Thanks to his high-level contacts in the Elysée Palace, the travel correspondent of The Independent was able to secure the reopening of French frontiers to fully vaccinated British travellers before his promised deadline of 15 January.
Now the travel ban has been lifted, Simon Calder is continuing discussions with necessarily anonymous officials in Paris to try to ease some of the rigour in the new rules – especially regarding teenage travellers.
But as the cabin was being prepared ahead of his voyage to the Normandy port of Dieppe, Simon took an hour to answer your questions on France and beyond.
Q: What is the definition of “fully vaccinated” for entering and holidaying in France?
A: For the purposes of crossing the frontier, being double-jabbed with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Novavax, or a single Janssen dose.
For travelling within France and visiting venues, there is a tighter definition: being double jabbed is not necessarily significant.
Broadly, all adults who had their second jab over seven months ago must have proof of a booster vaccination.
Q: I booked easyJet flights after hearing that France were allowing tourists once more. However, I understand from what you have written that our family group will not qualify within the tough vaccination requirements. Should I cancel these under easyJet’s 24-hour cancellation policy?
A: That is a difficult one to call. While it is excellent news that France has ended its futile and damaging four-week travel ban on visitors from the UK, joy is not exactly unconfined: the French have imposed rigorous conditions on the vaccination status of British travellers at the border, and even tighter rules if you actually want to enjoy yourself.
Families with children aged 12 or more are in the most difficult position in terms of meeting the “fully vaccinated” condition for entry as well as the requirements for the health pass. “Two jabs or you’re out” is the order of the day.
I am sure you are not alone in having committed prematurely to a trip to France before reading the small print of the deal.
But bear in mind that four weeks remain before half-term for most schools. My hesitation at recommending you cancel is because 28 days is a very long time in the coronavirus era. After all, France went from light restrictions to a near-total ban on Brits to some relaxation in just four weeks.
Many British families are in the same unhappy boat as you.
Given the financial importance of half-term to the French winter sports industry, especially after Christmas and New Year were written off, I imagine there are strident representations to cut some slack for teenagers.
But I can’t be sure, so if you are feeling at all cautious then cash in your chips: easyJet allows 24 hours of leeway for a change of mind, with a £49 administration fee for the whole booking (not per passenger or flight sector).
While this is much better than the usual terms for cancellations, easyJet’s 24-hour cancellation policy is nowhere near as generous as that of British Airways: providing you book direct, BA offers this courtesy free of charge.
In the hope that it will make you feel better: over the years, I have experienced “buyer’s remorse” on several occasions after booking flights that I later found were unsuitable.
Indeed for my journey out to France as the rules changed, I was only a click away from spending £66 on an easyJet flight to Basel in Switzerland on Thursday evening, from where I hoped to walk across the border to France at midnight.
Fortunately I checked the airport’s rules and found the annoying note that French laws applied – as well as Swiss rules – for British arrivals into Basel.
Q: For access to bars and restaurants in France, do we use the NHS app or will we need to access the TousAntiCovid app?
A: The TousAntiCovid app is an excellent creation and I urge you to install it in good time. It is intuitive to use, with an excellent English option, and will happily register your NHS certificates.
The pass vaccinal that will come into effect imminently will limit access to many venues to fully vaccinated people. I am still seeking clarification on how exactly it will work, but I am told it will simply be a code generated from within TousAntiCovid.
Q: Do you have to wear a medical-grade mask in France (especially in the ski resorts) or is a fabric snood okay? What restrictions are in bars and restaurants?
A: Individual departéments make their own rules on mask wearing outdoors. In general, they are mandatory for large gatherings and crowded places such as markets and queues for ski lifts.
Even when it is not compulsory, many citizens choose to wear masks outdoors at all times. You may wish to do the same out of courtesy.
Fabric masks are generally frowned upon, with FFP (filtering facepiece) medical-type masks advised.
For winter sports, there are increasingly many snood (neck warmer)/facemask combinations – described variously as cache-cou avec masque buccal or tours de cou. The outdoor supplier Decathlon sells one for €20 (£17).
Q: We are travelling to France on 23 January in our motorhome to transit to Spain. How do we complete the passenger locator form as we won’t have an address to put down as we will be staying on aires as we transit through France.
A: In my (limited) experience, frontier officials are uninterested in the address you put on the form. As is my long-standing habit for the US, you could alternatively pick a hotel at random.
Q: I’ve read a lateral flow test will be accepted for France, however not the free NHS one. Is this correct? Where should I purchase these from as I wish to complete test at home?
A: NHS tests cannot be used under any circumstances for international travel.
As I have done all the way through this wretched pandemic, I strongly recommend that you take a professionally administered test that is properly certified. I annoyingly paid £35 for a test to allow me to go to France.
I agree that I could have saved money with a self administered test, but I am afraid I am not confident in my ability properly to conduct said test. So while I believe France will accept such certificates, I believe the public health interest is much better served by going to a medical professional.
Q: Do you know if an antigen test rather than a PCR test no more than 24hrs before will be acceptable for entry into France after the changes to restrictions tomorrow?
A: I’m really interested in the number of enquiries I get about whether a PCR test is necessary. There are a relatively low number of countries where this slow, expensive test is required, but for most European locations and for fully vaccinated travellers, lateral flow is quite sufficient. This includes France.
Q: We’re double vaccinated and haven’t had the booster but have had Covid. Will France accept that for entry as we haven’t been able to have the booster yet? Also our children 14 and 15 have had one vaccine but not the second as they had Covid.
A: Two jabs for entry is fine. One jab is not, I’m afraid (as far as we know). Once in France: anyone who had their second jab over seven months ago must have proof of a booster vaccination.
I am still waiting for more clarity about what recovery status counts, and how to prove it.
Q: I am meant to be skiing this weekend. I have recently recovered from Covid over new year but it has been over 2 weeks since I first tested positive. Will France allow me to enter using a proof of recovery code of the NHS App? Or will I still have to do a test before entering the country? If so, will this test not come back positive despite me no longer being contagious as it has not been over 90 days since initial infection?
A: There is a lot of concern about people who have recently recovered from Covid-19 testing positive within 90 days, but with a lateral flow test I think the chances are extremely low that you will do so.
Q: We are flying to Geneva on 26 January then driving straight into France. Whose rules should we follow: France or Switzerland? Or both?
All of the group are vaccinated, and boosted as well.
A: Geneva airport is shared between France and Switzerland. In normal times that is an excellent arrangement, offering equally easy access to both the fine Swiss lakeside city and the mountains of France. But during a global pandemic the arrangement triggers complexity.
For France, you need to take a lateral flow Covid test in the 24 hours before departure, and be fully vaccinated – which of course you are. You must also fill in a French passenger arrival form and complete a “sworn undertaking to comply with rules for entry into Metropolitan French territory”. Flying into Geneva, these formalities should be sufficient; you should be able to exit through the French side.
I don’t think it will be necessary to comply with Swiss rules – but there is no harm in being in line. Complete the very straightforward Swiss passenger locator form and, if asked, produce proof of vaccination and the test result that you need for France.
Taking this easy precaution should ensure there are no problems at the departure airport or on arrival – and, in the unlikely event that you get diverted to Zurich because of bad weather at Geneva, it will allow you to breeze out of the airport and find a train.
Q: I will be flying into France (Grenoble) in a couple of weeks, but departing from Switzerland (Geneva). I will only be travelling into Switzerland in order to fly out same-day back to the UK. I am unclear as to whether I would need to carry out a Covid-19 test while in France in order to transit into Switzerland. I am a fully vaccinated (with booster) UK national.
Katie F P
A: I am delighted that your plans can come to fruition, with the southern opening of France to British travellers once more. While Geneva airport is mainly in Switzerland, I cannot see that the border officials will have the remotest interest in UK visitors flying home, and will simply let you check in as normal in the French part of the airport.
Q: We’re due to be travelling to Austria in March. One of our party has only just has their second jab. Austria is saying it will only allow Brits in who have had their booster. My friend can’t get their booster in time, they need to leave it three months after the second jab.
My query is: because their second jab happened so recently, could that be considered as a booster? If not, is there any other way round their restrictions?
A: Not that I can see currently – but your trip is a minimum of six weeks away, and much can change in that time. In particular I expect some of the more rigorous rules across Europe to be eased if Covid hospitalisations are not excessive. So, perhaps unhelpfully, I can advise you only to wait and see.
Q: I’m going to Austria on 26 January(fully jabbed and boostered). I fly into Munich and drive to Austria. My question is regarding the necessary PCR for entering Austria. It has to be within 48 hours. Would that be within 48 hours of crossing the road border in the car, or within 48 hours of landing in Munich for onward travel?
A: Within 48 hours of entering Austria. So it looks as though you will have to organise a test before you fly to Munich.
Another option is if one of the excellent testing centres at Munich airport is able to provide you with a very quick turnaround PCR test on arrival there.
Q: We are due to travel to Canary Islands for Feb half term. Our children (aged 12 and 14) are not fully vaccinated due to recently having Covid and won’t be before Feb half term. As things stand they are not allowed to enter Spain.
Do you think this will change before the Feb half term or do you think we will have to cancel our holiday?
A: I am really sorry that you and so many other people are in this absurd position of not meeting another European country’s required standards. All I can say is that half term is a month away, and as the very abrupt changes in French travel rules today show, a great deal can alter in a short time.
If only British ministers were spending their time lobbying counterparts in Madrid, etc, to align the rules and allow families to travel. But I sense they are rather more intent on jostling for political advantage right now.
Q: Any news on the Netherlands? Do you think they are likely to change their UK entry requirements anytime soon following the decision in France?
A: I am feeling very optimistic – not least because I am in the very happy position of not having to eat my hat on Saturday (I had promised to do so if the French restrictions were not lifted by then. I reckon the Netherlands will ease its current rules by the end of January.
Q: I there any update on the Schengen digital Entry/Exit system, and particularly how it will work for car-ferry passengers? They, like Shuttle passengers and coach trips, would not normally be leaving their vehicles at passport control to pass through some form of biometrics e-gate. With implementation due in May, you’d think they’d have worked this one out by now?
A: The Etias system, which the UK was involved in setting up before the Brexit referendum, is due to take effect in May 2022 (though I think it is extremely likely to slip by up to 18 months).
Yes, as things stand this euro-visa system will lead to chaos at borders and ports. Presumably pro-leave campaigners had a plan for it, so I suggest you ask any member of the government to explain it to you.
Q: Is Mexico in March a good prospect?
A: Yes, from many points of view March is the month with the best climate from north to south and east to west of this vast and wonderful country.
Q: I was due to return from the Algarve on 19 December to Leeds Bradford departing at 1.45 pm. It was apparent even before I left for the airport that there were problems as the flight hadn’t yet taken off from the UK. The flight eventually took off at 11.15 pm and went to Manchester
A: It is the airline’s responsibility to compensate you to the tune of €400 if you arrived three hours or more late at your final destination and it was their responsibility.
Q: Do you know of any imminent change to the current no covid-pass policy for under 16s? We are especially in need of a recovery pass for under 16 in QR code form in order to travel to Italy to ski in half term. There seems to be a huge gap with the 12-15 age group with Covid pass and recovery pass as they are not allowed to have the NHS app.
A: The problems for teenage children and their parents hoping to visit many countries are immense. The only consolation is that for another month, they will be at school, giving the UK government more time to address proper certification for young people and European countries a chance to sort out less onerous requirements.
Sorry I can’t be more helpful.