The sudden prohibition on travel to France by British visitors has thrown many thousands of plans into disarray. These are the key questions and answers.
What has happened?
In response to the surging cases of the Omicron variant in the UK, France has imposed tough new rules . A border closure took effect on Saturday 18 December, French time. It applies regardless of vaccination status.
Only a “compelling reason” is permitted for travel from the UK to France. While French people are able to travel from the UK to France, all holidays and most business trips for British travellers – as well as family visits – are off until further notice.
The sudden move has been criticised as damaging and futile. Robert Boyle, former strategy director for IAG, tweeted: “Omicron now over 50 per cent of infections in the Paris region. French travel restrictions from the UK make no logical sense.”
What counts as a “compelling reason”?
Exemptions include being a returning resident; a spouse or child of a French citizen; or a student enrolled in France.
Nationals of other EU countries, plus partners and children, are allowed to transit through France to the country of which they are nationals (or to their main residence if it is in a different European Union nation).
For British travellers, family visits are not permitted. Travelling to a second home is banned except for people who have official residence status in France.
Transit for UK travellers is permitted to residences beyond France, and for a voyageur en transit de moins de 24 heures en zone internationale dans les aéroports – a “passenger in transit for less than 24 hours in the international zone at airports”.
What if I am already in France?
Stay there until you were due to return, and be thankful that your trip is unaffected. The general ban imposed by France on travel to the UK does not apply to British people returning home.
I have a holiday booked. Can I get a refund?
If you have booked transport separately – whether a flight, ferry, Eurotunnel or Eurostar journey – there may be no automatic right to cancel with a full refund.
While some ferry fares are refundable, the standard policy for cheaper tickets is likely to be: no money back, but the right to rebook for a later date or (in some cases) take a voucher for future travel.
One exception will be if the flight you are booked on is cancelled. Given the collapse in demand that will result from the French decision, it is likely that airlines such as British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair will cancel a large number of flights – especially to airports near ski resorts such as Geneva and Lyon.
If your flight is cancelled, and you have not already asked to postpone the trip or take a voucher, then you are entitled to a full refund within a week.
I have booked a package holiday. Any difference?
Yes. If you have bought a proper package holiday – with transport and accommodation combined in the same transaction – then you are covered by the Package Travel Regulations 2018.
If the trip you booked cannot go ahead – because you will not be allowed into the country –then you are entitled to your money back within two weeks. This will cover trips such as ski holidays and city breaks.
Crystal Ski says: “We’ve had to cancel our holidays to France on 21 December, 28 December and 4 January. We understand the huge disappointment this will cause.”
The firm has emailed customers with a re-booking incentive, but you are entitled to cash back.
What if I booked accommodation/car rental separately?
There is no automatic legal right to postpone, but many companies (and Airbnb hosts) will allow you to do so. A cash refund is unlikely.
I planned to drive through France to Belgium/Germany/Switzerland/Italy/Spain. Can I?
Not according to the latest version of the French government rules, which have been clarified overnight. They now specify transit is allowed only in the international zone of an airport.
Citizens or residents of another EU country can drive through France to get there, but will need to provide proof and meet French testing requirements.
Ferry alternatives that do not serve France include: Stena Line from Harwich to Hook of Holland; P&O Ferries from Hull to Rotterdam; DFDS from Newcastle to Amsterdam; Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Bilbao or Santander.
Can I enter from another country to avoid the travel ban?
Apparently so. Unlike the travel ban imposed by Germany, there is no consideration of having been in the UK in the recent past.
You would, of course, have to adhere to all the rules of the intermediate country.
Direct access to France from the Franco-Swiss airports of Basel and Geneva is not allowed; British travellers entering Switzerland must have a negative PCR test result in the 72 hours before boarding a plane to Switzerland.
The Foreign Office says: “From Monday 20 December, a lateral flow test (not older than 24 hours) will also be accepted.”
Will ferry lines re-route ships to non-French ports?
Not if their hope and expectation proves correct: that these restrictions will proved short-lived.
While re-routing is possible in theory, it would create but huge logistical issues and disrupt the freight they carry.
Can I take a Eurostar train from London to Brussels or Amsterdam?
All trains from London to the Belgian and Dutch capitals are currently scheduled to stop in Lille in northern France. Passengers go through French passport control at London St Pancras.
But Eurostar assures me that British passengers are being allowed to travel to Amsterdam and Brussels, subject to meeting the current regulations for the Netherlands and Belgium.
My ski holiday is outside France but it uses flights to a French airport. Can I go?
It depends if the operator can switch to a different airport. Crystal Ski is trying to re-route its flights for Andorra holidays from Toulouse to Barcelona.
Incidentally, if you are skiing in Italy or Switzerland in a part of the Alps where ski areas are linked with those in France, there would not be a problem if you stray across the border – so long as you follow the rules for travellers entering France from those countries.
I have Covid tests booked for a trip that’s now cancelled. Can I claim a refund?
That depends, of course, on the refund policy of your chosen testing company. If you had booked a postal test and the device has already been sent out to you, then it may be impossible to get your money back – though depending on the timing, you may be able to use it for a future trip.
The Independent continues to recommend that travellers book tests at the last possible moment, to minimise the chance that changes to travel restrictions will render the purchase pointless.
What if I am just changing planes in Paris CDG and flying somewhere else?
Thousands of people are in that position.
For long-haul destinations, there is no problem. If you are travelling on a “UK-Paris-Outside EU” ticket then you should be able to change planes in the French capital without an issue, so long as you meet the requirements for your final destination.
Because of Schengen area rules, if you are travelling to other EU countries (with a few exceptions), you are required to pass through passport control on arrival in Paris. Therefore you may not be allowed to travel. Air France, the main airline for most travellers, should be able to advise. The Independent has contacted Air France for clarification.
For the avoidance of doubt, you will not be allowed to fly into Paris CDG and out from Orly airport. And if you have separate tickets (UK-Paris, Paris-final destination) then you are likely to be barred from travel, even if the final destination is outside the EU.
If I qualify to go to France, what are the rules?
You must present a negative Covid test result (lateral flow/antigen or PCR) taken within 24 hours of travel. Tests provided by the NHS are not acceptable (and in any case, they should never be used for international travel). While the rules seem to allow self-administered, certified tests from private providers to be used, there is ambiguity in the wording.
You must also self-isolate for a minimum of 48 hours, and can leave quarantine only with a negative lateral flow or PCR test.
“Controls will be organised to ensure the proper implementation of these measures,” the French government says.
The authorities in Paris have also called on French travellers who had planned to visit the UK to postpone their trip.
How long will these rules be in place?
No one knows. The ban could prove to be un disjoncteur (circuit breaker) that lasts just a couple of weeks – rather like the UK ban on southern Africa.
Anyone with a trip starting in the new year is advised not to take any action yet. Depending on what happens with the spread of Omicron in France and elsewhere, the ban could be lifted by January.
In the meantime, if you decide to cancel or postpone a trip that is still planned to go ahead, you will surrender your right to a refund if the trip is cancelled.
I expect the travel ban to be lifted early in the new year – though I have been chronically over-optimistic throughout the Covid pandemic.
Looking further ahead, if travel to our nearest Continental neighbour is still banned at Easter, heaven help us all. But while I am not yet a buyer of a French holiday in the summer of 2022, I am certainly dreaming and planning.
What will this do to tourism in France?
It will be devastating – clearly in the short term, for what should have been a very profitable period for winter sports holidays over Christmas and New Year, but also long term.
By taking such strict measures so close to departure, the French government is acting in a similar way to British ministers. The effect will be to erode confidence in any forward booking to France.
There will also be further damage to Eurostar, Eurotunnel, the ferry operators and the airlines. Within hours of the French announcement, Eurostar said new bookings had fallen by more than half.
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