Returning to the UK from France- requirements and rules

Planning a trip to Europe in 2021? Confused by the rules about travel to and from the UK, and what you need to do and organise when returning to the UK from France in terms of paperwork requirements and quarantine rules in order to cross the border? Here's our experience.

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Returning to the UK from France

I've been undecided about whether to write this post or not because, as soon as I write it, there's a high chance the rules will change and it will become out of date.

So, let me start with this caveat: this is my experience of crossing from France to England (with a dog) in May 2021. I hope that this recap is helpful, but I cannot guarantee that the rules have not changed since I travelled, nor that you will have the same experience (or even if it is still legal to cross from France to the UK or vice versa!) Please check the most up-to-date travel guidelines from the UK government here.

Also, whilst I believe most parts of the UK are similar in what they require, there have been some differences in the past. My experience was for travel to stay in England- if you are travelling to another country in the UK please check the guidelines using the link above.

Also, this post is for travel FROM France TO England. We haven't gone back the other way yet, so can't comment on that, but you can use the link above to see the current Government guidelines for leaving the UK. Also, check out the ‘reopen EU' app (which is free to download). You can put in your departure country, transit countries and destination and the app will give you details of border requirements for land, sea and air.

Lastly- nothing here is meant to encourage anyone to break, bend or twist the rules for travel as set by the current Government guidelines. Please stay safe and help others to do so too.

Right, with that out of the way, let's begin with the specifics.


Understanding the tiers

There are currently 3 different tiers of countries- Red, Amber and Green. There are different rules in place for when you travel into the UK depending on which tier the country you have been visiting is in. Here are the current lists.

Also, they are only interested in the country(ies) you have visited 10 days before entering the UK. My experience was from France, which at the time was an Amber country.

If you have visited a country on the red list 10 days or less before entering the UK, at the time of writing you can only enter if you are a UK national/ resident AND you pay to quarantine in a COVID hotel.


Travelling from France to the UK- things to do

Before I travelled from France to the UK, it felt a bit like a military operation- trying to organise everything which needed to be done and get it done in the right timeframe.

Here's the order I recommend to do everything:

  • Book your exact travel time from France to the UK
  • Book your PCR-COVID-19 test in France or the country you are in (to be done within 72 hours of reaching the UK border)
  • Book your dog vet tapeworm appointment (to be 1-5 days before travel)
  • Order your UK COVID tests to be delivered to your place of quarantine
  • Get the registration numbers of these UK covid tests (needed for your Passenger Locator Form)
  • Complete your passenger locator form (can only be done 48 hours before reaching the UK border)
  • Print out EVERYTHING
  • Have a large glass of wine or a cool beer- you've earned it. (Unless you're driving of course!)

Watch the video about returning to the UK from France

Prefer videos to reading? No problem- here's the video with everything you need to know from when we returned to the UK from France in May 2021.

Returning to the UK from France- what you need to do.

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PCR COVID-19 test

One of the most important things you need before being able to cross the border is proof of a negative COVID test. You must go for this test within 72 hours of reaching the UK border… which is not as easy as it sounds.

In France, they have a type of place called a Laboratoire. This is where you get blood tests and other fun tests your doctor requests to be done. Each major town has at least one Laboratoire and cities can have multiple. It's unlikely you'll find them in smaller towns and very rarely in villages- you're looking for big settlements. You can also get them done at some pharamacies. There is some information here to help you find and book places.

(On a side note, this will DEFINITELY count as an ‘urban area', so if you're travelling in a motorhome over 3.5 tonnes, don't forget to display your blind spot warning stickers!)

In order to book, you'll need to contact the laboratoire or pharmacy (I recommend at least a week before you need the test) and book to have your test within the time window. Make sure they know it is a test for travel (‘pour voyage') so that they put it on the fast track.

Despite their faults with many, many other parts of the pandemic, the French testing system worked incredibly well. My test was booked for 10.20am and I had the results on my email by 5pm that same day!

To get the test, I needed:

  • proof of id (passport or Carte de Sejour)
  • payment/ French healthcare card
  • email address and phone number

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Tests needed for a dog

While we're talking about tests, you'll be pleased to know that travelling with a dog from France to the UK hasn't changed- they still need to visit a vet 1-5 days before travel in order to get a tapeworm tablet and your passport or Animal Health Certificate stamped. (It's going from the UK to France where the rules have changed- read our guide on travelling with your dog to Europe here.)


Returning to the UK from France- Paperwork needed for travel

Ok, brace yourself. This took a while- both for me to get my head around and to actually do.

Book UK COVID-19 tests for Day 2 and Day 8

First, you need to book and pay for your UK Covid-19 tests. These are the tests you do on Day 2 and Day 8 (unless you pay for early test to release on Day 5.) These must be done by a private clinic- you're not allowed to use the NHS. They cost around £240- yes, per person.

The government has a list of clinics here on its website. We used the Walcote Practice in Winchester. We are in no way affiliated with them, but they were very helpful and easy to speak with on the phone when we had questions or when our daughter's tests went missing and we had to order new ones.

NOTE: You MUST complete Day 2 AND Day 8 tests, even if the first one is negative. Seriously, the fine for missing Day 8 is huge. Also, the day you arrive in the UK is Day 0.

I believe there is talk about dropping the tests to Day 2 and Day 5- please check current guidelines.


Passenger Locator Form

Once you've booked these, you need the reference numbers of these tests to complete your Passenger Locator Form online here.

This must be completed within 48 hours of travel.

To complete the form, you will need:

  • your passport details or the travel document you’ll use when you arrive at the UK border
  • your travel details, including times and dates
  • the address where you will stay in the UK (if applicable)
  • booking reference numbers for any COVID-19 tests you must take after arriving in the UK
  • the invoice number for your quarantine hotel booking if you need one

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Useful things to know about the Passenger Locator Form:

  • Each adult must complete their own form.
  • You can include someone under 18 years old (under 16 in Scotland) who is travelling with you on your form, if you are staying together at the same UK address
  • You do not need to complete the passenger locator form or book COVID-19 tests if you’re travelling from Ireland, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man, and you were there for 10 days or more:
  • You do not have to complete the form if your job means you’re exempt.

If any of your information changes after you have submitted your form, for example your travel times or contact information, you must complete a new form.

Print things out

Once you've completed the form, you need to start printing. Both the French and the UK borders wanted documents printed out, not stored on a phone or laptop. You will need a printed copy of:

  • Your negative PCR COVID-19 test (I recommend printing at least 2 copies of this in case the border wants to keep one)
  • Your completed Passenger locator form (again, worth printing at least 2 of this)
  • A visa (if you need one to enter the UK- UK residents or citizens do not normally need a visa)

Other things to remember- now that the UK is not in the EU, there is a duty-free limit. See how much alcohol/ tobacco/ cash etc you can carry here.


Returning to the UK from France- Crossing the border

To be honest, after all that paperwork, the actual experience of travelling wasn't as bad as I expected. I was asked lots of questions, both at the French and UK borders, about my reason for travel, where I was going and who I would be interacting with. But nothing unexpected.

On the ferry from Caen to Portsmouth (which sadly had closed its pet friendly cabins at the time) masks were strictly enforced and you could only travel if you booked a cabin. Also, they brought people down to their vehicles by either a colour system or by floor number of your cabin, so there weren't too many people milling around. I believe the restaurant was open, but the bar and shops were closed, although I didn't use any of the facilities at all and stayed in the cabin for the duration. Poor Mac had to stay in the vehicle for the first time ever, which wasn't our first choice, but he was ok.

Once back in the UK, most people will need to quarantine, usually at home. Here are the current guidelines on how to do that.

The Day 2 and Day 8 testing kit was easy to use and understand and I got the results by email within 24 hours of posting the test, which was really impressive. Be sure to use a PRIORITY post box to make sure your kit gets to the centre in a timely manner- you can find your closest one here.


And that was that. Was it a faff? Yes. Is it necessary to take precautions? Definitely.

In my opinion, the UK has done such a fantastic job vaccinating people (especially compared to the rest of Europe), that it's important to be extra careful when travelling from any other country.

Again, this was my experience in May 2021. How long the above will be valid for is unclear, but I hope you found it useful.

Stay safe!


Planning a UK Staycation instead? Here are some posts you might find useful:

Want more Europe travel tips? See our Europe travel section here

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