Channel Tunnel - car and driving video guide

Channel Tunnel - car and driving video guide
France is one of the UK's favourite holiday destinations. Each year, millions of drivers travel to Europe and the Channel Tunnel is by far the quickest way to cross the English Channel with your car. But is it the right option for you?

If you are planning a crossing to France then it is important to be prepared for your trip. So, from booking your ticket to boarding the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, let us to guide you through everything you need to know about taking a car, van or campervan to France through the Channel Tunnel. We'll also share the latest tips and advice to make your journey from Folkstone to Calais as smooth as possible. 

Guide contents:

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Can I drive my car through the Channel Tunnel?

It is not possible to drive a car or motorcycle through the Channel Tunnel. Instead, motorists must drive onto the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle train, which boards at the Channel Tunnel terminals in Folkestone and Calais.

What should I take with me in my car when using the Channel Tunnel?

All passengers (including pets) will need a valid passport or ID card. You will also need your ticket hanger, which will be given to you at the check-in booths.

You’ll be disembarking the train on French soil, so make sure you are carrying the items required by law when driving in France.

These include: reflective jackets, warning triangle, headlamp beam deflectors, GB sticker and a spare bulb kit. You can purchase a European driving kit for less than £25.

Do I need insurance and breakdown cover to use the Channel Tunnel?

You are advised to arrange European breakdown cover and check you insurance covers you for driving abroad, before travelling.

Check your car insurance policy documents to see if you have the minimum compulsory cover required to drive in other European countries. Most car insurance policies will give you the cover you need to take your car to EU countries, but you may not have the same level of protection as you have in the UK.

You should also check with your insurance provider that you’re covered for cancelled or delayed departures through the Channel Tunnel, emergency accommodation, car hire and roadside assistance.

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What items can’t I take in my car when crossing the channel with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle?

Vehicles powered by LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) cannot be transported by Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, even if it is being used as a secondary fuel source.

Firearms are not permitted for carriage unless accompanied by a valid Firearms or Shotgun Certificate(s), and all firearms must be declared at check-in.

Fireworks are also prohibited.

For prohibited and restricted items when entering France, consult the relevant documents.

For example, excise duties and taxes are payable in France if alcoholic beverage and tobacco purchases were made for commercial purposes, i.e. not for personal consumption.

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Can I tow a trailer and use the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle?

Towing trailers is permitted and you will be allocated space in one of Le Shuttle’s single deck carriages. These are twice as high as the double-deck carriages and the entrances are wider, making it easier to manoeuvre a trailer.

Do I need to check in to use the Channel Tunnel? And if so, how long before my departure time?

You should check-in at least 30 minutes before your scheduled departure time, but no more than two hours before travel.

If you have made an advanced booking, you can use the self check-in lanes, sign-posted by the self check-in pictogram. Simply insert the payment card used to make the booking and follow the instructions on the display. If you don’t have access to the payment card, or the booking was made by a business or travel agent, simply use your reference number.

Alternatively, use the manual check-in kiosks, where an operator will deal with your check-in and provide your ticket hanger.

How much does the Channel Tunnel cost?

Prices vary depending on size of car, time of travel and the type of ticket. All fares include a car and up to nine passengers and there are no charges for excess luggage.

As a quick overview, here are some prices you can expect to pay (correct for April 2023):

  • Short stay saver (five days or less): from £85
  • Standard (any duration): from £106
  • Standard refundable (any duration): from £146
  • Short stay Flexiplus (five days or less): £209
  • Flexiplus (any duration): from £269

All prices are per car and each way. Eurotunnel no longer offers a frequent traveller discounts.

Flexiplus is by far the most relaxing and flexible way to cross the Channel. You can turn up at any time and board the next available train, at which point you’ll be given priority boarding. You will also be among the first to disembark the train once through the Channel Tunnel.

A Flexiplus ticket also includes a dedicated check-in facility, use of an exclusive lounge, complimentary refreshments, magazines and newspapers. Lounges facilities are open 6am until 10pm daily.

Do you have to stay in your car when using the Channel Tunnel?

You can choose to sit in the car during the entire crossing, or get out and stretch your legs on the train. There are toilets available, should you need them.

How long does it take to travel through the Channel Tunnel?

The crossing takes 35 minutes, making it the fastest way to travel across the English Channel.

What are my Channel Tunnel luggage allowances?

There are no luggage restrictions on the Eurotunnel, so you can pack as much as you can safely fit in the car for a European road trip.

Where do I get on the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle?

The Eurotunnel is reached via the M25 and M20 at Folkestone. Exit the motorway at Junction 11a and head straight to the check-in booths. You will need your booking reference number and the credit or debit card used at the time of booking.

You will be given a departure hanger for your windscreen and you will have time to visit the passenger terminal before departure. When ready, head to passport control, before boarding commences approximately 25 minutes before your departure time. Simply follow the green arrows to your allocated lane.

The process is the same on the French side, with the Channel Tunnel accessed via the A16 motorway near Calais. Exit at Junction 42 and follow the signs for “Tunnel sous la Manche”.

How do I book the Channel Tunnel?

Tickets may be booked online via the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle website. Alternatively, you can telephone to make a reservation. Phone lines are open 8am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 8pm to 5.30pm Saturday and 9am to 5.30pm Sunday.

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What are the Channel Tunnel rules for other vehicle types?

Vans

Eurotunnel allocates space in the single deck carriages for vehicles higher than 1.85 metres. Vans with an AGW (Actual Gross Weight) up to 3.5 tonnes carrying commercial goods may travel on the passenger service but must be booked through a dedicated account.

Vans are divided into the following categories:

  • Low Van (under 1.85 metres): used for private, tourist or leisure travel only. Maximum weight is 3.5 tonnes.
  • High Van (over 1.85 metres): used for private, tourist or leisure travel only. Maximum weight is 3.5 tonnes.
  • Campervan: any vehicle which includes living accommodation, including seats, table, sleeping, cooking and storage facilities.

Caravans, campervans & trailers

Space will be allocated in the single deck carriages, which are twice as high as the double-deck carriages and feature wider entrance and exit points.

LPG or equivalent flammable gas tanks cannot be transported even if empty or the LPG or equivalent flammable gas mode of the vehicle is not selected.

Thankfully domestic flammable gas containers are allowed with the following restrictions:

  • Portable containers (cylinders/bottles, etc): Maximum of 47kg per cylinder and no more than 50kg per vehicle if more than 1 container
  • Fixed containers (tanks): Maximum of 47kg per container and no more than 50kg per vehicle if more than 1 container
  • Fixed containers must be no more than 80% full. The capacity of the container will be checked by staff

Motorcycles

Tickets cost from £12 each way, which includes the motorcycle, rider and pillion. You stay with your motorcycle for the entire crossing and no strapping is necessary.

Coaches

Coach operators interested in booking travel through the Channel Tunnel are advised to contact Eurotunnel.

The journey

What facilities are there on the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle?

A number of shops and restaurants are available at the Eurotunnel terminal, including Starbucks, WH Smith and Burger King. You can also purchase essential items you might require for travelling through Europe.

A click and collect travel money service is available via Travelex and a soft play area is available in Folkestone. Free wifi is available in the passenger terminal buildings and Flexiplus lounges.

Aside from the toilets, there are no facilities onboard the train, although Vodafone, EE and O2 customers will continue to enjoy mobile phone connectivity beneath the English Channel.

Is there a duty free shop at the Channel Tunnel?

You’ll find a World Duty Free shop in Folkestone and Calais, stocking cosmetics, fragrances, confectionery, wines, spirits and toys. It’s also possible to reserve items online before you travel, ready for collection at the World Duty Free store in Calais.

Items can be reserved between one month and 24 hours before departure. You simply load up your car before boarding the train.

Tips and advice to make your Channel Tunnel journey smoother

Book early as prices go up nearer the departure time. You’ll be given a reference number and password, giving you the opportunity to change your booking nearer the time. The price might go up, but you won’t be charged a fee for the amendment.

Enter your car’s registration number when making a booking, as the check-in booths feature number plate recognition cameras, which speeds up the entire process.

Make sure you book a double-deck carriage if you have a roof box, a trailer or are carrying bicycles. There’s no extra charge for the added convenience, but do bear in mind that there are fewer double-deck carriages, so departure times might be restricted unless you book early.

Tesco customers should be aware that £10 of Clubcard vouchers can be exchanged for £30 in Eurotunnel token codes. Bookings must be made at least 14 days in advance and are valid for travel from Folkestone.

For the latest travel information, advice and offers, follow Eurotunnel Le Shuttle on Twitter.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the Channel Tunnel instead of the ferry?

Advantages

Speed of travel is the obvious advantage of using the Channel Tunnel, with a crossing time of just 35 minutes. In contrast, a Dover to Calais ferry will take 90 minutes to cross the English Channel.

There are also up to four departures per hour, while motorway to motorway access makes it quick and easy to continue your journey upon arrival. One ticket covers up to nine passengers and there are no baggage restrictions.

It’s also worth noting that the Folkestone terminal removes 11 miles from the journey to Dover and the service is unlikely to be disrupted by adverse weather conditions. Seasickness won’t be a problem in the Channel Tunnel.

Disadvantages

On the flip-side, there have been a number of high-profile delays and cancellations, most recently the power failure in October 2016, which resulted in major disruption. Strikes and congestion tend to affect services in Dover, Folkestone and Calais more than any other ferry port along the coasts of the English Channel.

To some people, a holiday starts and ends with a ferry crossing, which provides an opportunity to relax following a long drive. You’ll find restaurants, shops and facilities on a ferry, none of which are available in the Channel Tunnel.

You also have more choice with a ferry operator. Aside from from Dover to Calais, Hull to Rotterdam and Hull to Zeebrugge, ferry operators also run crossings from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth to Caen, St Malo, Cherbourg, Le Havre and Roscoff. 

And while some of Eurotunnel’s advertised prices seem reasonable, tickets tend to be more expensive than a ferry from Dover, even if you book well in advance. Spend some time comparing your options, but do book ahead.

European Breakdown Cover

European Breakdown Cover

Get covered when driving in Europe for just £4.17 a day*.

*Price is based on European Comprehensive breakdown cover for a 14-day trip, in a vehicle up to 1 year old.

European Breakdown Cover

Channel Tunnel facts and trivia

The idea of a tunnel connecting Britain with mainland Europe dates back to at least 1802, when French engineer Albert Mathieu proposed an underground highway for horse-drawn carriages. His elaborate proposal included an island in the middle of the English Channel for changing horses.

In the 1980s, leaders from Britain and France invited companies to put forward plans for a connection between the two nations. At this stage a rail tunnel was only one of the ideas on the table. Others included a so-called Eurobridge, featuring suspension bridge with a roadway in an enclosed tube.

Another proposal put forward was for a Euroroute: a 13-mile tunnel between artificial islands approached by bridges at either side. A high-speed rail link was chosen and construction began in 1988. In 1990, a Frenchman and Englishman shook hands through a hole connecting the two tunnel ends.

How was the Channel Tunnel built?

The Channel Tunnel extends to a length of 31.4 miles, with 23.5 miles of tunnel beneath the sea, so it’s little wonder that it represents one of the biggest engineering projects ever undertaken in the UK.

More than 13,000 workers from England and France collaborated on the project, which required 11 tunnel boring machines, many of which were built specifically for the tunnel.

How long did it take to build the Channel Tunnel?

It took more than five years to complete the Channel Tunnel, with construction starting in 1988, before the first car-carrying shuttle crossed the English Channel in 1994.

Who owns the Channel Tunnel?

The Channel Tunnel is owned by Eurotunnel, which also operates the trains, along with Eurostar and DB Schenker Rail.

European Breakdown Cover

European Breakdown Cover

Get covered when driving in Europe for just £4.17 a day*.

*Price is based on European Comprehensive breakdown cover for a 14-day trip, in a vehicle up to 1 year old.

European Breakdown Cover

Channel Tunnel FAQs

  • Can you go on Eurotunnel without a car?

    Yes, it is possible to use the Eurotunnel without a car. You can do this by taking a shuttle service. The Eurotunnel shuttle service operates between Folkestone in the UK and Coquelles in France. It is a fast and convenient way to cross the English Channel without having to take a ferry. You can also travel via your own bus that you have organised prior to your journey.

  • How much of the Eurotunnel is underwater?

    The Eurotunnel is around 50km long, with 38km of it being under the English Channel. When travelling along the route, you will be, on average, 40m below the surface of the water.

  • Is the price of the Eurotunnel per car or per person?

    Yes, a ticket on the Eurotunnel will cover a vehicle, all suitcases and carry-ons - and up to 9 people (including the driver).

  • What is the cheapest day to travel on the Eurotunnel?

    The cheapest day to travel on the Eurotunnel is typically Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Tuesdays are usually the least crowded day of the week, meaning that the Eurotunnel can offer discounts on fares. Additionally, booking in advance will usually result in the cheapest fares, regardless of the day of the week. It’s also worth checking out promotional offers to see if there are any additional discounts available.

  • Can you just turn up for Eurotunnel?

    It is strongly advised to pre-book your Eurotunnel tickets to avoid disappointment, but can you can just turn up and hope to get a ticket. However, there may not be an immediate space, and it will likely cost more to do it this way.

  • Can I drive my car through the Eurotunnel?

    It is not possible to drive through the Channel Tunnel or Eurotunnel. You must drive onto the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle train, which boards at the Channel Tunnel terminals in Folkestone and Calais in order to use the service.

  • How long does it take to get to France via Eurotunnel?

    If you’re traveling from the UK to France via the Eurotunnel, the journey can take anywhere from 35 minutes to over 2 hours. The travel time depends on the time of day, the day of the week, and your departure point.

    The fastest way to get from the UK to France is by taking the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle service, which departs from Folkestone, England and arrives in Calais, France. The journey typically takes just 35 minutes.

    If you’re traveling from the UK to Paris, you can take a Eurostar train from London, which takes 2 hours and 30 minutes.

  • How long does the Eurotunnel take from London to Paris?

    If you are taking the train from London to Paris, this will take an average of 2 hours and 30 minutes. However, this can sometimes be longer due to delays.

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