Here's What It's Like to Travel to France Right Now

Entry requirements, crowd reports, and more

Autumn in Paris, France
Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

After France reopened their borders to international tourists on June 9, many travelers' long-awaited dream of a French summer getaway finally became tangible. And with this month's reopening of the Eiffel Tower, Paris seemed back in business.

Eager to finally dust off my passport and head back to one of my favorite cities in the world, I hopped on low-cost long-haul airline French Bee's inaugural flight from Newark to Paris last week and spent a few days in the City of Lights to really get a feel for how its reopening was going. Here are a few things I found helpful to know if you're planning a trip.

Entry Requirements

France is currently operating on a "stoplight system" for visitors who enter, with green, orange, and red tiers representing the risk level of different countries. Those coming from green countries can enter without restriction if vaccinated or by presenting a negative PCR or rapid test taken within 72 hours before departure. The United States has been on the green list since June 18, which meant all I needed to enter was my vaccine card issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. French Bee also provided me with a health statement that I was told to sign and present at check-in, but it was never collected. This requirement may vary depending on your airline.

Arrive at the airport early—you'll be asked to present your vaccine card or test results before you're allowed to check in to your flight. You'll also be asked to present these documents before getting your passport stamped upon arrival in France, along with a COVID-19 contact tracing form that will be given to you upon landing.

Digital Health Pass Mandates

I only experienced being asked to show a health pass once, when I went out to a nightclub on a Friday night. Unaware that French nightclubs require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 to enter, I mistakenly left my CDC card back at my hotel. Pleading with the club bouncer in very broken French, a thought occurred to me during a final moment of desperation, and I whipped out my phone to show him the Instagram post I made—in which I censored any personal information, natch—back when I received my second dose of the vaccine in late March.

"This will never work," I thought to myself. "I'll just come back tomorrow night."

Et voila! It worked!

Was it a lucky break? Perhaps. But I don't recommend doing the same. If you're planning on hitting a club, make sure to bring your CDC card and some form of identification so that they can match your name to your vaccination status. French citizens are already using a national health pass, but until stricter mandates begin next week (more on that below), your CDC card will suffice as an American tourist. Be aware that masks are optional in indoor clubs: I did not spot any worn by the revelers at Rosa Bonheur Sur Seine that evening.

About those new mandates: although I didn't experience them while I was there, French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that in response to the Delta variant, proof of vaccination via a digital French health pass would be required for a larger list of places beginning Aug. 1. While still valid proof of vaccination, the CDC vaccine card will not be accepted as a substitution for the health pass. American travelers with a CDC card will need to bring their card with them to France, where they can have it uploaded into the app by “any willing French doctor or pharmacist (who) can enter the vaccination information in the French system, even for people who do not have a French social security number or carte vitale.”

Curfews and Restrictions

Bar and nightclub curfews were lifted in France on June 30, along with restrictions on the number of people gathering indoors—perfect when summer nights in Paris aren't met with sunset before 10 p.m. But if you're planning on a nightcap back at your hotel after dinner, make sure to be stocked up beforehand: alcohol is still not permitted to be sold at stores after 10 p.m.

Mask Enforcement

Masks were required indoors at every indoor venue I entered, including shops, cafes, and restaurants. In restaurants, most locals aren’t wearing masks once seated. Paris is particularly strict about masks being worn on the Metro, with announcements being played on a loop that anyone caught without wearing one will be fined 135 euros. On one trip, I witnessed a Parisian confront an American tourist who was wearing his mask below his nose. "I'm not vaccinated yet," the Parisian told him, "so please pull your mask up."

Passengers on the Paris Metro

Astrid Taran / TripSavvy

Crowds and Feeling on the Ground

There's no denying it: because of the entry restrictions still imposed on countries not on France's green list, the city's usual summer crowds were nowhere to be found. The line at the CityPharma pharmacy in Saint-Germain-des-Prés—the best place in the city to pick up French beauty products at lower prices than you can find in the U.S.—was non-existent. I was able to snap up a ticket to the Paris Catacombs just by walking up to the counter, and inside, only one other small family joined me. Spooky—in a good way. I still needed bookings to get a seat at some of the hottest tables in town, but surprisingly, I was even able to snag last-minute cancellations at favorites like Le Chardenoux and Le Saint Sebastian. Except for being in Paris on the afternoon of the Tour de France, it certainly didn't feel like I was in Europe during the peak summer travel season.

One very noticeable element of my trip was the sheer amount of American accents I heard. I sat next to an American couple at dinner at Le Fouquet's and overheard many of my fellow countrymen and women speaking to each other in English on the streets and in cafes. The usual British accents from tourists hopping over to Paris from the United Kingdom were nowhere to be found due to the U.K.'s current status on France's orange list. The only other non-French accents I heard during my stay were German tourists, who have also begun trickling into the country for the summer holiday.

Additionally, I found French hospitality towards American visitors to be overwhelmingly warm. "We're happy to have visitors back in Paris," one waitress at a cafe told me with a smile. When learning that I'm from New York, several Parisians expressed frustration at the lack of travel reciprocity from the U.S., as French citizens are still not permitted to enter the country.

Return Process

Perhaps the only stressful part of my visit to Paris was my return home. All U.S. citizens must present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight back; similar to presenting your vaccination status or test results before boarding your flight to France, you won't be able to check in to your flight home without having these results in hand. At Paris-Orly, I initially found it difficult to find the COVID-19 testing site, and once there, the instructions on the kiosk were difficult to understand for a non-French speaker.

The worst part? These tests are free for French citizens, but as of July 7, tourists must cough up a whopping 49 euro for a PCR test and 29 euro for a rapid antigen test. I was charged for both of them.

After about an hour of sweating, I received my test results, which were entirely in French. The kind gate attendant helped me translate the instructions to access them, and I was finally allowed to check in to my flight home.

I was sad to go—my Parisian getaway was magical on every level. The city appeared to be taking all of the correct precautions while easing restrictions enough to really feel like itself again. With perfect summer weather and a lack of the usual throngs of tourists, Paris feels more authentic and charming than ever before.

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