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Four Covid tests now for Christmas visit to UK family from France

The new restrictions set to come into force on Saturday have added the potential for another (optional) test for returning travellers so they can reduce quarantine

People who are allowed to travel between the UK and France from Saturday will probably need to take four Covid tests Pic: Jarun Ontakrai / Shutterstock

[Update December 21 at 10:00 - The French government has now updated its advice to say that the test taken to end quarantine must be taken 48 hours after arrival, but that people can go to a nearby pharmacy to take it.]

The French government is imposing new Covid restrictions on travel between France and the UK from tomorrow (December 18). 

However, British people living in France can still make a trip to visit family in the UK but there are changes to Covid testing rules and a new requirement to quarantine for seven days on return to France - and this applies regardless of vaccination status. We summarise.

From 00:00 on Saturday and with an, as yet, undefined end date, only people who have an essential reason for travel can enter France from the UK. 

However French citizens and other nationality residents of France are allowed to enter under this rule (it essentially excludes people travelling for tourism, family visits or most work trips). 

Britons living in France are allowed to go to the UK as is their country of nationality and thus allowed under essential travel rules imposed by France for France to UK travel.

Read more: New UK-France restrictions: No tourist visits and quarantine announced

Here we list the tests required for a British person living in France to make a visit to the UK.

Travel from France to UK 

Pre-departure test (obligatory requirement by UK) 

Since December 7, anyone aged 12 or over travelling to the UK from France must take a PCR or antigen test and have a negative result in the two days before their journey begins. 

For those in the French health system and fully vaccinated, Covid tests remain fully reimbursed, with nothing to pay upfront. 

Those who are not fully up to date with their vaccination schedules pay from €22 for an antigen test or €44 for a PCR test. Some pharmacies offer the cheap option of an ‘auto-test’ self-administered under supervision, which costs €12.90.

See this link for more on the options and costs.

We note that the UK states that antigen tests must comply with certain performance standards. These are the same as those it has used previously and The Connexion has not heard reports of any pharmacy antigen tests not being acceptable.

An easy way to find a place to get a Covid-19 test is through the government website sante.fr. 

Select the department you are in and you will see a list of centres.

There is also a map of test centres with the relevant contact details. 

2. Day two test on arrival in the UK (obligatory requirement by UK)

Once you are in the UK you must take another test on or before ‘day two’ (the day of arrival being ‘day zero’), and this time it must be a PCR test (previously, vaccinated people could take an antigen test but this has changed). 

It is best to do so as soon as possible because the latest UK rules state that you must self-isolate until you have a negative result (or until you leave the UK again, if this is earlier). Many airports have test centres at or near the airport.

There are several options for this test, including a test administered by a professional at a test centre, a self-administered test at a centre, and tests that are sent to the place you will be staying for self-administration followed by posting to a lab, usually using a fast next-day special postage.

It is not possible to do a self-administered test at home that is not sent away.

Labs typically say results will be available to you via email in 24-48 hours after they receive the swab.

Quoted costs vary widely, from £15 for a self-swab at certain centres to over £100 for some in-person tests by a professional.

Fully-vaccinated people need only a ‘day two’ test, while those who are not fully vaccinated require both ‘day two’ and ‘day eight’ tests (unless also paying for the option ‘test to release’ from day five, in England).

You need to have booked your UK arrivals’ test/s before travelling to the UK so as to have a booking reference to enter on the Passenger Locator Form that needs to be completed online before travelling to the UK.

Children under 18 count as fully vaccinated regardless of their actual vaccination status, and children under five do not need to take a day two test.

Return travel from UK to France 

3. Pre-departure test (obligatory requirement by France) 

All vaccinated travellers from the UK to France who are aged 12 and over must take a pre-departure test (PCR or antigen) in the 24 hours before their journey begins from December 18. This has been the rule for unvaccinated people for some time.

The French Embassy website states that: "Self-administered tests whose results are not certified by a laboratory (e.g. free tests provided by the NHS) are not authorised for travel. 

“The NHS has stated that it will not carry out any tests for the purposes of travel. People should therefore use private organisations providing a similar service. No specific tests exist which are linked to the new variant identified."

The UK government has a list of private test providers that you might want to use. You should make sure that the company website uses the term ‘fit to fly’ and that they will provide you with certification proving your test result. 

Antigen test results are often available within around half an hour, usually sent on email. They cost around £20-45.

This is a big cost advantage compared to a PCR test which can take up to 48 hours for the result and typically costs around twice as much.

Some pre-departure tests can be ordered to your home and carried out there. However, you will need to make sure that the result will be certified by a professional and that the type of test is appropriate for travel to France.

4. Quarantine (obligatory) and arrival test in France (optional) 

A 10-day self-isolation is required of all arrivals from the UK, regardless of vaccination status. However, this quarantine period can be shortened to 48 hours if the individual takes a further antigen or PCR test and it returns a negative result.

However, the French government has not said whether people will be allowed to break quarantine in order to go out and do a Covid test and have not shared any details of how it might otherwise be done. 

If you are flying into the country, you may be able to go straight to an airport pharmacy when your flight lands to take this test, but this will depend on what is allowed under the terms of your quarantine. 

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