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Reader question: Can I travel between Spain and the UK via France?

With flight cancellations and travel restrictions, many of our readers have been asking if it's possible to drive between Spain and the UK, going via France. Here's what you need to know.

Reader question: Can I travel between Spain and the UK via France?
Image: Larisa Koshkina/Pixabay

******* Here is an updated version of this article from May 21st 2021********

Question: We want to go from Spain to the UK but it’s proving very difficult, can we drive and go via France instead?

The short answer to this question is that it may be possible in some circumstances, but don’t expect it to be easy – it will require plenty of PCR tests, forms, restrictions and extra expense.

From Spain

If driving from Spain, the first step is assessing whether you are allowed to travel out of your region or even your municipality, as movement in many areas is severely restricted.

For example, Catalonia has closed its borders and travel within the region is only allowed within different comarcas, not between them.  Andalusia has also closed its borders, as well as the borders of each province within the region.

To drive between provinces and regions to even get to the French border in the first place, you will need to justify your reasons for travel and have a special form to allow you to pass through. At the moment, the main justifications are for work, for the purposes of study, to seek medical care or because you have to care for dependants.

To make things more complicated, each region seems to have its own forms for you to fill out in order to justify your journey and cross the borders. This is the one you will need to exit Catalonia. 

Before you arrive in France, you’ll need a negative Covid-19 test carried out no more than 72 hours before departure. This must be a PCR test, not one of the rapid-result antigen tests.

You will also need a completed travel certificate from the French authorities – the ‘Attestation’ – explaining the reason for travelling through the country. Like in Spain these are specific such as for work, medical appointments or imperative family-related responsibilities. Be prepared to show proof of your reason to travel as well. 

You must also complete a sworn health declaration, which you can find here. There are different forms for those 11 years old and over and those under.

There is currently a curfew in France running from 6pm to 6am. If you intend to drive within these times then you will need to complete a Travel Exemption Certificate stating your reasons for travelling outside curfew hours.

You can find and download the certificate here. It’s only available in French, but if you want something in English you can download the TousAntiCovid app on your phone and present this to the authorities instead. Failure to have a filled-out form, or breaking curfew for a non-authorised reason, can result in a €135 fine.


Image: Pexels/Pixabay

Shops, apart from large malls, are open in France, so you’ll be able to stop and buy food for your journey, however restaurants and cafés remain closed so if you want something more substantial, you’ll have to get a takeaway.

Some hotels remain open, so if you need to stop overnight along the way, this will be possible.

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces in France, as well as in the street for 400 towns, which includes all of the larger French cities.

When you arrive at the ports, you may find limited ferry availability. P&O Ferries are currently running services between Dover and Calais, check their Twitter page for updates on schedules. Brittany Ferries are only running one weekly service between Cherbourg and Portsmouth, however there may be more routes starting in March 2021.

Before arrival in the UK you must fill out a passenger locator form. You must also buy a travel testing package costing £210. This pays for you to get a Covid-19 test on day two and day eight of quarantining. The test package must be booked before you start your journey. Full details can be found here

When you arrive at the UK border, you’ll be asked to show another negative PCR test, no older than three days and when you finally reach your destination, you’ll need to quarantine for a total of 10 days. For the moment, neither Spain nor France are on the UK’s ‘red list’ so you can quarantine at home.

From the UK

If all this wasn’t complicated enough, driving to Spain from the UK will prove even trickier. 

Entering France from any non-EU country requires a vital reason for travel from a pretty short list. If you have residency in France or Spain, however, you are allowed to return home but be prepared to show proof of your residency status with a residency card or visa, plus tickets from your outward journey. This exemption does not apply to second home owners.

France has a quarantine in place for non-EU arrivals, but this does not apply to people transitting through France.

Once you leave the UK and enter France, you’ll have to show another negative PCR test and the same health declaration and travel certificate as described above.

Once you get to the Spanish border, you’ll again have to show a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours, as well as your green residency card or TIE and any valid reasons for travel, plus travel forms if you are going to or across a region that has travel restrictions. 

READ ALSO: LATEST: These are the updated Covid-19 rules for regions across Spain

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FACT CHECK: Do residents still need Covid documents to travel back to Spain?

Spain has dropped most Covid-19 restrictions, but do foreign residents in Spain travelling back to the Spanish territory from an EU or non-EU country still need to show proof of vaccination, testing or recovery in September and October 2022?

FACT CHECK: Do residents still need Covid documents to travel back to Spain?

The Covid-19 pandemic no longer dominates daily life or travel in Spain.

In recent days, the Spanish government has scrapped the Spth health control form for all travellers and soon it will stop carrying out temperature and visual checks on non-EU arrivals

That’s not to say that all of Spain’s Covid-19 travel restrictions have been lifted. Non-EU tourists still need to show Covid-19 documents to be allowed into Spain, and on planes that are bound for Spain passengers must wear face masks

But how about for foreign residents in Spain who are travelling back to the Spanish territory after a holiday abroad or a visit to their country of origin? 

For example, would a UK or US national who legally resides in Spain and who has just spent a couple of weeks back in their country of origin need to show proof of vaccination, testing or recovery when they arrived back in Spain?

The question is not so much whether you’re a resident in Spain, but rather which country you’re travelling to Spain from. 

If it’s a non-EU/Schengen country, then you technically have to show Covid documents. If you’re completely unvaccinated or more than 270 days have passed since your last Covid-19 vaccine, you’ll need to present proof of a negative PCR or antigen test. That’s irregardless of whether you’re a Spanish national or foreign resident in Spain. 

Do residents still need Covid documents to travel back to Spain
Screenshot from travelsafe.spain.info showing how an unvaccinated UK national who is resident in Spain needs to get a Covid test before arrival in Spain if travelling from a non-EU country such as the United Kingdom.

If on the other hand you’re returning to Spain from another EU/Schengen country, then you will not have to show a Covid-19 certificate or equivalent document. Again, that’s irregardless of whether you’re a Spanish national, a resident of Spain (EU or non-EU national) or even a non-EU tourist who was already in the EU/Schengen Area before visiting Spain.

do residents need covid documents to travel back to spain
Screenshot from travelsafe.spain.info showing how an unvaccinated US national who is resident in Spain doesn’t need to show Covid documents or get tested before arrival in Spain if travelling from another EU country.
 

This is according to Spain’s travelsafe.spain.info website, where on its homepage section there is a section which allows you to choose “origin” (city/country you’re travelling from), your nationality and your vaccination status. 

When you fill in the categories and click through, it tells you whether or not you need to get a Covid-19 test. 

It also states your country of residence, even though you’re not given the option of filling this in (although, we reiterate, residence isn’t what counts). 

Are Spanish airport officials still rigorously checking the Covid documents of arrivals from outside of the EU/Schengen Area? No. 

Whether or not you get asked is up to chance. Some travellers have said they have been asked to show proof, whereas others have not.

“I went to the United Kingdom, vaccinated with the third dose more than 290 days ago (20 days over), so I needed a negative diagnostic test to return to Spain. I got a PCR in London, it cost me €80, and in Barcelona I didn’t even get asked for it”, one Spanish national wrote on Twitter.

Keep in mind as well that if you’re travelling back to Spain from a non-EU country, but you have a layover in another EU/Schengen country first before reaching Spain, it will be that country’s rules that apply in terms having to show Covid-19 documents. You will already have entered the EU/Schengen Area before reaching your final destination (Spain), so you will not be asked to provide proof of Covid certificates when you land in Spain.

Is there a risk of being refused entry as a resident if you don’t have any Covid-19 documents upon arrival in Spain and you get asked to provide them? 

The worst-case scenario is that you will be required to take a Covid test there and then at the airport. Spain has allowed legal Spanish residents (whether they’re EU or non-EU nationals) to return home to Spain even at the worst stages of the pandemic when travel was heavily restricted.

So, if you’re travelling back to Spain as a resident from a non-EU country, what Covid proof do you technically have to be able to show? Only one of the following:

  • A Covid-19 vaccination certificate – Your vaccination status must meet the Spanish authorities’ validity period requirements. If more than 270 days have passed since your initial vaccination, you need to show proof of a booster shot.
  • A negative Covid-19 test – This should be either a PCR taken within 72 hours prior to departure, or an antigen test, taken within 24 hours prior to departure. 
  • A recovery certificate – This must be dated within the last six months. You can use a medical certificate or recovery record to prove your Covid-19 status. 

You can prove the above by showing a digital or paper certificate issued by the relevant authorities of the country in which you were vaccinated. If you were vaccinated in Spain, this can be Spain’s EU Digital COVID Certificate.

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