It was reported on Thursday that UK nationals are banned from travelling through France – even if they live in another EU country and need to get home.
However, the situation seems to be slightly more complicated than that.
Since December 18th France has had in place strict rules on travel both to and from the UK, with only those who fit the criteria for essential travel allowed.
You can find the full list of essential reasons HERE, but it bars all tourism, family visits and visits from second-home owners.
UK nationals who live in France are allowed to return home.
Also allowed are “EU nationals who have their main home in France” or who are “in transit through France to their main home in an EU country”.
Since Brexit, this of course no longer includes Brits who live in EU countries.
However also allowed to travel are “UK nationals who benefit from the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement” (ie those who lived in an EU country prior to December 31st 2020).
However it makes no mention made of having to be a permanent resident in France.
The essential motive just says: “British nationals and family members enjoying the provisions of the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community.”
The essential rules also allow for “travellers in transit for less than 24 hours in an international zone”.
So it seems that Brits can indeed transit through France to another EU country of residence.
However, there appears to be an important caveat – how you travel. In other words are you transiting France by air, road or rail?
The transit clause ends with “in an international zone” – which refers to airports – passengers on transit flights do not leave the international zone of the airport and therefore in immigration terms do not enter a country.
The British Embassy in France states that: “UK nationals may only transit France if travelling by air”.
👇Find full details of the French measures here: https://t.co/4EYEbpi7ry
— UK in France (@UKinFrance) December 19, 2021
The French embassy in the UK provided more detail on the rules. It said: “Whatever your nationality, you are authorised to transit through France, in the international zone of an airport (connection between 2 flights) for a maximum of 24 hours
“If you are a national of the European Union, you are authorised to return to your main residence in France or in another European Union country. Your spouse (married, civil partner, cohabiting partner) and children are allowed to travel with you, regardless of their nationality. You must be able to show proof of your main residence at the border.”
So it seems that Brits can travel through France – but only by air.
This must also be a transit flight – ie two flights booked together so that you stay within the international zone at the airport.
So what about by road? We know that many Brits and their families travelled to the UK by car for Christmas passing through France and crossing the Channel either by boat or Channel Tunnel.
On Thursday Eurotunnel alerted travellers to an apparent update to the way French border police were enforcing the travel rules by warning Brits could “no longer transit France by road to reach their country of residence in the EU.”
URGENT UPDATE FOR BRITISH RESIDENTS IN EU: Following a French Government decision, on 28/12/2021, unless they hold French residency, British citizens are now considered 3rd country citizens and can no longer transit France by road to reach their country of residence in the EU. pic.twitter.com/KGNr3FpWM2
— Eurotunnel Le Shuttle (@LeShuttle) December 29, 2021
This naturally sparked anger and confusion, not least among those Brits who were now stuck in the UK.
It also prompted British authorities and media sites including The Local to contact the French government and ask for urgent clarification on behalf of our readers.
Initially a French Interior Ministry official told the AFP news agency it had not changed its list of “compelling” reasons enabling Britons to travel to France, but had clarified their application this month by border police.
“It seems logical to consider them like all other third-country citizens, and to not allow their transit toward another EU country,” the official told AFP, asking not to be named.
Speculation grew that the French government was set to make a U-turn and in the end the announcement came early on Thursday evening.
France suspended the transit ban for Brits heading to EU countries by road over the Christmas holidays.
Although the French government stood by the actual ban it said it would allow a period of tolerance to allow those who had travelled from to the UK via France to return home. It did not state when this period of tolerance would end.
“Faced with this situation, instructions of tolerance have been sent to police officers at the borders with the United Kingdom, in order to allow these nationals to transit through France to reach their residence in a country of the European Union, after this Christmas and New Year period,” read the statement given to The Local by the French government.
British travellers are advised to carry with them proof of having travelled to the UK prior to December 31st.
So as it stands – and bear in mind things can change quickly and certain border guards may have their own interpretation – Brits can only transit France to other countries by air, however over the festive period they can do so by road and rail as well.
We would advise people who plan to travel to the UK from December 31st not to rely on the period of tolerance – it seems that your only option is to get a transit flight.
We will bring you all the latest news and information if this changes.