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Travel between France and UK: Three Covid tests now needed

Concerns over the new Omicron variant have brought back obligatory tests on both sides; we explain the requirements and costs

Several Covid tests are now required for UK-France travel Pic: SeventyFour / Shutterstock

From 4:00 tomorrow (Tuesday December 7) anyone arriving in the UK from France will need to arrive with a negative Covid test, bringing the number of tests required for most trips between the countries to a total of three.

The situation has therefore returned to similar testing arrangements to those in place a year ago, as opposed to the simpler rules, at least for fully vaccinated people, in place until recently.

The new restrictions are related to concerns about the rise of the new Omicron variant.

Here is a breakdown of the tests you will need.

Read more: How do I get a Covid-19 test in France to return to the UK?

Travelling from France to UK

1. A ‘pre-departure’ negative Covid test taken on the day of departure or the previous two days is required for anyone aged 12 and above before travelling from France into the UK. For example if you travel on a Friday, the test could have been done on the Friday, Thursday or Wednesday.

This can be either a PCR test or an antigen test (test antigénique, also known in the UK as ‘lateral flow’).

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 certain French antigen tests not being acceptable.

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

It is of interest 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.

Read more: Booking a UK Covid test to comply with new France to UK travel rules

The UK government has a list of suggested providers at this link   . 

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 travel to the UK.

Read more: Covid-19: Rules for travel to and from France

Returning to France

3. Anyone aged 12 and over entering France from non-EU countries requires a negative Covid test taken in the 48 hours before departure (24 for coming from the UK for those who are not fully vaccinated). This can either be PCR or antigen (‘lateral flow’).

If you are making only a short trip from France to the UK, and took the ‘day two’ PCR arrival test required by the UK within a 48-hour period of returning to France, and have your negative result, you may not need a third test. You would, however, need to think carefully about the timing of this. It is also possible for a very short trip to use the results of the negative test taken before coming to the UK.

The UK does not give an official suggested list of antigen test providers (or of providers in general for tests for travelling out of the country). However if you are doing an internet search you should look for the term ‘fit to fly’, which is used for tests for those leaving the country to destinations requiring a test, as well as the term ‘lateral flow’. Some of the suggested services for day two and eight tests also offer these.

If you can take your test in London, for example, you will have plenty of choice; if you are visiting a rural part of northern England, the choice will be much more limited and you may have to travel some distance to find a test centre, or alternatively organise your return travel plans to allow time to do a test on the departure day if you will be leaving from a large city with more testing options.

Antigen test results are often available within around half an hour, usually sent on email.

They cost around £20-30.

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

There has been confusion around whether or not tests taken at home are acceptable, as opposed to ones done at a test centre. Wording posted on the website of the French consulate in London about tests was ambiguous about this, and we drew the consulate's attention to this.

Shortly afterwards, on December 7 the website's English-language section was reworded as follows: "Tests whose results are not certified by a laboratory (such as the self-administered tests provided free of charge by the NHS) are not considered valid for travel. The NHS indicates that it will not carry out tests for travel purposes. Private entities offering the same service must therefore be used."

On December 8 one UK test service, C19, which verifies the result from a photo sent by the user, stated in an email: "Our tests are not classed as 'self-administered tests' for the purpose of entry to France because the user does not interpret the test cassette. C19 Testing interprets the results of rapid antigen tests and our lab partner, The Doctor's Laboratory, analyses and interpret the results of our PCR tests. France does not allow the use of tests that are taken and self-reported by the user, such as an NHS test lateral flow test."

We recommend checking with providers that they 'certify' the result and their test is suitable for France. 

Travelling from the UK to France

If you are travelling from the UK to France, all the same steps as described above apply, but the order changes, so you need:

  1. A negative PCR or lateral flow test hours in the 48 hours before leaving for France (required by France)
  2. If returning, a negative PCR or antigen test taken on the day of departure or the previous two days before leaving for the UK. If you are travelling back to the UK within a sufficiently short period of taking the pre-departure test in the UK, you do not need another test (required by UK) 
  3. A day two PCR test (and day eight test if not fully vaccinated) after arrival in the UK (required by UK)

Article updated December 7 and 8 with regard to acceptability of self-administered tests for travel from the UK to France

Previous articles

France imposes Covid test on all non-EU travellers from December 4

Lateral flow pre-departure tests to be accept for UK to France travel 

New Omicron variant: PCR and isolation for arrivals to UK from France 

France-UK travel: Can a day two UK test be delivered to any address?

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