The process for obtaining France’s digital health pass keeps changing

Sep 1, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post was updated with new information on Sept. 1.

Since this article was first published in August, the French government has revised the process for Americans to apply for the French health pass three times. I initially detailed how Americans visiting France in 2021 could obtain a digital health pass, or “pass sanitaire,” to comply with new French COVID-19 mandates that took effect in early August, requiring proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, cafes and bars, along with public places including museums, cultural institutions and public transit.

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As of Aug. 27, the newly announced online application is only applicable for those travelers who are already in France or plan to be there within the next few days at the time of their application. If you do not fall into this group, you should not expect to obtain a digital health pass ahead of your trip.

The good news is that individuals who are not fully vaccinated or who are awaiting their request for a digital health pass to be processed can still obtain a temporary, 72-hour pass via a negative COVID-19 test (antigen or PCR). The test results should include the necessary QR code and suffice for on-the-ground proof in France if asked.

Note that a bit of luck appears to be involved in this process. In the past month or so, I have heard from numerous TPG readers all detailing unique issues with this process.

“I submitted all my documentation about 10 days ago to get the QR code for France, to prove that I am vaccinated,” TPG reader Kathy Grewe told me on Aug. 28. “Immediately upon submitting it, I got an email reply that basically said ‘we are swamped so don’t expect to hear from us soon.'”

Grewe then applied using the new online application.

“Still nothing, 10 days since first applied, 3 days since second,” she said. “Meanwhile, like while I’m literally in the air, the EU announced that it might close to unvaccinated Americans (fortunately I’m vaccinated). So many changes so quickly.”

Emailing me from France, Grewe let me know that she was asked to show proof of vaccination to check in to a hotel, but that no one has asked for the QR code.

“Rental car company did not ask at all,” she said.

First application process

Let’s flashback to July, when the U.S. Embassy in France advised tourists vaccinated in the U.S. to take their U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-issued white vaccination card to a French pharmacy, which would then allegedly “enter the vaccination information in the French system, even for people who do not have a French social security number or carte vitale,” at which point they were to transfer the vaccination information to a digital format.

Following that advice, I collected many emails from TPG readers about French pharmacists who refused to assist them, having no idea what American travelers were talking about and even cursing out one person requesting a digital COVID-19 vaccine certificate.

“There is much confusion about the health pass and I would say that at the present time Americans should expect difficulties getting into restaurants and attractions. Our primary purpose is to finally see our family (son, daughter-in-law, grandson) after 20 months of separation so it is not so distressing for us,” TPG reader Mary Ellen Cook said via email. “While France seems to want a return to tourism, in typical bureaucratic fashion they have failed to plan on how to achieve it.”

Thousands of people gathered on July 24, 2021, in Tours, France, to protest the mandatory vaccination and health pass. (Photo by Adrien Fillon/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“I am an American traveling in Antibes, France and with the new requirement for vaccine digital certificates going into effect today, it’s been a mess. No restaurants are accepting my CDC card including coffee shops,” TPG reader Rohan Lala told me via email. “The feedback I got from the coffee shops and restaurants were they absolutely needed a QR code to scan. (Since) the CDC card didn’t have one it was no good.”

“Everything I read online from the embassy, news, and others said to go to a pharmacy and they will do it,” said Lala. “I went to at least 5 and none would be willing to do so. I even went to the official vaccination center and they mentioned I would need to contact the US embassy, which offered no help.”

Cook shared similar frustrations.

“Pharmacies are now unable to provide American tourists with the pass. It was recommended to my daughter-in-law, who is French and has a health pass, that we apply using a link to one of the French ministries, but when we attempted to do so we were informed that tourists could not apply,” said Cook. “When we were in Avignon on Aug. 2 we were unable to enter any French monuments/historical sights but were able to eat in a restaurant. In Cassis, we were at first turned away from a restaurant but then admitted after my son and daughter-in-law explained the situation and had their French health passes scanned and we displayed our vaccination cards. However, I saw others turned away.”

Read more: Here’s how you can show proof of vaccination in France

And then there’s the TPG reader who claims he was cursed at by a French pharmacist in what became a five-day ordeal to obtain a pass.

“Enforcement of the pass sanitaire vaccine verification here in Paris was strict today. We were even turned away at Starbucks … despite the fact that we showed them our passports and CDC cards,” said Scott James. “So it’s pretty incompetent and frustrating that we came all this way at Macron’s beckoning, and now Americans can’t even eat a crepe. One of the pharmacists actually said it was ‘bs’ for anyone to say pharmacies are at all involved in the verification process.”

Through research, James heard that the Hotel-Dieu hospital next to Notre Dame was potentially processing digital health passes for fully vaccinated Americans.

“We spoke to a hospital worker on Saturday (Aug. 7) and he told us to come back on Monday (Aug. 9) at 8:30 a.m. and they would take care of it. When we showed up this morning there was a line of Americans waiting to get it done,” he told me via email. “But when 8:30 a.m. arrived a very rude woman came out and started screaming at us, ‘Americans finished!’ She told us to leave. Several of us explained to her that we all had been told by a worker at that very same hospital to be there at that time, but she said she did not care and ordered everyone to go away.”

James says the group was then told they might be able to get the pass at the U.S. Embassy in France.

“Several people called the embassy while we were still in line and a state department employee told us the embassy was definitely NOT processing the pass sanitaire,” he said. “One embassy employee told me that the French had screwed up and failed to create a system in time for Americans for today’s new restrictions. But the French promised the embassy they’d have a new system in place by the end of the day.”

Second application process

In light of these issues, both the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and U.S. Embassy in France issued updated guidance on Aug. 9 to announce a new procedure for visitors vaccinated outside of the European Union to obtain the elusive French health pass. As of Aug. 19, applications were only being processed for travelers already in France or those arriving in France before Aug. 22. Requests for arrivals after that date were told they would be processed at a later time.

“In accordance with the decision by the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, we have put in place with the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs a specific system for non-EU tourists who are already in France to receive a QR code which will be valid as a French COVID certificate,” French Minister of State for Tourism, French Nationals Abroad and Francophonie Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said in a press statement on Aug. 9. “Foreign tourists can submit their applications. To request a QR code, simply e-mail us with proof of vaccination, an identity document, the downloadable application form and your airline ticket.”

At the time, the French government outlined guidelines for converting a foreign vaccination certificate into a French COVID-19 certificate and linked to an application form. Once completed, travelers were directed to email the application, along with electronic copies of their passport, travel ticket and CDC vaccination certificate.

Visitors present their health pass to an official at the entrance to the Gaumont Multiplex Odyseum Cinema in Montpellier, France, on July 29, 2021. (Photo by Pascal Guyot/AFP via Getty Images)

Related: Protests erupt as France introduces new vaccination requirements

Since the second application process was rolled out, some of the same TPG readers who emailed me over the past few weeks have had luck.

“I was finally able to get my certificate and wanted to share how!” said Lala, the American in Antibes who said restaurants and coffee shops refused to accept her CDC card as proof of vaccination. “To my surprise, I received my EU digital certificate in 40 minutes! There is still so much confusion here and this seems to be the only way that works.”

It’s a different story for Lala’s fiancee though.

“I applied at the same time as my fiancee and she actually hasn’t heard back yet,” Lala told me. “Same thing as my friend that applied a few hours after me and is still waiting. So while I have it I can imagine others may still have issues with the new process and are waiting in limbo until then.”

A delay in receipt among applicants who apply together seems to be a theme.

Although TPG reader Judith Watson received her pass in just 15 minutes, her husband is still waiting for his.

“I got mine in 15 minutes yesterday via email and it worked at a restaurant last night,” she said. “My husband has yet to get a response to his request, which he sent at the same time as I did. So, not altogether smooth.”

Scott James, the reader who says he was cursed at by a French pharmacist and refused entry at Starbucks, even got his.

“I got my pass sanitaire today using the new French system. I applied online and it took about 24 hours to get the approval. It came via email. It’s a document with a QR code,” he said. “It can be printed out on paper, or the QR code can be scanned into the TousAntiCovid app on smartphones. Businesses scan the QR code to confirm a person is fully vaccinated.”

Even so, James described the online application process as “cumbersome.”

“It requires the completed application, plus images of your passport, CDC Covid vaccine card, and your return ticket to the United States. Since most tourists don’t have access to a scanner, this means taking photos of these documents with their phones,” he said. “People need to be concerned about the size of the image files. I know someone who used high-res images and his application was bounced back for exceeding size limits. So he had to resubmit with normal resolution images. My advice is to keep the total size of all files to less than 10MB, that worked for me.”

And if you’re wondering about that Starbucks, that too was resolved, at least for the time being.

“I tested it out by going to the Starbucks that refused me on Monday. It’s usually packed with tourists since it’s in the popular Marais neighborhood,” said James. “But today it was empty and the barista seemed pleasantly surprised that I had the pass. Then he joked, ‘Ah, but do you now know the secret password?’”

Still, James says it’s “a relief to be able to go out to restaurants and cafes again,” to which I think we can all agree.

“There’s no sense coming to France if you can’t indulge in the food,” he said.

Third application process

Because the French were presumably being bombarded with an onslaught of eager Americans wishing to visit, the government once again announced a new online application on Aug. 27 for “non-European foreigners” to request a conversion of a foreign vaccination certificate into a French health pass. Again, the catch is that the application is only for those travelers who are already in France or plan to be there in the next few days.

Until Sept. 30, the digital vaccine health pass is only required for non-Europeans over the age of 18. Additionally, all applicants must have received a vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency, including Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

Remember, you can still obtain a 72-hour pass by taking a negative COVID-19 test in France but note that both the U.S. Department of State and the CDC have both issued Level 4 travel advisories for the country due to COVID-19.

For further updates to the digital health pass, we recommend consulting the U.S. Embassy in France and the French government’s COVID-19 hub.

Read more: CDC issues 7 new travel warnings, including Switzerland

Featured photo of visitors presenting their digital health pass at the Gaumont Multiplex Odyseum Cinema in Montpellier, France, by Pascal Guyot/AFP via Getty Images.

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