Because France is so close to the UK, it is not surprising that it is a popular destination with British drivers. Every year millions of motorists travel to and from France and Great Britain, with a significant proportion of those travelers crossing the Channel via the Channel Tunnel.
While the Channel Tunnel can be a very simple way to get from one side of the Channel to the other, there’s more to it than just checking in and making the crossing. There are tickets to book and important pieces of itinerary to take with you – plus it helps to know exactly where the Channel Tunnel is and which roads lead you there.
To make sure you’re well prepared for your trip, read on for our full guide and tips for using the Channel Tunnel.
What is the Channel Tunnel?
As the name implies, the Channel Tunnel (commonly referred to as the ‘Eurotunnel’) is a tunnel that runs under the Channel and connects the United Kingdom to France. However, you cannot drive through this tunnel: instead, you must drive your car onto a railcar (referred to as a ‘shuttle’ by the operators) and complete the journey that way.
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Traveling to France via the Channel Tunnel is generally slightly more expensive than using alternatives such as a car ferry. However, journey times on the Channel Tunnel are often much faster: while a car ferry crossing between Dover and Calais takes around an hour and 30 minutes, a train journey in the Channel Tunnel takes around 35 minutes. However, as there are only four Channel Tunnel services per hour, a delay can have a major knock-on effect and even result in some services being cancelled.
How to get to the Channel Tunnel
On the UK side, the Channel Tunnel terminal is near Folkestone. You can access the Channel Tunnel from Junction 11a on the M20 motorway – after exiting the slip road, follow the signs for ‘Eurotunnel’ to the Channel Tunnel check-in counters. After you have checked in, you will be given a departure hanger and, if you have arrived early, you will be told to wait in the passenger terminal for boarding for your train to begin (usually about 25 minutes before departure time).
Once you are ready to board the train, proceed to Passport Control and follow the green arrows to the assigned lane. This will then lead you to the train waiting at the station. Board the shuttle you will be led to and then drive through the carriages until you are told where to park.
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On the French side of the Channel Tunnel, at Calais take Junction 42 of the A16 autoroute. You will then need to take junction 42b, which will take you directly to the cabins. After you’ve checked in, you’ll go through the same steps as when you first boarded the Channel Tunnel.
To minimize any delays or other unforeseen circumstances, the Channel Tunnel operators recommend arriving well in advance of your scheduled train crossing. As a rule of thumb, you want to get across in about 30 minutes, or allow about an hour if your crossing is on a busy day.
Do I get out of my car at the Channel Tunnel?
Once your car is parked and the train has left the terminal, you can leave your car and stretch your legs. However, there are no facilities other than toilets, so make sure to bring food, drink or anything else, or buy what you need at the terminal before you leave.
Where to buy Channel Tunnel tickets
While it is possible to pay for your crossing when you arrive at the Channel Tunnel terminal, operators recommend that you do this via the official Eurotunnel website prior to your journey. You can also book your Channel Tunnel tickets by phone. Cash is not accepted for all payment methods, so you must use a credit or debit card.
After you make the payment, no tickets will be emailed or emailed to you – instead you will be given a customer reference number to enter at the check-in desk when you arrive.
The price you pay for your Channel Tunnel crossing will depend on factors such as the time of your travel. Evening crosses are usually cheaper than, say, daytime, and busy days of the week will be more expensive than quieter ones. The cost of the ticket covers the car you’re traveling in and up to nine passengers, although you’ll have to pay more for your ticket if you’re towing a trailer or caravan.
Can all cars enter 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 on the train, even if your LPG or alternative fuel tank is completely empty. This also applies to all new Dacia Bi-Fuel models.
Depending on the vehicle you are driving, you will be assigned to either a double-deck or single-deck carriage. The former is purely for passenger cars, while the latter is more optimized for coaches, RVs and trucks. However, when you book online, the system may automatically assign you to a specific vehicle, depending on the type of vehicle you will be driving. For example, low-slung sports cars can be assigned to single-deck carriages because their small size will make it difficult to drive up the ramp to the upper deck.
Likewise, if you are driving a car that tows a caravan or has a roof box, you may also be placed on a single deck carriage to make it easier to get in and out. If your car does not have any deck space and you feel it should suit your circumstances, you should request it by phone.
What do I need to bring before boarding the Channel Tunnel?
As you are entering another country through the Channel Tunnel, you and any accompanying persons must have a valid passport with you. All pets that come with you will also need their own documentation (a valid pet passport or animal health certificate issued by a vet), and must also be microchipped and vaccinated against rabies before you leave.
Driving in Europe after Brexit: what do I need and have the rules changed?
As mentioned before, you don’t have to worry about physical tickets, although you should have your customer reference number ready when you check in on your outward and return journey. Make sure you have enough money on your debit or credit card – if you arrive late for your original crossing you may be reassigned to another train and you will have to pay extra.
Since you will be driving in France after getting off the other side of the Channel Tunnel, make sure you have all the equipment you need according to French traffic laws. Including:
- High-vis jackets for you and all your passengers
- Warning triangle
- Headlight converters or deflectors
- A ‘UK’ sticker on the back of your car
- alcohol testers
- Spare headlights and taillights
- Your car’s V5C ‘logbook’ registration document and auto insurance certificates
Although not strictly necessary, you can also bring your car’s MOT certificate in case you need to prove to the French authorities that your car is road legal. Likewise, although it is not mandatory either, you should consider getting European roadside assistance for your car as your UK policies may not provide cover if you are abroad.
Check out our other article about driving abroad below.