Know Before You Go: France and COVID-19
During my June-July France trip, followers and friends from around the world all asked me the same question: "France looks amazing! But what's it like in terms of COVID restrictions?"
The answer is simple: it looks a lot like America. After a slow start, France is catching up on vaccination rates quickly (at the time of writing this, July 5, 2021, about 50% of the population has had at least the first shot). However, France has socialized healthcare and generally stricter government regulations, which means that certain things that have fallen by the wayside in the United States are still in effect. Read on for a breakdown.
This part was by far the simplest. Like most European countries, France has a huge tourism and hospitality industry that was decimated by the pandemic. As a result, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal are pretty lax in terms of entry. As long as you have your vaccination card and your passport, you're pretty much good to go. If you're not vaccinated, you'll need a negative COVID test taken within the last 72 hours (or a negative antigen test from the last 48 hours). You might also need an attestation de déplacement - this is essentially just a signed form that confirms you have not knowingly been in contact with someone who has COVID in the last 2 weeks. They didn't check mine, but I had it anyway in both English and French just to be safe. I recommend following Atout France, the French tourism agency, on LinkedIn or Twitter to keep up to date. They're constantly sharing updates about travel restrictions and changes for Americans (unlike the state department, which is three weeks behind on a good day).
On the way out, Newark (my airport of choice) was a mess. Flight crews and airport employees were confused, gates were changing often, and they were adding random stickers to boarding passes to keep track of regulations, which inevitably didn't work and didn't change a thing. Once I got out of the U.S. and onto the plane, though, it was smooth sailing.
If you are staying in Paris or another metropolitan city, masks are still required when you visit boutiques, shops, malls, or indoors at restaurants when you're not eating. They're also required on the metro and the RER. That being said, you don't have to wear a mask when you're outdoors (so, not in parks or other outdoor monuments). The 11 p.m. curfew lifted while I was there, so nightlife has almost entirely resumed.
Bars and restaurants are open and eager to welcome you - no, seriously, I've never had more positive experiences with Parisian waiters than this trip! They have a reputation for being rude but I can honestly say that this time around they just seemed happy to be welcoming people back. Many of them (especially the sommeliers) would just sit down and chat with me once my meal was done, which was refreshing. And don't get me started on the quality of food in France - it's always phenomenal and COVID certainly hasn't changed that!
TRAVELING WITHIN FRANCE
As with the metro, masks are required on trains and airplanes. In smaller towns, and especially in Burgundy, where I spent almost 40% of my trip, people are far more lax about mask enforcement. That being said, if you're going to a state-sponsored or larger scale event - like a concert, large museum exhibition, etc. - mask usage will be strictly enforced.
There is generally less hand sanitizer in France than in the U.S., but it's also important to remember that we have two very different hygiene cultures. The French don't really sweat the small stuff or freak out about germs the way we do in the U.S. It's not to say they aren't clean - I visited the cleanest doctor's office I've ever been to in Paris - they're just not germophobes like we are. If you want to bring hand sanitizer with you, I recommend Portococo, which is a sustainable brand that doesn't waste hand sanitizer, looks cute, is travel proof (under 3 oz) and fits everywhere.
Visiting Burgundy was a breeze. All the caves de dégustation are open, and when I visited domaines, people were chill about masks in tastings. Car and bike rental was operating as usual, which also means that tours in small groups have returned. I preferred to do things on my own, but ask about them at the Office du Tourisme if you go!
This was the hardest part of the trip. Because Charles de Gaulle is one of the largest and busiest airports in the world, it was next level packed. And by next level, I mean customs upon leaving took three hours (!!), which is really not normal for trips from France to the U.S. It's never happened to me before in my dozen or so travels between the countries, so I was quite surprised. COVID restrictions and entry requirements are changing pretty rapidly for a wide variety of countries and more and more people have multiple passports and titres de séjour. Plus, the E.U. has digital vaccine records you access on an app and the U.S. uses those flimsy paper cards (if anyone from the CDC is reading this, can we please get an upgrade to facilitate travel and life in general?!).
As a result, I recommend arriving at the airport at least three hours before your flight. This is not only because of all the COVID restrictions, but also because U.S. border patrol on both sides of the Atlantic is pretty crazy. At the time of writing this, only American citizens or green card holders are permitted entry into the U.S. You'll need your vaccination card, passport, and a negative PCR COVID test that was taken in the last 72 hours before your flight to get in. Unlike in France, where they barely checked my passport and vaccine card, the U.S. checked everything. Which leads me to my next point...
COVID TESTING IN FRANCE
If you don't speak the language or have friends who live in Europe, this part might be tricky, but don't worry! Socialized healthcare in France is actually quite good (even the French admit it) and that includes ease of scheduling a COVID test. I reserved a spot on DoctoLib (the French version of ZocDoc) for a laboratory testing center close to my office at a time that was convenient. It was super simple, easy, and free. There were tons of open spots and the medical staff was very kind.
Apparently, starting July 15 (or around that time), the French government will institute a fee for COVID return flight testing because every other country, even in Europe, is charging for them. But again, socialized healthcare to the rescue: the receptionist told me it would increase to a whopping 20€. Aka, the price of an American copay on a good day. Totally doable.
Results will be sent to you via an online portal, and you can download it, add it to your Apple wallet, or print it out. It was the easiest part of the trip!
The one thing that I didn't anticipate was how difficult it is to understand someone in your second language through a piece of fabric. Worst case scenario, I'd just point to the mask area on my own face and say "Excusez-moi, je suis désolée mais j'ai du mal à vous entendre à cause du masque."
Another piece of advice is to make sure you bring multiple masks with you - and that they're comfortable. I have zero problem wearing a mask - it's a super easy thing we can all do to minimize COVID spread. However, I made the mistake of packing my super comfy soft cotton mask in my checked luggage, which meant I was stuck in the airport/on a plane for 18 hours with one that was new and slightly too tight on my face. Let's just say my ears are still sore and I still have marks on my cheeks.
While traveling, you will probably be left in the dark or receive misinformation at some point. For example, my United app said my flight gate had changed to a gate that actually didn't exist and the gate hadn't changed at all. Then, we started boarding the plane by bus first and riding out to the tarmac, but there was no announcement or information about said bus. Luckily, airport and train staff generally understand English and can reply in simple sentences (airport staff are of course fluent or close) so you can always ask questions, but be prepared regardless!
And lastly - just remember to be kind. I found Paris rejuvenated and felt that people were kinder to each other and happier than they had been pre-pandemic. I was simply more patient and the French were more forgiving of my dumb grammar mistakes or misunderstandings. We're so lucky to be traveling again at all. It is a privilege still denied to millions around the world. Make the most of it et bon voyage !