As usual when the winter solstice approaches, Simon Calder is to be found with his friends in high places in the attractively rural North Shropshire area.
As the sun dwindled over the River Tern in Market Drayton, the travel correspondent of The Independent spent an hour answering your urgent travel questions – especially about the new French ban on travel from the UK.
Q: Since France blocks UK tourists now, does that mean nobody can drive through France for Italy or Spain?
A: Sadly, you are correct. For a time after the ambiguous French statement about the travel ban was released, it looked as though transit in a private car might be possible within 24 hours. Indeed, a couple of operators said arriving in Calais and driving straight to another country would be permitted.
But by Friday morning, the French government had clarified that transit for less than 24 hours is permitted only 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”. Effectively, this means changing planes at Paris Charles de Gaulle is allowed, but very little else is.
Q: Like many people who are due to travel imminently, we are transiting through France en route to Switzerland. We do not intend to stop or stay in France, just refuel. We have documentation to prove this. We have until 9pm to cancel our hotel before we lose thousands of pounds. So can we go?
A: Regrettably this is not an option. But you can drive from a non-French gateway. Ferry alternatives that do not serve France include: Stena Line from Harwich to Hook of Holland; PO Ferries from Hull to Rotterdam; DFDS from Newcastle to Amsterdam; and Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Bilbao or Santander.
In any event I urge you to cancel the hotel and avoid the loss. With so many cancellations of accommodation by people who can no longer access their ski locations, I am confident you will be able to rebook once you are absolutely certain you can make the trip.
Q: I am an EU national (Luxembourg) living in the UK. Me and my girlfriend (UK national) are planning to fly to Luxembourg via Paris on Saturday to visit my family. Will we be able to travel and if so, do we need to get tested beforehand?
A: It is still unclear what awaits people planning to fly from the UK to Paris CDG and continue to another European Union country. Travellers entering the Schengen area (which covers almost all EU nations plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland) must go through French passport control.
Air France may make special arrangements for such cases.
In any event, you may qualify if you can convince officials that your main residence is in Luxembourg – and if you can prove a sufficiently close relationship with your girlfriend, she may be allowed to travel with you.
Because you will enter the Schengen area at this point, you will certainly need to test – a lateral flow within 24 hours before departure.
But check with Air France, and if the journey is in doubt ask the carrier to rebook you through its sister airline KLM via Amsterdam.
Q: Do you know if or when the travel ban to France will be lifted? I very much want to travel to France as a tourist next July? Do you think the travel ban for UK tourists will be lifted by the summer?
A: If travel to our nearest Continental neighbour is still banned seven months from now, heaven help us all. I expect the travel ban to be lifted very early in the new year, or possibly even before the end of 2021 (though I have been chronically over-optimistic throughout the Covid pandemic).
While I am not yet a buyer of a French holiday in July 2022, I am certainly dreaming and planning. I suggest you do the same
Q: Is it still possible to enter France via Geneva?
A: Not as far as I am aware. While I am struggling to get a comprehensive briefing on access, travelling via a third country (or using the French exits from Geneva or Basel airport) is certainly not the intention of the French government. So please assume not.
Q: My parents live in France and we were supposed to be going to visit for Christmas. Does the new travel ban that states “children can visit” only apply to citizens or does it include residents as well?
A: I believe the child exemption applies to under 18s but it may be more generous.
Q: Travelling from Switzerland and overnighting near Calais on 2 December. Eurotunnel to Folkestone on 28 December. Return journey arriving Calais 13 January overnighting in Luxembourg returning to our home in Switzerland on 14 January. Permitted now?
A: Travelling from Switzerland, there should be no problem at all. If you are returning in mid January, then I suggest you check in again. With four weeks before your journey, and awful lot can happen in France, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the UK.
Q: I’m travelling from France on Sunday 19 December. As a British citizen, I believe I meet the “compelling reason” to travel. Can my husband (non UK, non EU, with French residence) travel with me?
Jan C B
A: There is no automatic right for the spouse of someone who meets the compelling reasons exemption to accompany them to France. But if he has French residence, and it is his main place of residence, then he should be allowed in according to my reading of the rules.
Q: My Eurotunnel train arrives in France at 0.14am on Saturday morning, leaving UK on Friday evening. Will we still be allowed in?
Street of long
A: In your position, I would do everything I can to switch to an earlier departure. The rules seem very clearly to me to indicate that it is for arrivals after midnight.
Now, the fact that you go through French immigration was still in Folkestone may work to your advantage – because you will have been legally in France before the deadline. But ideally you should travel earlier.
Q: We can get out to France ahead of the ban. Technically we fall under the current restrictions. However, what happens once we are there? Are we able to travel freely and enjoy our skiing trip as this will fall under tourism? Will we be OK as we entered the country before the restrictions came into place or will we be under the same restrictions from Saturday? Also, what is the likelihood of the return requirements changing?
A: Good timing. If you arrive before midnight French time (11pm GMT) and meet the existing rules – including a test taken within 48 hours of travel – you will not be treated any differently after the new rules take effect.
Q: My son-in-law owns an apartment in France and is there this week. My family and I have been planning to spend Christmas week furnishing it in preparation for renting. Can we still travel?
A: Not unless you were able to reach France before 11pm, UK time, on Friday.
Q: My daughter’s partner is a French national and is returning to his home in France tomorrow. My daughter has flights booked to stay with him over New Year. What are the chances of her being able to do this? They are not married but live together and have a mortgage together.
A: Living together puts them in a good position. The French embassy website has details of the proof that is required. Bon chance.
Q: We are planning to go to our maison secondaire in northern France, just after Christmas. It isn’t a holiday as such, so does this count as a compelling reason
Big Dogs Coquerel
A: Sadly, no, unless you have French residence.
Q: Will I still be able to transit through Heathrow from the US to France?
A: Yes, if you stay airside. I think you will need a pre-departure test anyway to board the American Airlines flight, so why don’t you just use that to get into France as well? Just time it so that it is 24 hours before your arrival.
Q: I am travelling to France for leisure purposes before the deadline of Friday 11.59pm, which fits with the guidelines. Will there be any issue with returning to the UK on Monday? Is returning to the UK if I am UK resident considered essential travel?
A: The only issue will be the tedious pre-departure and post arrival tests, and they need to self isolate while you wait for the result of the latter.
Q: I’m due to go on a Mediterranean cruise on 29 December but I’m flying to Rome first from the UK via Paris CDG and have a four-hour stop over at the airport. Am I still allowed to travel ?
A: That is 13 days away! It is difficult to say what rules will prevail by 29 December. But assuming you have booked a package (flights and cruise in the same transaction) then it is down to the company you booked through to make suitable arrangements.
Q: I’m fully vaccinated and have had my booster. Flying from Bordeaux via Heathrow and straight to Malaga in the next few days without crossing UK border. I found the government website ambiguous ! I assume I do not need a Covid 19 test 48 hours prior to the trip?
A: If you don’t mind my saying so, that is a very odd journey to make. The predeparture test for the UK is, I believe, mandatory even for people who are in transit at Heathrow. If I am right, then for the cost of the test you could be halfway to Malaga by rail through Spain.
Q: We are travelling from Glasgow to Nice via Amsterdam on 21 December. Upon arrival at Nice we will be driving straight to Italy. Will this be permitted?
A: No, and I am afraid you have just inadvertently highlighted why, these difficult days you need to limit the number of countries that you involved in a single trip. In your position, I would be calling KLM and asking nicely if they could switch you to Milan, Genoa or Turin instead (ideally at no extra cost).
Q: I’m taking the Eurostar from London to Belgium next week. This means I travel through France for a short while. Do France’s new rules apply to me? Or do I only worry about the rules in Belgium?
A: Even though you will be going through French passport control at London St Pancras, and your train stops in Lille, I believe that you will be allowed through. But please check with Eurostar.
Q: I have booked the overnight ferry Portsmouth to Saint-Malo and have always planned to drive straight through France and enter Spain at the Irun entry. I see on the French requirements it is possible to transit through France in 24 hours. Is this only for airport transfers?
A: Air only. It may well be that Brittany ferries will allow you to switch to the Bilbao or Santander voyage on payment of the appropriate supplement. Incidentally, this would be much lower risk, too – driving the length of France is scary.
Q: Transiting through France through the night of 22-23 December to see my family in Germany. Would a compelling reason be my grandma is ill?
A: The only compassionate reasons for allowing travel to France are in extreme and sad circumstances – the death of a close family member, or a terminal prognosis. If this – as I hope – does not apply, find another route.
Q: My daughter who holds both British and Austrian passports is flying back to Austria for Christmas. Will she be able to?
A: Yes, there are very few countries which restrict their own citizens from coming in – Australia is the prime example. Austria should be fine, the exact testing/quarantine rules will depend on your daughter’s vaccination status.
Q: My parents are due to fly out to Italy on the 20th December. Both have had their booster vaccine. The Italian government changed testing rules yesterday. Do you think it’s likely they will introduce stricter rules like France has?
A: No. As previously mentioned, France is an outlier in terms of its Draconian response. The government in Paris could have tightened the testing restrictions – and perhaps added self isolation with an additional test on arrival – but chose instead to have a blanket ban on British travellers. In contrast, tightening testing rules is the strategy adopted by Italy, the US and others.
Q: We are flying from UK via Paris (two hours transfer) to Congo this Saturday. Our understanding is that we can fly through France and stay airside as it counts as a compelling reason for travel. We have already taken PCR tests for our final destination today. Our tests will meet the final destination requirement (72 hours PCR) but they have been done more than 24 hours before our planned arrival and transit through France. Do we need to pay and take another PCR test tomorrow so as to meet the 24 hours’ deadline for France? Or are we OK because we are simply transiting? In other words, are the 24 hour PCR test only for entry into France if one leaves the international zone? Or do they apply even if one is just transiting and not legally entering France?
A: There should be no problem with testing simply to transit at CDG. In passing, you do not need a PCR test for France anyway: lateral flow is perfectly acceptable.
Q: The current legislation for entering France from 20 December states a PCR test or TAG (antigen) test needs to be carried out. Would a lateral flow test be the same as a TAG antigen test?
Al in Megeve
A: Yes, antigen = lateral flow.
Q: My partner and I, both UK residents, arrived back here from Canada on 10 December. The Day 2 PCR tests we ordered have yet to be delivered, although we’ve pushed the company involved to get them to us as soon as possible(we know we’re far from alone in such frustration). We’ve been self-isolating since our return from Canada, but we’re scheduled to depart for Denmark on 20 December. If the PCR tests don’t arrive with us, or if the results of our tests are unavailable before that date, are we within our rights to proceed directly to the airport from home and to fly to Denmark?
R John W
A: What a ridiculous situation. I am sorry you are in this position. I always recommend having a professionally administered test immediately on arrival at the airport – this has maximum public health benefit, and minimises the amount of time you need to spend self isolating. You can leave the country – and self isolation – any time you like. Just don’t dilly dally on the way to the airport when you fly to Denmark.
Q: I’d like to know about the antigen test required for Portugal. They now say self administered tests are not allowed. Why? It just makes travelling so costly!
A: Self-administered tests are ridiculously easy to cheat, and all the available evidence is that you and I can never do as effective a job as a medical professional. For me the surprise is that any countries accept them rather than insisting on a proper swab.
Q: We are currently in Spain for Christmas, if countries change their policies on UK tourists would they expect us to depart back to the UK or could we finish our holiday?
A: No. Throughout the crisis I have not heard of any country that has ejected citizens because of their nationality. You are in Spain, hopefully having a fabulous trip, and whatever rules Spain may bring in outsiders will not apply retrospectively to you. Furthermore even if things go horribly wrong in the UK, and the government decides to put in another mandatory ban on overseas leisure travel, because you are already out of the country it will not apply to you.
Q: We are due to go to Tenerife with Jet2 for Christmas (10 days) leaving Monday, do you anticipate, based on previous actions by Spain that they will bring in any further restrictions before then? We have a two- and a six-year-old and two fully vaccinated boosted adults. We are so nervous now we haven’t packed a thing, any thoughts on the situation with our trip. Unless we are required to self isolate, I think it goes ahead as it is planned at the moment? We have been doing daily LFDs and all negative so far.
A: I am glad to hear you have been taking tests regularly – in your position I would rate the biggest risk as testing positive in the UK before departure. But keep being careful and you should be in line for a lovely holiday.
Q: We are hoping to visit my daughter in Barcelona on 23 December. Is it likely that Spain will impose similar restrictions to France?
A: I don’t believe that other countries will come in with such draconian measures. What France has done seems to be an extreme reaction. It could well be though, that you may face additional testing requirements.
Q: My partner and I are booked to fly with Qatar Airways to Bangkok on 28 December. All Thailand Pass/testing hoops will of course be jumped through.. our main concern is the risk of having someone sitting in close proximity to us on the planes who ends up with a positive covid test on arrival and we are then all scooped up into some government quarantine. What do you think?
Thailand 4 New Year
A: Most regrettably, this is a risk that all travellers must take – that somebody’s pre-departure test fails to pick up an infection. But I believe most countries take a more measured approach than the UK has done in the past, which is to make everyone on the plane, however far away, quarantine.
Q: We know that the countries previously on the red list have been removed, BUT what wasnt clear from the gov was whether hotel quarantine will be removed for returning from countries added to the red list in the future. Is home isolation replacing hotel quarantine?
A: How refreshing, Louise, to have a non-French ban question. Thank you for it, and sorry for the delay getting round to answering it. Tricky old day. I imagine there may be somebody in government contemplating this problem, and I will certainly give them a nudge, but judging by the performance over the last few days at present I don’t think anybody has much of a clue.