It asks for all sorts of information, including an uploaded photograph of an ID document (passport, driving licence for example). To verify that document it also asks you to record a video of you reciting numbers which is simple to do. 

When done, you can download the NHS COVID Pass – Vaccinated. This has the necessary QR codes for your vaccinations. This lasts for one month. If you are in France after it has expired, you need to generate a new one.

Keep this digital version on your phone, but also print a couple out. However if you’re still in France after it has expired you’ll have to have access to a printer. Why does this last for one month only? I’d love to know but in the meantime…hey ho go with the flow.

How to get the French TousAntiCovid pass

Once you have the NSH Covid pass, go into your app store and download the TousAntiCovid app. Then just follow the instructions; it’s very easy and takes just a few minutes to do.

Getting into those restaurants, cafes, bars and attractions…

Restaurant in rue Mouffetard, Paris outside terrace with board at front listing 15 euro menu and tables laid with white cloths, and lots of greenery
Restaurant in Rue Mouffetard, Paris Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I have the TousAntiCovid French app on my mobile, the UK NHS digital form on my mobile, and a paper form. When you’re going to a restaurant, bar, etc., someone just scans your version with their machine. But you can use any of these.

Why worry with the paper form?

An elderly friend who is booking a French holiday in the autumn doesn’t have a smart phone so cannot download either the UK digital version or the French TousAntiCovid app. 

So does just the NHS paper version with the QR code work in France? 

The whole checking of health passes is a bit of a lottery which we discovered when we started to do the research on the three types of Passe Sanitaire.

We tried the paper version in restaurants, hotels, bars, cafes and attractions. Some of their machines accepted the paper version; others didn’t. Some places didn’t know that you can use the paper version with the QR code. Some places had machines that were not up to date and would not register the paper version.

We also had similar problems with the NHS version on our mobiles and with the TousAntiCovid app.

So what to do if there’s a problem?

If you have the TousAntiCovid pass on your mobile but the venue doesn’t recognise it, brazen it out. After all you know you’re right. Tell them their machine/version is not up to date. It’s the same with the NHS pass version on your mobile.

Do the same with the paper version with the QR code; just insist that you are right. 

In the end, businesses in France are eager for your custom, so they will probably shrug their shoulders, raise their eyebrows at the British and let you in.

Rules for Canadian citizens for the Passe Sanitaire/TousAntiCovid pass

Canada is on France’s Green list and on the EU list for allowing all travel to France.

If you’re fully vaccinated, the system is the same. 

If you’re not fully vaccinated or have been given a different vaccine, you can get a temporary QR code for the health pass while in France from a healthcare professional after a negative PCR or antigen test. This is valid for 72 hours from the time of testing.

France government website for travel health pass applications for USA and Canadian citizens.

Other rules on travel to France during Covid

Wear a mask that covers nose and mouth in indoor public spaces (shops, offices, schools etc) and on some public transport like long-distance travel by plane, train or coach. 

For campsites, and other holiday accommodation you will need to present a pass once, on arrival. 

You don’t need to wear a mask in places where a health pass is required (although local authorities may review this).

NB: This last point on the places where you show a health pass and don’t need to wear a mask seems to be ignored by the French who STILL wear masks inside attractions, cathedrals etc. So when in France, do as the French do and mask up!

If  you are outside you do not need to wear a mask except in places where social distancing is not possible (queues, open-air markets, railway stations, etc.).

Have a great holiday!

Travel from France to the UK

You will need to:

Take a Covid PCR test within 72 hours before you return. You can do this in many pharmacies and it’s very easy. You just turn up to the pharmacy and fill in a form. You pay 25 euros and take the test which is just a nasal test. You get the result within 15 minutes. You can get it on your phone or as a paper version.

You must pay for a Covid test before you leave the UK to take 2 days after you arrive home. We paid for Randox tests at £48 each. When we got home we did the test ourselves on day 2 after arriving home. It involves both the throat and nostrils so is uncomfortable.

But nothing compared to registering the test which is complicated and long and not very well designed. You will need the RANDX booking number which the company sends after it has despatched the test. You complete all sorts of information and if successful, receive an email.

You must fill in the Passenger Locator form which you can only do if you have bought the test. And here it can get really silly.

Getting onto the Ferry

We travelled with DFDS and arrived at Calais an hour before boarding. That was foolishly hopeful.

First you go through French Border Control. Two lanes were open: All Passports and EU passports. We took the former; many UK cars took the EU lane…which was far quicker. The young French border official on All Passports had clearly been told to go slow. All he had to do was look at the passport, stamp it and hand it back. Anything from 5 to 10 minutes per car. On the other apparently EU lane, cars whizzed through. I don’t advise you to do this – perhaps the female official was feeling kind and had not been told to send UK cars through the right channel now that Brexit has happened and we are a third country.

Then you go through UK Border Control where in our case the official was bad tempered but quicker.

Then you go to DFDS. They have to check you have done everything correctly (why not the UK Border Control – it’s all government requirements after all?) They send you information on what you must do before departing France for the UK. FOLLOW THIS!

A lot of people had obviously thought they could wing it somehow and ignored the advice. They had either not bought a test beforehand or hadn’t filled in the Passenger Locator Form. The patient and charming French DFDS official had to explain, many times over for some of the passengers, that they had to park to the right, buy the test and fill in the form before he could issue them with tickets. There were so many people who had to do this we missed our ferry.

Tip to follow:

Get to the port at least 2 hours before the ferry departs at popular times.

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Events in France in August 2021

Events in France in September 2021

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Chausey Archipelago © Pline/CC-BY-SA 3.0