No. 35 ~ Somerville ~ Oct. 9, 2021

How to apply for a French Health Pass. Caution: results may vary.

Such an arch wrap: For ten days, ending October 3, the Arc de Triomphe was wrapped in 25,000 square meters of recyclable blue-gray polypropylene. The artist Christo and his partner Jeanne-Claude conceived of the idea decades ago. Christo died in 2020, and Jeanne-Claude before him, so the installation was completed by his team, and financed by the sale of their artwork. We were able to touch the fabric, and walk around the cobblestoned l’Etoile, the expansive traffic circle usually filled with whirring cars.

The mission of this Chronicle is to pass along the news about how to convert your American CDC vaccination card, which is absent a QR code, into a French Health Pass, which is based on the use of the QR code. If you already have information about how to do this by sending your documents to an email address, that procedure is now outdated. The French ministry of foreign affairs recently launched a website where you can upload your documents directly.

Here’s the link:

It’s important to apply, because you need some kind of proof of inoculation to enter French restaurants, movie theaters, museums, and other venues. To apply you’ll need airline tickets showing France as a destination, as well as your passport and CDC vaccination card.

When you get to the “demarches” web page, you’ll have to set up an account for “FranceConnect.” Once you’re logged in with your password, you can fill out the application for your Health Pass and upload your documents. To upload, you’ll need to be able to browse to the scans of your passport, CDC vaccination card, and airline tickets. (It’s so quaint to talk about airline tickets now; you’ll probably end up scanning a print-out of the email confirmation you received from the airline.) The instructions on the web page are not clear about this, but you should probably scan tickets showing both arrival and departure. Once you have all the questions answered and your documents uploaded, you click the “Submit” button at the bottom of the page.

The documents should be scanned as PDFs, rather than photographed with a smartphone camera, because the maximum size for each scanned document is three megabytes. Not to get too far into the technological weeds, but I use the smartphone app Scanner Pro from Readdle to scan documents to PDF format. The scans can then be saved to any location you like. For those who find all this talk about megabytes a bit much (sorry!), the “demarches” web page has a button to allow someone else to edit your file. If any of your uploads is more than three megabytes, your Health Pass application will be discarded, so it’s important to understand how to properly scan and check those details before uploading. 

Once the French government provides you with your QR code, you’ll need to download the TousAntiCovid app, and then, using the app, scan the QR code. If you are provided with two QR codes, one marked EU and the other marked France, scan the EU version. That will make your Health Pass effective across Europe, rather than just in France. To show your Health Pass for entry to a restaurant or other venue, you click on the “Open my wallet” button in the app. 

This so-called “extended use” of the Health Pass has — to my mind — has revolutionized the restaurant experience in France. When you have a seat at your table — whether inside or outside — you have the assurance that everyone in the restaurant is either fully vaccinated, or at least has recently tested negative for Covid-19, or recovered from it. The government has threatened restaurants with a heavy fine if the display of the Health Pass is not enforced. 

During our three weeks in Paris in September, we went to seven restaurants in the city and surrounding area. Only once were we not asked for our Health Pass, on an occasion when we never entered the establishment and were seated directly at a street-side table. I imagine it was an innocent oversight on the part to the staff, but a mistake nonetheless. 

So the French have an admirable system that is nearly universally enforced, encourages the hesitant to be vaccinated, and favors the vaccinated over those who are not. 

But before you get too excited about suavely displaying the giant QR code on your smartphone to gain entry to a favorite Paris restaurant, I’m not sure — based on the little anecdotal evidence I have — how excited the French are about actually processing the applications. 

I have to base this reporting on what others are experiencing. I cannot apply using the “demarches” page because I already have a Health Pass. Isabelle and I were among the fortunate few who happened to be in France this summer when Americans could present their CDC cards at a pharmacy, and for a fee of five euros, get their QR code. 

Those halcyon days are gone. Now, after you submit your application, don’t be surprised if you receive a message from the French government saying they are not able to process all the requests, and reminding you that — once in France — you can always get an antigen test in a pharmacy and use the negative result as a Health Pass, which is valid for three days. The email may or may not admit that Americans now have to pay €29 for this test. 

When we could use the antigen test instead of a PCR test for our return flight to the U.S. at the end of September, it felt like a luxury. It costs less than the PCR, you get the results in less than half an hour — and they need to swab only one nostril! On the other hand, using the antigen test to create temporary Health Passes, one after the other, at €29 a pop, could soon become expensive and annoying for non-European tourists who stay in France more than a few days. 

We can only imagine what’s behind the French government’s slow-walking the applications. There may be an element of revenge against the American government, which will allow French tourists to enter the U.S. starting only next month. Or maybe the French have read the news about how thousands of fake CDC cards, ordered by unvaccinated individuals and manufactured in China, have been seized this year in the port of Memphis. 

Assuming my American readers are equipped with a valid CDC card, the obvious question is: Can’t I just show my card as a health pass? (After all, I am vaccinated!) And my definitive answer is: I’m not sure. I’ve heard of tourists doing this successfully. I tried it a couple times (before revealing my real Health Pass) with mixed results. It might work if you don’t mind trying a few restaurants until you find one that accepts the card. Relying on the CDC card if you have made a reservation — at a restaurant or museum, for example — is not a good idea. 

Neither can we count on this Health Pass thing to go away soon. The current use of the pass is set to expire November 15, but legislation is in the works that is expected to give the government the option to continue the Health Pass requirements until next summer. 

So, a mixed message is the best I can do this time. Life seemed just about back to normal in France, thanks in large part to the consistent use of their Health Pass, but it will be unfortunate indeed if the government does not throw sufficient weight behind the effort to provide vaccinated non-EU visitors access to a permanent pass. Tourism should be an adventure, not a bother.

If you have any feedback or anecdotal evidence about experiences with the French Health Pass, your comment will add greatly to what I have here. We’re all on this mission together. 

PS Yesterday The New York Times published a related article, “As International Travel Returns, Confusion Over Vaccines Reigns,” by Ceylan Yeginsu. Among other frustrations, it explains how New York State’s Excelsior Pass is not compatible with the French Health Pass, even though they are both mobile apps. Here’s the link, but you may need to be a subscriber to read it.
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