Expert Simon Calder answers your questions on travelling to France, Covid testing and more

Confused by French rules, Spanish practices and African attitudes? Your problems solved here

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 26 January 2022 09:06 GMT
Rhineland wonder: Breisach, on the Franco-German border
Rhineland wonder: Breisach, on the Franco-German border (Simon Calder)

The travel correspondent of The Independent normally spends late January in discussion with some of the nation’s leading wallpaper consultants ahead of the annual refurbishment of Calder Towers.

But he paused from this work event for an hour, and put down his slice of cake, to answer pressing questions on the constantly changing test requirements.

Big adventures

Q: How easy do you think it will be to travel around various European countries in one holiday during the summer? (France, Germany, Netherlands etc). Crossing back and forth over the Rhine …

B Innes

A: It is too early to say. I am urging caution on multinational travel at present, because of the multiplicity of problems it can create. But I hope by summer the great trip you are proposing will be perfectly manageable.

My highlights on that route: Breisach (Germany) and Colmar (France); the little international ferries that shuttle across the Rhine, for example between Drusenheim and Greffern; and the Dutch side west of Emmerich in Germany.

French leave

Q: Are self-tests with certificates from an accredited lab acceptable for entry to France?

Freddo 7

A: Yes, they appear to be – the main exclusion is on using NHS tests (which can never be used for the purposes of international travel).

As always, though, I urge the use of professionally administered tests – which have the highest public health benefit and are always properly certified.

And just a reminder: for fully vaccinated travellers that’s a lateral flow test taken in the 24 hours before departure to France. More here.

In addition, you should know that the French authorities say: “Arrival screenings may be conducted at the places of arrival. If the result is positive, the traveller will be placed in isolation.”

Q: What are the rules for grandparents taking two under-12 grandchildren to France to ski in February half-term?

David Greenwood

A: The Covid rules for taking children to France are the same whether the accompanying adults are parents, grandparents or some other guardian: under 12s need not be vaccinated nor take tests. So anyone under 12 can travel with a fully vaccinated adult.

Q: Is there any indication that France will remove the testing requirements it has on travellers from the UK any time soon?

Joe Connors

A: I hope so: I am booked to travel there on 8 February, returning on 11 February (so I avoid testing on arrival in the UK). But given that French decision are not rooted in rationality (remember it imposed a bizarre four-week ban on Brits over Christmas or New Year, it could go one of two ways: “Let’s ease the rules ahead of the UK half-term” or “Let’s ease the rules after the UK half-term”.

Q: I was told that we have a treaty that allows the vaccine passport to miss out the middle name and therefore not match passport. Is that true and how stringent would the French border controls be on this?

Mark In Norfolk

A: I urge people to avoid using middle names on all travel documentation unless you are specifically required to do so.

I have heard no problems with FirstName/LastName for Covid certification in France or elsewhere. But I have heard plenty from people who have got in a right old pickle with airline tickets – in particular when booked through dodgy online travel agents.

Q: My 14-year-old daughter is double jabbed and I have heard the Covid pass will be available digitally soon for this age group. Is this via the NHS app and if so, is that all she’ll need to show for cafés, museums, etc in France?

Tommy J H

A: Yes, it should appear on 3 February. Just upload it to the very visitor-friendly TousAntiCovid app and she should be fine – so long as you all keep your smartphones religiously charged.

Q: What would be the situation for a teenager vaccinated according to UK rules wanting to go skiing in France?


A: Their vaccination status should be available on the NHS App. That will allow them access to ski lifts, etc.

Q: We are hoping to go skiing at Easter in France via Geneva - having had to cancel and roll forward the last two years. Our youngest will have only just turned 12 so she could only have had one vaccine.

Will they let her into the country without isolating and can she have a pass to use all the facilities when we are there without needing to do daily tests? The rest of us will be fully jabbed.

Dan the Blue

A: She can certainly get into the country, because all under 18s travelling with fully vaccinated adults can do so. But it looks like she will have to take daily tests to get access to venues, including ski lifts. Unvaccinated under-16s can take a rapid antigen (lateral flow) test. My understanding is that it must be a professionally administered private tests.

This option is not open to 16 -and 17-year-olds, incidentally

Q: I have received my Covid certificate for my 13 year old son and it doesn’t have a QR code on it so I cannot upload his vaccination details to the TousAntiCovid app. Can we enter France with a paper certificate that doesn’t show a QR code? Wales have not announced any plans to add children to the online NHS accounts and I am concerned that the paper certificate will not be recognised without a QR code.


A: I believe you may need to ask your GP for assistance in securing the right proof.

Q: When flying to France, if you get to the departure gate after presenting a valid fit-to-fly certificate and suddenly the flight is delayed beyond the validity of your certificate do you have to go back through security and get another test ?

Ceasar K

A: In almost all similar cases I have heard of, there has never been a problem. The exception was many months ago, and involved a gross delay extending to several days (with the airline providing the new tests free of charge).

Q: I would like to go to Paris for a week to stay with a friend, who lives there. I have heard that my host may have to go to the local town hall for an attestation d’accueil. I have also heard that this rule is not being enforced. What is the current situation? I will be travelling with my partner who is an EU citizen.


A: Brexit really is the gift that keeps on giving. As the article below explains, property owners in France who have British friends or family staying with them this summer must lodge a document known as an attestation d’accueil (loosely, an acceptance certificate) at the local Mairie (town hall) at least a month in advance of the proposed visit.

The form must include the passport details of the visitor and proof that they are covered by a minimum of €30,000 (£25,000) of insurance.

Given everything that is going on in the world, I am not surprised the law is not being fully enforced. But as with any foreign nation, you should adhere to the local rules.

African attitude

Q: What does South Africa require to enter the country for holiday in March? I have had two vaccinations and booster shots.


A: I can certainly tell you what South Africa requires at the moment – but, as L P Hartley so nearly wrote: “The future is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

Unusually, South Africa does not appear to give any credit to vaccinated travellers. The Foreign Office says: “You will need to produce a paper copy of a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) Covid-19 test to border officials upon arrival in South Africa.

”The test must have taken place no more than 72 hours before your departure.

“Children under 5 do not require a PCR test.”

All the South African information I can see does not refer to a PCR test, and I will try to investigate further.

One detail I can pass on – ensure you have at least two blank pages in your passport when you touch down.

Spanish practices

Q: We have a (blended) family booked in Spain this August. The 16-year-old in our group is unvaccinated and won’t be getting the jab. Do you think he will be allowed to go to Spain with us?

Dave Smith

A: At present he would not be allowed to travel. With the caveat as above (“The future is a foreign country: they do things differently there”), it is important to address possible attitudes to unvaccinated travellers.

The UK is to scrap self-isolation to unjabbed arrivals from 11 February. This may be an outlier (as British decisions on travel rules have tended to be during the coronavirus pandemic) or it could presage a gradual dismantling of some of the most onerous restrictions by other countries.

If the trip is already booked, all you can do is watch, wait and perhaps discuss the subject of vaccination. Bear in mind that if it is a proper package holiday you will be able to transfer it to another person should that prove necessary.

Q: We had the booster jab in UK in late November. We plan to travel from Uk to Spain in June for six nights and then onwards to Italy for four nights (in addition) making a 10 night holiday.

We are UK residents and have UK passports. I’ve just read that Italy is stating vaccination expiry is 180 days for trips after 1 February. Do this apply to boosters or 2nd doses? I’ve also read that the EU has proposed the 180 day expiry is changed to 270. This will solve the problem for the June trip but creates an additional problem since we have already booked October. Your thoughts, please?


A: The only confident prediction I can make is that the rules for Italy and Spain will be different in summer from what they are now.

Q: Do you expect Spain to cancel the need for 12-15year olds to be fully vaccinated to be able to travel?


A: In time, of course. I imagine that by summer the rules right across Europe will be greatly relaxed. Many families, though, want to know if their half term holiday will go ahead. I am afraid all you can do is watch and wait. Of course the travel desk of The Independent will be doing all it can to keep you fully up-to-date.

Italian connections

Q: I’m writing this as I am getting married in Tuscany, Italy this September and I am a little worried as their “super green pass” means that we must have had the booster within a six-month time frame.

We’ve all had one booster this month which means by September, they will have expired in Italy.

I can’t see any way of booking an additional booster online which leaves us worried that we might not be able to travel to Italy at all. Will the government make it easier to book boosters for travel this summer for countries that have such a time limit?


A: First, congratulations on your impending wedding. Please don’t worry about Italian testing rules eight months from now. Italy has generally been pragmatic and I believe that will return. “Super green” is, I believe, a short-term measure to get Italy through winter.

Q: I am supposed to be travelling to Italy in June but on the Foreign Office website it states that you need to have received your final jab within 180 days of travel.

Given my booster was in late November (like many) would this make me unable to travel with it quarantine?

Or do you understand “final jab” as your second jab? If it is booster it practically means no one can go to Italy in the summer holidays

Andrew Bonnington

A: As mentioned, I believe pragmatism will rule in summer in Europe, and that a reasonably policy that aligns with the average traveller’s vaccination status will be found.

Q: Looking forward to sunshine in Sicily, departing 10 February, but flummoxed by the rules due to change on 1 February re: vaccination validity and recovery.

As of now, I qualify for the super green pass, as my second jab was 28 May, and I have a Swiss recovery pass dated 27 December (US national, had Covid over Christmas, NHS wouldn’t add my positive PCR to the record, so got a pass for travel to Switzerland). reports “from 1 February your vaccination certificate will be valid for 180 days from the date of your final vaccination”, can’t find information via Italian channels. Any thoughts on whether two jabs+recovery will qualify for quarantine free entry? I can’t get a booster in time for travel, as not enough time has passed post infection.

Graham and Steph

A: Your case illustrates why internationally agreed rules on vaccines, boosters and recovery from Covid-19 are desperately needed. I am afraid I can’t spare enough time to investigate deeply for you.

Jabless journeys

Q: Is there anywhere that unvaccinated people can go on holiday and not have to self-isolate on return to the uk? I keep hearing different things.

Luke T

A: At present the only foreign destination you can visit without self isolating on return to the UK is Ireland. From 4am on 11 February you will be able to arrive from anywhere without quarantine.

Going Dutch

Q: I have to carefully coordinate a trip to Cape Town starting in London then changing flights (not transfer) from Amsterdam via Doha on 1 March. Amazingly, the hardest leg to coordinate is Heathrow to Amsterdam! Do you think the Netherlands will relax their restrictions by March?

Ade 68

A: It is very unlikely that the current onerous restrictions for travel to the Netherlands – requiring 10 days of quarantine regardless of vaccination status – will still be in place by March, which is five weeks away.

Incidentally, I am unsure what you mean about “changing flights (not transfer)” in Amsterdam – unless you are going in on separate flight to avoid swingeing Air Passenger Duty costs.

American intentions

Q: What is the testing requirement from UK to the US? I am planning to travel from UK to Hawaii and i am fully vaccinated. Would it be possible to stay at LA for a few days then get a domestic flight without testing again?


A: Full vaccination (no booster requirement) with a pre-departure test (lateral flow will do) on the day of travel or the previous day.

Hawaii’s longstanding testing and quarantine rules have been abandoned, and domestic flights are now unrestricted everywhere in the US – though mask wearing is enthusiastically enforced.

Q: New York City got cancelled in December. We are now due to go in April, all but one traveller are fully vaccinated, that being a child of seven. He has had Covid recently and will be within 90 days of travel. Will he be able to visit attractions and restaurants with a Covid recovery letter if New York’s rules stay the same?

Ryan B

A: New York City has had some visitor-unfriendly rules for those aged 12 and over, which I hope will ease by April, but I hope that seven-year-olds will remain exempt.

Mexican ways

Q: We have just booked to go to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico on 17 February. Am I right in thinking we don’t need tests in any direction? Do we need a passenger locator form on return? Also, any idea on whether they accept mask exemptions with a doctor’s letter in Mexico?

Paul 22

A: Yes, despite a claim in a newspaper this morning that “UK becomes first major country to scrap self-isolation for unvaccinated travellers”, Mexico has been open to all throughout the pandemic. You will need a passenger locator form coming home. The doctor’s letter will need to be legally translated to Spanish to be sure of acceptance.

Splashing out: Adventurers off Akpatok Island in Nunavut, Canada (Simon Calder)

Canada catch

Q: Apparently Canada has random testing on arrival which then requires isolation for three days. Do you know the risk of being randomly selected? It would make a ski holiday impossible.

GS Kent UK

A: Canada has robust rules on arrivals from abroad. Tourists must be fully vaccinated and present a negative PCR or Lamp test result taken within 72 hours of your planned entry. In addition, as with some other countries, Canada reserves the right to test arriving passengers randomly selected at airports or at land border crossings.

If you are required to go to an airport testing service, all the Canadian government says is: “They will notify you of your test result within 72 hours.” Three days of sitting in a hotel room would indeed scupper the best holiday plans. But I think the chances of this actually happening are low.

After my recent flight from London to Toronto, I was unaware of anyone being selected (and certainly wasn’t myself). However, I have also heard anecdotally that a high proportion of non-Canadians on international arrivals are asked “randomly” to take a test.

The queues for testing can be long, with (I hear) a lack of social distancing. The authorities insist: “You must quarantine in a suitable place while you await the arrival test result”. But once you have taken the test, you are free to go to your final destination – in your case, presumably at a ski hotel or similar.

The outcome is usually a same-day event, with results in a few hours. That could mean that you are free even before you have arrived at your accommodation. If the result happens to be positive, then you are not going to be skiing. As you must self-isolate for 10 days, your holiday is likely to be expensively wrecked. All the more reason to take your pre-departure test as late as possible before take-off, in case there is a sign of infection.

Mauritius rumour

Q: I have airline flight vouchers which expire in August so looking at using them for a long haul family beach holiday at Easter. Kids are 6 and 8 and need to travel via Doha. Any suggestions on country destinations without ongoing covid restrictions etc?


A: Oh dear. It’s awful to be in the position of needing to redeem vouchers that will soon expire. At Easter, my recommendation would be North Africa, but going via Doha would be a very long way around.

Going to the Indian Ocean is likely to involve fewer restrictions than anywhere further east.

The Seychelles could provide the answer, though for adults I prefer Mauritius.

To book, or not to book?

Q: We would like to book flights to Nice in May and Faro in June for a wedding. Is there a chance that more flights will be put on as demand increases? At the moment the choices are very limited and also expensive. Should we wait and see?

Lesley Hall

A: Yes, there is every chance that airlines will expand their schedules if they sense there is lots of cash to be made. They have a fair amount of spare capacity (especially in June) and will deploy it if demand looks strong. This should mean that fares fall.

But if I am wrong, and cheaper flights do not appear, then consider other gateways such as Marseille and Lisbon, with a lovely and leisurely train ride to your final destinations.

Testing times

Q: I fly to Dubai on Thursday and need to do my PCR later today to meet the 48 hour requirement. Thing is, I had Covid 20-30 December and I understand it can linger as positive on a PCR test for up to 90 days after. So: what happens if my PCR is positive for that reason? Would I have to cancel?

Name supplied

A: If you test positive before departure, you will not be allowed to fly – and most airlines will allow you to defer your trip without penalty.

Having said that: although some people have continued to show signs of infection for a couple of months after recovery, this is most unusual. Take the test as late as you can. And have a great trip.

Q: Why do fit to fly tests get issued so close to travel. Do they need to arrive within the specified maximum time period before departure? Should I worry about delays and what can be done if they don’t arrive?

Mark In Norfolk

A: Destinations want you to test as close as possible to departure to maximise the chance they catch travellers who could infect their population. I would never entrust a pre-departure to a postal/collection arrangement – just get it done at the airport.

Q: We are going to Portugal on 10 February. I know we won’t have to test when we get back, but what are the chances that Portugal will drop the lab administered entry test before we go?

Simon D

A: I believe that there is a fair chance, but as always I urge people to book tests at the very last moment. On a trip like yours I would aim to get the testing done at the airport.

Q: We’ve delayed a California trip twice and hoping to finally make it there this August - is the NHS app/letter accepted as proof of vaccination in the US for entry to attractions and restaurants? And is it likely the US (and other countries) will bring in a vaccination limit like Austria? We had our boosters in December so a 270-day limit would just about be okay for a summer holiday!


A: Part one of your question: I took both paper and online vaccination (and test) certificates to the US on my last two trips (to New York State and Florida), and nobody showed much interest. But I imagine they will be quite sufficent: fortunately they are in English.

Part two: What constitutes full vaccination will continue to be a slippery subject, and I urge you to watch and wait. will bring you any significant changes.

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