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TRAVEL NEWS

Will travel to and from France be open this Christmas?

Many people are now making Christmas plans - but will rapidly rising Covid cases in Europe lead to more travel restrictions over the festive season?

French border at Gare du Nord
Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

Covid cases are surging in many countries across Europe, leading to the introduction of new restrictions in many places.

France is, for the moment, seeing a smaller resurgence than many of its neighbours, and government spokesman Gabriel Attal has said that the new wave “can be managed without extra restrictions”.

But even if France manages to contain cases through its high vaccination rate and use of the health pass, what is the likelihood of extra travel restrictions over Christmas?

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Within the EU/Schengen zone

Current rule – travel within the EU and Schengen zone is at present largely unrestricted for fully vaccinated travellers, with most countries requiring only proof of vaccination to enter. The EU digital travel pass means that vaccination QR codes are accepted throughout the EU so travellers from France can use the TousAntiCovid app at the border and don’t require any extra paperwork.

Unvaccinated travellers need to show a negative Covid test to enter most EU countries, but there are no further restrictions such as quarantine or proof of essential travel.

New restrictions? – Since the introduction in July of the EU digital vaccine pass, travel has been pretty seamless within the Bloc and there seems little appetite for reintroducing travel rules.

Even Germany, which is bringing in new domestic restrictions as it struggles under huge case numbers, has not proposed any restriction on travel from within the EU. 

The UK

Current rule – The UK is on France’s orange list so while fully vaccinated people can enter France showing only proof of vaccination, unvaccinated people can only travel if they meet the criteria for essential travel.

Going the other way, vaccinated people can enter the UK from France for any reason, but must still pay for a Covid test to be taken two days after arrival. Unvaccinated people can enter, but must quarantine and pay for two Covid tests. Find a full breakdown of the rules HERE.

New restrictions? – In contrast to much of Europe, the UK has shown a decline in cases in recent weeks, but that’s a decline from sky-high levels of cases over the late summer and autumn.

British PM Boris Johnson made an announcement last week saying: “I’m seeing the storm clouds gathering over parts of the European continent. And I’ve got to be absolutely frank with people: we’ve been here before. We remember what happens when the wave starts rolling in.”

This doesn’t really tally with the facts, but the political rhetoric could be paving the way for new travel restrictions on arrivals from the EU. 

Covid cases remain more than twice as high in the UK as in France, but the UK’s travel rules don’t always appear to be driven by logic – it has previously imposed travel restrictions such as quarantine on countries with significantly lower Covid rates.

On the French side several politicians have mentioned the worryingly high rates of Covid in the UK, including the tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, but if rates in the UK continue to plateau or fall then extra restrictions seem unlikely.

Outside the EU 

Current rules – France operates a traffic light travel system and while the whole of the EU and Schengen zone are green, other countries are graded according to the latest Covid situation. Find the latest on the traffic light system HERE.

New restrictions? – Most recent travel restrictions have tended to focus on non-EU countries and France’s red and orange lists for travel have been updated multiple times over the summer and autumn.

Travel from both red and orange list countries is largely banned for unvaccinated people, apart from certain types of essential travel. The USA was moved from the green to the orange list in early autumn.

The traffic light travel list appears to be here to stay and offers France the flexibility to react the Covid outbreaks in individual countries. It therefore seems unlikely that we will see blanket travel bans reintroduced.

If you’re fully vaccinated you can travel even from red list countries without having to quarantine.

Whether other non-EU countries impose extra restrictions on France remains to be seen but France is, for the moment, enjoying a better situation than neighbours like Germany or Belgium, so would probably not be the first country to have extra restrictions imposed. 

Member comments

  1. Responsibilites has its rewards, I love to travel so I got vaccinated, those who wish not to, thats up to them, I cast no ill will towards them, and take my own safety in my own hands, masks do not bother me during visits to stores and such, after these last two years I am ready to explore my world again. Just hoping the world does not shut down again. covid sucks.

  2. The French health pass is going to require over 65s to have a booster six months after the second dose. Does this affect travel to France and when? How can anyone who has a booster in the UK evidence it as it does not yet appear on the NHS vacinnation certificate for travel.

  3. What happens when U.K. visitors over 65 are unable to get proof of their boosters? Especially as to visit a cafe or restaurant in France after the 15th December it will be necessary to have proof of the 3rd vaccination?

  4. Had my booster jab back in UK this weekend but was told there are no plans to link it to the NHS app. So it won’t be possible to link to the French App. Really you can’t make it up…

    1. I’ve seen a Sky News title today that the booster is now on the NHS app, but tried to see it an the app was crashed…so maybe wait a bit to see if it appears there. Also, you have it in Medicines tab of the app (but w/o a QR code)

        1. Just checked again and the Booster is there with a QR code!!! And I got my booster this past Wednesday, so that is brilliant!

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For members

TOURISM

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Amid accusations of racism at fancy seaside resorts and legal controversies surrounding US statesmen, we take a look at the law surrounding private beaches in France.

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Question: I read that all beaches in France are public property, but down here on the Riviera there are a lot of ‘private beaches’ – how do the rules actually work?

In France, everyone has the right to a dip in the ocean, though it might not seem that way when walking through certain areas.

There are 1,500 of these “private beaches” in France – the vast majority of them located on the Côte d’Azur.

They have become a source of controversy recently, after two private beaches in Juan-les-Pins were accused of racism and discrimination following an investigation and video circulated by French media Loopsider. The video (below) shows how a white couples receive different treatment than North African or Black couples.

So what are these ‘private beaches’ and are they even legal in France?

In reality, none of these beachfront hotels, resorts or beach operators actually own that land, as the sea and the beach are considered ‘public maritime’ and are therefore the domain of the French state.

This means that technically there are no private beaches in France, as no one is supposed to be allowed to own the beach, though there are some caveats to that rule.

Since 1986, the State has been able to grant ‘concessions’ to allow for parts of the beach to be temporarily rented. Thus, hotels, resorts or beach operators can request a temporary rental of the beach for a specific period of time – the maximum duration being twelve years, which is renewable. If the local town hall agrees, then the renter will pay a fee (typically between €15,000 and €100,000 per year). 

This might seem like a de facto way of allowing beaches to be privatised, but the few who manage to ‘rent the beach’ are still subject to some constraints. For instance, they are only allowed to occupy the beach for six months of the year (sometimes this can be extended up to eight months with the permission of the town hall, or twelve months in less common circumstances).

At the end of the season, they are required to dismantle their installations, so permanent private structures on the beach are therefore not allowed.

So you might see a waterfront resort, but they do not technically have ownership over the beach.

What about private deckchairs or sun beds next to the water? 

This is another rule that is not always perfectly respected. Legally, any organisation that rents a part of the beach is required to leave a strip of “significant width” along the sea.

This is usually about three to five metres from the high tide mark, where members or the public can walk along the water or bring down their own towels or deck chairs down to the beach.

If a ‘private beach’ has deck chairs or sun-loungers right up against the water, there is a good chance the renting organisation is not following the rules.

Beachfront property

As the public has the right to be able to access the beach, homeowners are not allowed to block passage and can even incur fines for doing so. 

The public must be able to pass through land to get to the beach, and cannot be blocked from the beach in front of a property.

Public access to the beach came into the spotlight due to a controversy surrounding a property of former American presidential candidate and statesman, John Kerry.

Kerry’s family owns a villa in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer in Brittany, and has fought a three-decade legal battle to be able to block the coastal trail on the property, which by French law, should be accessible to the public. 

Despite the family siting potential ‘security threats’ should the beach front path be open to the public, local authorities backed plans to continue allowing public access in 2019.

What about building a waterfront property?

First, keep in mind that building in general in France is a heavily regulated process that requires planning permission.

You will not be able to build within 100 metres of the shoreline. If you buy a pre-existing coastal property, you will need to remember the three-metre rule discussed above and, as the Kerry family discovered, you are not allowed to block public access to the beach. 

For ‘coastal zones’ specifically, there are more strict regulations and most plots of land by the sea are listed as protected natural areas, and therefore are not allowed to be built on.

Can access to the beach ever be forbidden?

Yes, as per the Coastal Law of 1986, local authorities can forbid access to the beach for “security, national defence or environmental protection.” During the Covid lockdowns several local authorities banned access to beaches to avoid illicit partying.

There are also several rules about what you are allowed to do – and not to do – while visiting French beaches, and some of them might surprise you. 

READ MORE: The little-known French beach rule that could net you a €1,500 fine

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