Lots of people had trips to Europe planned this year and many of them are wondering when we can travel to France again. We wanted to get the rundown from someone who has been keeping up with the fluid situation, so here’s a guest post by Courtney Traub, editor of Paris Unlocked.
You don’t need reminding that a spiky virus has disrupted our lives in ways we previously only associated with bad dystopian movies. And for some, the Covid-19 pandemic has made international vacations—including travel to France—seem like a distant fantasy (maybe even the stuff of old technicolor musicals).
As one of the world’s top destinations, the country typically draws nearly 90 million tourists a year from around the world. But that number has plummeted in 2020, as travelers faced both strict travel warnings at home and closed borders abroad. France went into strict lockdown in early spring, only selectively re-opening to tourism in July. Here’s the latest on who’s currently allowed in, and some thoughts on whether the horizon for travel to the land of brie and Balzac may look brighter in the coming months.
Who’s currently allowed to visit France?
On July 1st, after months of virtually sealed-off borders and very little tourism, France and the rest of the European Union began welcoming back visitors from a selective list of 14 countries (in addition to EU nationals).
Officials drew up the list by assessing active infection rates and public health measures, deeming many countries’ Covid caseloads too high to allow their citizens across borders. Far from static, it’s being evaluated and updated every two weeks or so, which means the situation can evolve quickly.
In early August, the list was narrowed down further to only ten countries. The cluster that made the cut were the following: Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.
In addition, residents of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican are being treated as EU nationals, and so are allowed to visit France. Algeria, Montenegro, Morocco and Serbia were removed from the list in August.
What about Americans who are missing France?
If you’re an American citizen, you may be perplexed by this state of affairs, wondering “Can I travel to France from the US?” The answer is simple and not especially encouraging: at the moment, probably not.
Why is this the case? EU officials believe Covid cases have not been sufficiently brought under control in the US. With no reliable cross-border testing schemes yet in place, Americans have largely been banned from visiting France and other EU/Schengen Area countries. Based purely on the numbers, the USA has the highest number of cases and fatalities in the world and its leadership has done a far worse job of getting the threat under control than those in Europe.
There are a few key exceptions made for Americans with family ties or professional activities in France, including diplomats, but most travelers won’t fall into those exempt categories. Those who do enter will either have to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test, or quarantine at their destination for 14 days.
Is a trip to France worth it in 2020?
Even if you’re a citizen of a country that’s currently greenlighted for travel, should you consider hopping on a plane to France at the moment?
Much depends on your tolerance for risk, and your willingness to deal with the increasing restrictions being enforced amid rising virus cases in the country.
Let’s start with the downsides. As of mid-September, France appears to be perilously close to experiencing a dreaded “second wave” of cases—or at least a new spike in the first wave. It recently registered over 10,000 new infections in a single day—a record since March and the beginning of the crisis.
This may admittedly be partly related to much higher “test and trace” levels than were performed early in the pandemic, when France had minimal capacity for testing the general population. So it may be akin to comparing apples and oranges.
Hospital cases and deaths are also not rising in France as much as some initially feared they might, which may be due to greater numbers of younger people contracting the virus—and experiencing mild symptoms or even none at all.
Nevertheless, the government is clearly alarmed by the recent spike in infections, tightening rules around mask-wearing indoors and out and recently suggesting that certain regions—including Paris, Lyon and Marseille—might have to start rolling out stricter measures to curb the spread.
As we head into fall and winter, a new national lockdown in France seems like a distinct possibility. What’s more, booking a trip now is risky given that the EU’s current travel restrictions are likely to evolve, maybe even overnight. Just because you’re cleared for entry when you book doesn’t mean you won’t find the borders closing before your trip. If you can, buy a good travel insurance policy that covers cancellations.
On the upside, you may find some good deals on flights, hotels, tours and other amenities at the moment, with tourist operators eager to attract visitors and make up for lost revenue.
Museums, restaurants, and airports tend to much quieter at the moment. And since popular attractions such as the Louvre Museum or Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy are limiting numbers and requiring reservations, there has probably never been a more opportune time to see Paris and other French cities without having to wade your way through swarms of fellow tourists.
Ultimately, given the aforementioned risks and trend toward rising infection rates, my advice is to consider waiting out the winter and seeing how things evolve in the new year. On that note…
Are prospects looking better for a trip to France in 2021?
The truth is that an accurate forecast is impossible given the complexity and fast-moving nature of the crisis. None of us has a crystal ball, after all. But there’s reason for (cautious) optimism. There are multiple vaccine candidates in the pipeline around the world, increasing the chances that at least one will be successful. And as countries scramble to limit further economic fallout by optimizing testing and treatments, we may see a return to some sense of normalcy in 2021, even absent a vaccine.
This could mean that travel to destinations including France will prove both safer and less logistically headache-inducing in 2021. Since the country depends heavily on tourism (and has already lost over 300 billion euros in revenue for the sector this year), you can bet that government and industry leaders are determined to get back to normal.
We might see things like lower rates on hotels and tours, and ramped-up efforts to make French cities cleaner, more hospitable and livable for both tourists and locals. In Paris, the trend is already visible—between ambitious plans to re-green the city and restaurant tables spilling out into the streets this summer. Both initiatives are expected to stick to some extent, meaning that it’s rarely been more pleasant to roam the streets and quays of the capital.
Finally, since many people will likely continue to be travel-shy even once the risks start to subside, even places like Paris—so reputed as overcrowded and grumpy—may feel like spacious, cheerful playgrounds for those willing to hop on a plane or train again to travel to France.
Personally, I vote for the optimistic outlook. But then, maybe I’ve seen those old technicolor movies set in France too many times.
Courtney Traub is the founder and editor of Paris Unlocked, a site for culturally curious travelers and Francophiles. She’s also a regular contributor to TripSavvy, covering France and occasionally Austria, and co-author of the 2012 Michelin Green Guide to Northern France & the Paris Region.