Being so close to the UK, France is unsurprisingly a popular destination for UK drivers. Every year, millions of motorists travel to and from France and Great Britain, with a significant portion of these travelers making the crossing via the Channel Tunnel.
Although the Channel Tunnel can be a very easy way to get from one side of the Channel to the other, it is not enough to check in and cross. There are ticket reservations to make and important itinerary items to bring – plus it helps to know exactly where the Channel Tunnel is and what roads will take you there.
To make sure you’re well prepared before your trip, read our comprehensive guide and tips for using the Channel Tunnel.
What is the Channel Tunnel?
As its name suggests, the Channel Tunnel (commonly referred to as “Eurotunnel”) is a tunnel that runs under the English Channel and connects the UK to France. However, you cannot drive through this tunnel: instead, you must drive your car into a train car (called a “shuttle” by operators) and complete the journey that way.
Driving in France: tips
Traveling to France via the Channel Tunnel is generally a bit more expensive than using alternatives such as a car ferry. However, journey times through the Channel Tunnel tend to be much faster: while a car ferry crossing between Dover and Calais takes around an hour and 30 minutes, a train journey through the Round lasts about 35 minutes. However, as there are only four Channel Tunnel services per hour, a delay can have a significant ripple effect, and may even result in the cancellation of some services.
How to access the Channel Tunnel
On the UK side, the Channel Tunnel terminal is near Folkestone. You can access the Channel Tunnel at junction 11a on the M20 motorway – after leaving the slip road, follow the ‘Eurotunnel’ signs to the Channel Tunnel check-in desks. Once checked in, you will be given a departure hangar and, if you arrived early, you will be asked to wait in the passenger terminal until boarding for your train begins (this will usually be around 25 minutes before departure). departure time).
Once you are ready to board the train, proceed to Passport Control and once you have been cleared, follow the green arrows to your assigned track. This will then take you to the train waiting at the station – enter the shuttle you are directed to, then walk through the carriages until you are told where to park.
Driving abroad: what you need to know
On the French side of the Channel Tunnel, you will need to take exit 42 of the A16 motorway near Calais. You will then have to take exit 42b which will take you directly to the cabins. Once checked in, you will follow the same steps you took when you first boarded the Channel Tunnel.
To mitigate delays or other unforeseen circumstances, Channel Tunnel operators recommend that you arrive well in advance of your scheduled train crossing. As a general rule, try to arrive about 30 minutes early or leave about an hour to spare if your crossing is a busy day.
Do I get out of my car in the Channel Tunnel?
Once your car is parked and the train has left the terminal, you are free to leave your car and stretch your legs. There will be no facilities for you to use other than the toilets, so be sure to bring food, drink or anything else you need with you, or buy anything you need at the terminal before your departure.
Where to buy Channel Tunnel tickets
Although it is possible to pay for your crossing on arrival at the Channel Tunnel terminal, the operators recommend that you do this before your trip via the official Eurotunnel website. You can also book your Channel Tunnel tickets over the phone. For all payment methods, cash is not accepted, so you will need to use a credit or debit card.
Once payment has been made, no tickets will be mailed or emailed to you. Instead, you will receive a customer reference number which you must enter at the check-in desk upon arrival. .
The price you pay for your Channel Tunnel crossing will depend on factors such as what time you travel. Evening crosses are generally more affordable than daytime ones, for example, and busy weekdays will be more expensive than quieter ones. The cost of the ticket will cover the car you are traveling in and up to nine passengers, although you will need to pay more for your ticket if you are towing a trailer or caravan.
Are all cars allowed in the Channel Tunnel?
An overwhelming majority of cars will be able to use the Channel Tunnel. However, if your car can run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or is a dual-fuel vehicle, it will not be allowed to board the train, even if your LPG or alternative fuel tank is completely empty. This includes all new Dacia Bi-Fuel models.
Depending on the vehicle you drive, you will be assigned to either a double-decker or a single-decker. The first is reserved for passenger cars, while the second is more optimized for coaches, motorhomes and heavy goods vehicles. However, when booking online, the system may automatically assign you to a specific car depending on the type of car you will be driving – for example, low-slung sports cars may be assigned to single-deckers, as their low ground clearance means they will struggle to climb the ramp to the upper deck.
Likewise, if you are driving a car towing a caravan or equipped with a roof box, you may also be placed in a single-decker car for easier boarding and disembarking. If your car does not have a single deck space and you believe this should be the case for your situation, you will need to request this by booking over the phone.
What should I bring before boarding the Channel Tunnel?
As you will be crossing another country through the Channel Tunnel, you and any accompanying passengers will need to have a valid passport with you. Any accompanying pets will also need their own documentation (either a valid pet passport or an animal health certificate issued by a veterinarian), and must also have been microchipped and vaccinated against rabies before you travel .
Driving in Europe after Brexit: what do I need and have the rules changed?
As already mentioned, you won’t have to worry about physical tickets, but you will need to have your customer reference number handy when checking in for your outward and return journeys. Make sure there is enough money left on your debit or credit card – if you arrive late for your original crossing, you may be assigned to another train and will have to pay extra.
As you will be driving in France after disembarking on the other side of the Channel Tunnel, you will need to ensure that you have all the necessary equipment for French traffic regulations. These include:
- High visibility jackets for you and all your passengers
- emergency triangle
- Headlight converters or deflectors
- A “UK” sticker on the back of your car
- Replacement bulbs for headlights and taillights
- Your car’s V5C “logbook” and car insurance certificates
Although not strictly necessary, you can also bring your car’s technical inspection certificate, in case you need to prove to the French authorities that your car is legal on the road. Likewise, although this is also not compulsory, you may want to consider settling European breakdown cover for your car, as your UK policies may not provide any cover when you are abroad.
Check out our other article on driving abroad below.