Travelling to France this summer is feasible and fantastic but you need to get clued up to navigate some Covid minefields and post-Brexit tripwires. This is our personal experience (two vaccinated adults travelling by ferry with a dog). For the unvaccinated, travelling with children or by air, the rules will be different. Your resource for all things travel is https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/france
Lesson 1 – Everything Changes
When we began planning our visit, France was alone among European destinations as an amber-plus country meaning travel there was discouraged. It was difficult to get travel insurance that would cover Covid-related issues. We would have to self-isolate at home for ten days on return and purchase Covid tests for day two and day eight. There was also an option to take a test on day five to leave quarantine early. I ordered all the tests for both of us from two different providers on the government approved list: Excalibur and Randox. The Excalibur tests arrived next day, as advertised. The Randox tests hadn’t arrived by the date we left. Why this matters: When you fill in your ‘travel locator form’ to return home, you need to prove you’ve ordered the tests and have to include the serial number from the test provider.
While we were abroad, France was taken off the amber plus list and moved to amber meaning we would no longer need to self-isolate on return home. So, two-thirds of the £350 I spent on tests was wasted because we no longer need the day five and day eight tests. The lesson here might be – you can be over-prepared!
Lesson 2 – Health Matters
We renewed our expired EHIC health cards and were issued with the new global health card (GHIC). I’d never recommend relying on this so we continued searching for travel insurance and found it with Staysure. Another box ticked. (Other providers are now available).
Lesson 3 – Border Enforcers
Brexit has put an end to the seamless travel Brits (and their dogs) enjoyed in the EU and Schengen area. Most of us know visa-free stays are now limited to 90 days in any EU country within a period of 180 days. You might think that’s irrelevant because how many of us are lucky enough to travel for three months. But there are other subtle rules to be aware of and one of these tripped us up.
Your passport will now be stamped when you enter and leave France and must be valid for three months from your date of return to the UK. Mine has nine years to run and my husband’s lasts into 2022. No problem then? Wrong. When we checked his more closely we discovered it didn’t meet this criterion because last time it was renewed early and he was credited with extra months beyond the ten year term. Any extra months beyond the ten year term don’t count towards this three month rule.
Fine, we thought, we’ll pay for an emergency in-person passport appointment. We went online to book an appointment and there were none within three weeks at the passport offices in London, Newport or Peterborough. We ended up bringing forward our travel dates so he could meet the three month date.
Lesson 4 – It might still be a dog’s life (but only if your dog was born in the EU)
For British-born pets the simple and wonderful EU pet passport is no more. Effectively, pets seem to be treated like livestock. Along with the rabies vaccinations and tapeworm treatments that have always applied, your dog must go to the vet for a health and paperwork check. Your IK vet must then complete a multi-page animal health certificate (AHC) at a cost of around £140 every time they travel. We were winners in this round of the obstacle course because our rescue puppy, Homer, was born last year in Romania and has an EU pet passport (yay!) We can keep this valid by getting his rabies booster vaccinations while we’re in France. It means we don’t have to pay for the AHC ever.
We learned from an acquaintance that if your paperwork for the dog is incorrect you’ll be turned away. She was unable to board the Shuttle because the vet hadn’t signed or initialled every page of the AHC form.
Lesson 5 – ‘Appy Days
To prove your vaccination status you will need to download two apps: the NHS app and the French app called #TousAntiCovid before you set off.
After downloading the NHS app, get the electronic version of your UK vaccination certificates and print it out. Don't do this too soon before your departure date as they expire after a month (but will continuously refresh on the site). Then download the French app #TousAntiCovid and scan the printed version of your UK vaccination certificates into it. To be valid, you need both barcodes i.e. first dose and second dose. In a drive to increase the uptake of vaccines, France has introduced strict new rules on access to restaurants and other venues. You’ll almost certainly be denied entry without it. I saw French people being turned away from a coffee shop in the atrium of a shopping centre that was practically outdoors. The rules apply on restaurant terraces, too. Café owners are not happy but they have to police it. Bring the paper copy too and prepare for arguments with bureaucrats. At a local public swimming pool I had a run in with the receptionist whose barcode reader hadn’t been updated to read my UK QR code. I stood my ground. We called on the lovely lifeguard to arbitrate and after that all went swimmingly.
Lesson 6 – Swearing can’t be avoided
To enter France you have to fill in a hardcopy form called 'Sworn Undertaking to Comply with Rules for Entry into Metropolitan French Territory'. Google it, download, complete and take it with you.
Lesson 7 – Tested to the Limits
Don't book your return travel for a Monday. We did and as our ferry was departing at 4.30 p.m. it put huge pressure on our options for finding a slot for the obligatory Covid test before return to the UK. Strictly speaking, it would have to be after 4.30 on Friday afternoon. The rules on the government website are a bit vague so it might be that anytime on the Friday would have been OK. We didn’t want to risk it so that meant finding a test provider open on the Saturday. In France there are two options – a lateral flow Antigen test from a pharmacy – we couldn’t find one that offered this on a Saturday – or PCR test from a lab. They have these in most small towns.
We found a lab and on Saturdays they had a one hour slot for PCR tests between 10.30 and 11.30 a.m. We did a drive-by on the previous Saturday to check it out and it was lucky we did because the queue was snaking around the block. The day of our test we rocked up an hour early and were about sixth in the queue. When the doors of the lab opened I counted at least 46 people waiting behind us. Make sure you write down your personal details (name, phone, email address, passport no.) to hand to them to the lab or pharmacy so you can check they get it right. The numerals seven, four and one ae written differently in French and my email address has a seven in it. Waiting is stressful not just for a negative result but worrying if the email will arrive. Ours arrived later the same day. If you can possibly print the email out (we couldn’t) it will be easier at border control as you have to enter a password every time you access the document which leads to a lot of fumbling and delay.
Lesson 8 – Location, location, location
Prior to your return but no earlier than 48 hours, you have to complete a passenger locator form. Download it from the gov.uk website https://www.gov.uk/provide-journey-contact-details-before-travel-uk.
You’ll need all your personal data, travel details (including flight number or ferry name and seat number), your address in the UK and the order reference number of the day two Covid test that you bought before you set off. You did order this, didn’t you? Of course you did.
If you want to go to France but ae hesitant because of the red tape – got for it. Being back in France after so long was a huge thrill. The ferry out was like a ghost ship but when we returned yesterday there was more of a buzz. It took me ages to figure out what we had to do but if you know in advance it’s less stressful so I hope some of this will be useful.
Here endeth the lesson!
My novel Lies Behind the Ruin published in 2019 is dark suspense about a family who move to France in an attempt to outrun their problems at home. For families with little money and no job that won’t be so easy to do now. Lies is set in and around Limoges. You might enjoy it if you prefer a darker beach read. Available from Amazon and good bookshops. You can find it at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07Q5ZGZHP