How tourists and visitors in France can get a Covid test

If you’re visiting France you may need to present a negative Covid test at the border, but chances are you will also need one to return to your home country, so here’s how non-residents can get a Covid test while they are in France.

Many people entering France will need a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and there are also restrictions on travel from some countries.

But depending on your home country’s border policy you may also need a test to return home, with some countries also imposing quarantine on arrivals from France.

Unfortunately, France has decided to end its offer of free tests for tourists, blaming a lack of reciprocity from other countries, so from July 7th tourists may have to pay for their test. Costs are capped, however, at €49 for a PCR test and €29 for the rapid result antigen test.

Here’s how to get a test in France:

Test types

There are three types of Covid test available in France

  • PCR test (un test PCR) – a nasal swab test performed in a testing centre with the swab sent off to a lab for processing and the results emailed out later (usually within 48 hours)
  • Antigen test (un test antigénique) – also a nasal swab, but the results are given on the spot within 15 minutes of the test being taken. These are available in pharmacies and pop-up testing centres, most of which do not require an appointment. These tests are referred to as lateral flow tests in some countries
  • Home-testing kit (un autotest) – available from pharmacies, there are also nasal swab tests that you can do at home. This is the same process as the antigen test, but you do it yourself and get the results within 15 minutes

How to get one

Different countries have different policies on the type of tests they will accept – all countries accept PCR tests but only some accept antigen tests and home testing kits are generally not accepted as a border requirement, so check carefully your country’s testing policy.

The UK accepts PCR tests or antigen tests of more than 97 percent specificity and 80 percent sensitivity – the standard tests on sale in French pharmacies meet this requirement.

Most countries say the test must have been taken within 72 hours of your journey, but again check the testing policy of your home country.

You can get a test for any reason in France, there is no limitation of tests to only those with symptoms or contact cases – although some testing centres are reserved for priority cases – and there are quite a few different methods of booking one.

If an antigen test is accepted by your country, you can find these at most pharmacies in France. Look out for the sign dépistage du Covid (Covid testing) or test Covid-19 in the window and if the sign adds sans rendez-vous then you can get the test on a walk-in basis. Most pharmacies offer testing without appointments, but some, especially the smaller ones, require appointments in advance. You can usually just walk in and make your reservation.

You will also see lots of pop-up testing centres, especially in cities or resort towns. These are often just a small tent or gazebo on the street where you can go in and get a test, usually an antigen test but some offer PCR tests. Last summer a lot of these were set up in seaside towns or popular tourist destinations to help visitors get tested.

If you need a PCR test you will probably have to book in advance, although some pop-up centres do offer PCR tests on the spot. You will usually go to a specialist Covid testing centre, a medical lab, health centre or doctor’s office. You can book direct by phone with most of these if you know where they are, but the easiest way to find your nearest centre is online or through a phone app.

The French public health website has a page where you enter your location and select the type of test you want, giving you a list of centres near you with details on how to book (online, by phone etc).

If you have a smartphone, the medical app Doctolib allows you to book appointments. Simply download the app and create a profile, the search dépistage Covid, choose between PCR or antigen tests and enter your town or postcode.

The app gives you a list of centres near you that have appointments, and you can book via the app. If your booking is at a doctor’s office or medical centre the app also shows you a doctor profile which includes information on languages spoken, so if you need an English-speaking doctor you can find one.   

How much

There are fixed costs for tests and residents get these reimbursed via their carte vitale if their centre asks for payment.

  • PCR test – €49
  • Antigen test – €29

Although tourists are no longer exempt from payment for all tests, in some areas pop-up testing centres are still running – these do not requirement payment or presentation of a French social security number, so can be used by tourists.

French tests give a formal certificate of results with a QR code as standard, so there is no need to request a special test or a fit-to-fly certificate. Self-testing kits are available in pharmacies and these you will have to pay for – the price is capped at €6. There is also a plan to distribute these for free in popular tourist areas this summer, including on beaches. These are a useful diagnostic tool, but bear in mind that most countries don’t accept the results of self-test kits for travel purposes.