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Covid Travel Restrictions in France: 10 Things You Should Know (2021)

After my wonderful experience entering Germany last month, I decided: why not give France a go? As one of the first American tourists in Europe, I was a little hesitant to travel from one European country to another at first – until I realized how easy it was.

I spent the week sailing along the French Riviera and the Cote D’azur and I can tell you one thing – life is finally returning to normal. Well, the “new normal”, whatever that is.

Restaurants had just reopened in June when I went, and there were a lot of people excited to get back out there. Nightlife was bustling, beaches were hopping, and there was that general sense of relief. People were happy.

I’m happy too. It felt great to be back on that side of the planet. So here are 10 things you need to know before you start your journey to France.

Related: Traveling Across Europe as an American in 2021: The Ultimate Guide

1) The United States is still on the green list in France

You may have heard that the European Union recommended that Americans should be banned from nonessential travel to its member states after a rise in Covid-19 cases in the United States.

Fortunately, this stands as little more than a recommendation – it’s not mandatory.

And as of September 1st, the United States is still found of the list of “green” countries on the France Diplomacy/Foreign Affairs official website.

So (for now) Americans can still enter France – vaccinated or not.

2) You might have to be vaccinated to enter France from outside Europe

Unless you are traveling from a country on the green list (such as the United States or the Schengen area), you will need to be vaccinated to enter France for non-essential reasons.

Those arriving into France from green countries do not need to be vaccinated for Covid-19, but they have to meet other restrictions.

3) France’s travel restrictions depend on where you’re coming from

The restrictions depend on where you’re arriving from;

Every country within the European Space is a “green country”, which means that unvaccinated people can enter – as long as they meet the test or recovery requirements. Watch out, the test time requirements do vary – even between green countries, so make sure to check before getting tested.

  • You may enter from orange and red countries only if vaccinated – unless you have “pressing grounds” (students, transport workers, diplomatic business) to enter.

4) Borders aren’t as easy as they used to be

Border control in Marseille, France in June 2021 during Covid-19 protocols.
On my arrival in Marseille, France, all passengers had to go through the “All Passports” line even though we were arriving from Germany.

I’ve had all sorts of different experiences as an airline pilot traveling to 30 countries during Covid-19 and I didn’t know what to expect when I got to France.

Before boarding, the ticketing agents and gate agents both verified my Covid vaccine certificate. I thought this meant I’d be done with the checks and good to go.

To my surprise, I had to go through customs once again entering France – even though I was coming from within Europe!

This ended up being another check of my documents, including vaccine records or Covid-test, to make sure I was allowed to enter.

The line was long, but it went by quickly. It wasn’t really a check for anything apart from meeting France’s travel requirements. No stamps or anything – just a quick glance at my passport and CDC card and I was let through.

5) You can use your CDC-issued vaccine card to enter – with a catch

So far, I’ve been able to use my CDC-issued vaccination card all around Europe with no problems.

France has unofficially accepted the CDC card via a tweet from the French Consulate General in Washington. In my experience entering France, Germany, Spain, and Belgium, I had no issues using the CDC vaccine card.

However, it may just be easier to apply for the French “Health Pass”.

France’s Health Pass allows you entry into museums, restaurants, and other public venues. To get one, you either have to be vaccinated or obtain a Covid test every 3 days.

Though I’ve had no issues entering public venues using my paper CDC vaccination card, there has been some initial confusion in places where people were unfamiliar with them. You may want to avoid the risk of being denied entry by applying for the health pass.

To obtain a health pass, France has established an online system that is super easy to use. Just create an account, upload a copy of your vaccine card, and you’ll receive a Health Pass QR code by e-mail. You can use this QR code anywhere you go.

You can also walk into a local pharmacy with your CDC vaccine card to apply for the Health Pass.

6) It’s super easy to get a Covid test in France

The santé.fr website is the easiest way to find a covid-19 test in France.
The easiest way to find a covid testing center in France: Sante.fr

The first thing you should know is to ask for a “test antigenique”, or antigen test. This is the kind of test you’ll need to return to the United States.

The second thing to know is that pharmacies around the country have them available. PCR tests cost €49.00 and antigen tests cost €29.00.

You can find most of the Covid testing sites on the French “depistage” website. “Depistage” means screening, so if you see “Depistage Covid-19“, jackpot. You’ve found a testing center.

There is one pitfall to watch out for – you may need to schedule your test ahead. I had luck showing up in the morning to schedule an afternoon time slot, but you can also call ahead.

7) Daily new Covid-19 cases are falling in France

As you can see, daily new cases are already on the way down in France – and never met the levels seen in the previous waves, even with much greater testing. Source: worldometers.com

For those worried about catching the latest variant of Covid-19, fret not.

Travel has already repeatedly proven to be one of the safest activities during Covid-19. And if you’re wearing a good face mask, your chances of catching Covid-19 while traveling are close to zero.

On top of that, the daily new cases in France are already on their way down, following the same rhythm we’ve seen in the preceding waves. This presents less opportunities to catch Covid-19 in the first place.

These numbers hopefully should be an indication of what’s to come here in the United States, where cases have returned to extremely high levels.

Time will tell.

8) The health restrictions in France aren’t too obtrusive

It's super easy to get a Covid test in France.
A pharmacy offering Covid tests with 15minute results, right in the heart of Nimes.

In general, I found that life in France felt pretty normal.

According to gouvernment.fr,

  • You have to wear masks in indoor public spaces (shops, offices, schools etc) and on public transport.
  • You don’t need to wear a mask in places where a health pass is required, such as restaurants and museums. 
  • If you are outside you do not need to wear a mask except in places where social distancing is not possible.

Apart from having to show the QR code from your health pass to enter most public spaces, life is bustling and mostly back to normal.

9) There are restrictions for leaving France

This is something I never experienced in my year traveling to over 30 countries during Covid-19: travel restrictions for leaving a country.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you actually have to obtain a certificate to travel to any country on the orange or red list – and have, once again, “pressing grounds” to travel.

This does not apply if you are returning to your country of residence or nationality – or any country on the green list.

10) There are a ton of flights to the French Riviera – Cote D’Azur

Flying from New York (JFK) to Nice, France (NCE) on Delta Air Lines.
The French Pyrénées provide for amazing scenery on the flight from JFK to Nice.

Though it may seem that international flights have been much harder to find since DCovid-19 started, France has proven to be the exception.

Since July, Delta Air Lines has been operating a direct flight from New York (JFK) to Nice, France (NCE).

This means you can head right to the French Riviera and enjoy amazing cities like Nice, Cannes, Monaco, or even Antibes – minutes from arriving in France.

I’ve taken this flight several times. It’s on the newly retrofitted Boeing 767-400ER, which provides for an awesome 7-8 hour flight across the pond.

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