A British family was denied entry to the holiday island of Tahiti and detained for six days before being deported – due to France’s current ban on UK travellers.
Steve Goode and his partner Charlotte were embarking on a £15,000 dream holiday to the exclusive Polynesian island, and only realised on arrival that they were barred from entering the country.
Travelling with their six-month-old daughter, the Goodes had left London on 17 December – just a day after France announced its travel ban on all British visitors but those with an “essential reason” for entry.
They flew to Los Angeles, where they spent a couple of nights before flying the nine hours onwards to Tahiti – a journey time of 20 hours in total.
On 16 December, France announced that it would ban visitors from the UK from 18 December, with only those with a “compelling reason” for travel allowed in.
However, the Goodes did not realise that the rule also applied to French overseas territories, including Tahiti and the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.
They say their airline did not alert them to the issue before they embarked on the nine-hour leg from Los Angeles.
Mr Goode also says they were able to obtain visas for travel to the country without French authorities intervening or notifying them of the change in rules.
French Polynesia is an overseas collectivity of France comprising more than 100 islands, including Tahiti, the largest and most populous.
The current Foreign Office advice for the territory reads: “All those travelling to French Polynesia from the UK need to have an essential reason for doing so and present a negative C19 test (PCR or antigen) taken within 24 hours prior to departure.”
“It was a complete and utter surprise when we landed,” Mr Goode told the Daily Mail.
“We made all reasonable steps. We got an ETIS [visa] from the French, we got a negative PCR Covid-19 test, we got all of the necessary documents, we were approved to travel, the airline boarded us.”
After going through passport control in Tahiti, Mr Goode says the family was detained for almost six hours, allegedly without air conditioning or food.
“They were just horrendous. Awful. Especially as we’ve got a child as well, we thought there would be some form of concession,” he told reporters.
“We asked for food, they said no. A couple of other British nationals were with us and they asked as well – ‘no’. Then we asked for water and we got given this tiny cup with dirt at the bottom of it. It was tragic.”
The Goodes had intended to stay in French Polynesia until 12 January, on a dream holiday that had already been postponed twice in the pandemic.
They were then quarantined overnight in a hotel.
“They asked us to sign a 10 page document all in French that they refused to translate into English. It was all very dictatorial,’ says Mr Goode.
“What we were most surprised at were the conditions that we were held. We weren’t allowed to leave the room, there were police guards walking up and down the street.”
“Police were banging on the door at 1am to check we were there. You really had to keep your cool – there were some quite near-the-mark moments when I felt really angry about it,” he told the Mail.
Mr Goode says that while Tahitian officials initially offered to let the family stay on hotel grounds in isolation for 10 days, they changed their minds.
He claims that authorities told the couple that decisions were being made based on the UK’s relationship with France.
“We spoke to a couple of nice immigration officers – and they said, being honest with you, it’s because Britain and France’s relationship is not good,” he alleges.
“The high commissioner kept saying, ‘No, send them home’.”
The Tahiti tourism website says: “Since December 17, 2021 at noon (Tahiti time), a compelling reason is required for travel between the United Kingdom and France (including overseas territories) regardless of the traveler’s vaccination status.
“The measures applied to adults are extended under the same conditions to accompanying minors. These reasons do not allow travel for tourism or professional reasons.”