What are the rules for travelling to France after Brexit?

PUBLISHED: 15:34 08 January 2021 | UPDATED: 16:36 26 January 2021

Beautiful Malestroit in Brittany (c) Loic Kersuzan Morbihan Tourisme

Beautiful Malestroit in Brittany (c) Loic Kersuzan Morbihan Tourisme

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Can I visit France without a visa after Brexit? How long can I spend there? Are pet passports and EHIC cards still valid? Do I need an international driving permit? Can I take plants and food to France? Your post-Brexit questions answered

These are the new rules for travelling from the UK to France after Brexit, either as visitors or as British nationals who live there.

They do not take into account any Covid-19 restrictions. For travel information related to coronavirus, please read our latest updates on the current coronavirus situation in France.

Border control

You must now have at least six months left on an adult or child passport to travel to France, unless you live there. If you renewed your passport before the previous one expired, extra months may have been added to its expiry date, but any extra months on your passport over 10 years may not count towards the six months needed. Renew your passport if you do not have enough time left on your passport.

As a non-EEA national, different border checks will apply when travelling to France and other EU or Schengen area countries. You may have to use separate lanes from EU, EEA and Swiss citizens when queueing. You may also need to show a return or onward ticket. At border control, you could be asked to show a return or onward ticket and it is possible you will be asked to provide proof of your accommodation (eg hotel booking) and/or proof of travel insurance. If you live in France, you should carry proof of your residency.

Length of stay

As a visitor, you can travel to France and other countries in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. This is a rolling 180-day period. Imagine you have a calendar and you’re ticking the days that you’ll spend in France this year. No 180-day period, no matter what the start date, can contain more than 90 days in the Schengen Zone. This online calculator should help you work out your short-stay visits.

France’s European Affairs minister Clément Beaune reportedly said in December that France might be prepared to offer a more generous visa-free allowance than three months in every six months but that the UK government currently had “little appetite” for negotiating on this point. For the time being, at least, the 90-day rule stands and British passports may be stamped with the date of entry and exit so that border officials can check that visitors don’t overstay.

The only option for second home owners who wish, for example, to stay in France for the warmest six months of the year, is to apply for a temporary long-stay visa. This may be a cumbersome process, however. Stays in France authorised by a visa or work permit do not count towards your 90-day allowance.

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Healthcare

Some good news is that the Brexit deal did include a reciprocal healthcare scheme to enable British travellers visiting the EU and EU visitors to the UK to get medically necessary healthcare for a reduced cost or for free. So, if you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), it will still be valid, and when it runs out you will be able to apply for its new equivalent – the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). The card is free and available from the NHS.

If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the NHS Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 191 218 1999 to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate. The EHIC/GHIC does not cover ongoing medical treatment, non-urgent treatment or medical repatriation, so make sure you have appropriate travel insurance with health cover as well.

Driving

As a result of an 11th-hour agreement in the Brexit deal, the vast majority of UK motorists won’t need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in France or any other EU country, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, as long as they have a photocard driving licence issued in the UK.

However, the government has clarified that if you have only an old paper licence and not one of the newer laminated cards, then you may need an international driving permit. These cost £5.50 and are available from the Post Office.

If you are taking your own vehicle to France, you will need a GB sticker (even if your number plate is already marked GB) and a green card providing proof of vehicle insurance. Request this from your insurer at least six weeks before travel.

According to motoring title Auto Express, it can be useful to have an international driving permit anyway as they are written in multiple languages, making it easier for car hire firms and police officers to recognise you as a licensed driver.

Travelling with pets

Pets must be microchipped and have up-to-date vaccinations, including for rabies.

EU pet passports issued previously in the UK are no longer valid for travel to France or other EU countries. Instead, the main document you need if you intend to travel to France and then come back to the UK is the Animal Health Certificate (AHC).

This can be acquired only from an official vet and must be issued no more than 10 days before you leave the UK. Pet owners are urged to contact their vet well in advance to make sure this can be arranged. Your animal health certificate will then be valid for four months and can be used to travel between EU countries and in the UK.

There is no fixed cost for animal health certificates but we have seen quotes for £100-£120.

Customs control

You are not allowed to take meat or meat products to France apart from fish or fish products (up to a maximum of 20kg). You are not allowed to take milk, cheese, yoghurt or other milk-based products except for infant milk, infant food or food required by humans or pets for medical reasons. However, you are allowed to take eggs (if avian flu restrictions allow), egg products and honey into the country.

What about fruit, vegetables and plants? Soil and other substrates, vine plants, citrus fruits and seed potatoes (for planting) are strictly prohibited.

Bananas, coconuts, pineapples, dates and durian fruit are allowed. All other plants and plant products, including fresh (and chilled) fruit, vegetables (including ginger), firewood, plants (including flowers and seeds) fall into a grey area. In principle, they are allowed as long as you present them at customs with a phytosanitary (plant health) certificate proving their provenance and attesting they are free from certain pests and diseases.

However, in practice, it is complicated and expensive to get hold of this paperwork and probably not worth it for members of the public unless they are absolutely determined to take the items across the border.

A spokesman for the Royal Horticultural Society said phytosanitary certificates are not issued by retailers to customers, so people would have to contact their relevant plant health authority for advice before submitting samples for laboratory testing to ensure they are free of pests and diseases. For information visit the UK government’s website on exporting plants and plant products.

For more information on French customs arrangements, see this flyer and this flyer.

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