How Americans can move to France (and stay here)

How Americans can move to France (and stay here)
Lady Liberty will even welcome you to France. Photo: AFP
Whether you're nurturing a long-held dream or just planning to flee the country, here is everything you need to know about moving to France as an American.
France's president Emmanuel Macron is keen to welcome Americans to France, and indeed issued an invitation to anyone disappointed when Trump was elected in 2017, but that doesn't mean that France's notorious bureaucracy has got any easier.
 
There are also currently Covid-19 travel restrictions in place for Americans (more on that below).
 
 
 
But if you're still determined to fulfil your French dream, here's how to go about it.
 
(Tom FLeming/Flickr)
 
Those wanting just a taste of France won't need a visa if the trip is for less than 90 days (unless you're a diplomat or a journalist). All you need is a passport that's valid for at least three months. 
 
But for any stays longer than three months it gets complicated. 
 
Any Americans planning to stay in France – assuming they don't have an extra European passport – will have to get ready for a truckload of paperwork. 
 
First things first, find your closest French consulate here. And be prepared to travel, the consulates are few and far between, with one generally serving several states (see image below).
 
 
 
When you've found your consulate, you'll need to decide what sort of visa to aim for before making an appointment, and there are many on offer – from spouse visas to scientist visas. 
 
For a full guide on getting a visa click HERE.
 
It's important to note that your visa has to be sorted before you leave the USA, so there's no point coming over here as a tourist and then hoping to figure it out from France – they'll just send you back.
 
Here's an overview of the most common types of visa;
 
Spouse Visa
 
If you've already got a Frenchie on your arm then congratulations, things just got a little easier. You'll be able to get a 12-month visa and you'll have to register at the Immigration Office (OFFI) within three months of arrival. This will count as your residence card (more info on how to get residency later).
 
The good news is that the application is free but you'll need a heap of documents including application forms, proof of marriage (in French as well), proof of your spouse's nationality, and a residence form. More info here.
 
Photo: AFP
 
Work Visa
 
The toughest part of this is that you need to find a job first, rather than coming to France and then job-hunting. 
 
Once you find a job, you then need to have your work contract approved by the authorities at the French Labour Ministry (then again at the OFFI offices) and depending on the sector you work in your employer may have to justify why they're hiring you and not a European.
 
If you're bringing family on this visa, get the employer to start a file for them at the same time. You'll need to fill in application forms, residence forms, and you'll need to pay a processing fee of around $100.
 
Visitor Visa
 
This is for those who want to stay for more than three months but don't have a job, a French spouse, or plans to study – it's most commonly used by retired people and it brings with it the requirement to have a certain level of assets.
 
 
You'll need: filled-in questionnaires and application forms, a letter of explanation as to what you intend to do in France, letters promising that you won't work in France (not even working remotely for an employer back in the US), proof that you can support yourself in France, proof of earnings, proof of medical insurance, proof of accommodation in France, and a few other small things. Oh, and around $100 for the pleasure of the processing fee. More info here
 


Photo: AFP
 
Student visa
 
The good news is that the fee is around half that of the other long stay visas, at about $50 and is usually shorter to process, but the bad news is that it's no walk in the park.
 
You'll need a series of documents from Campus France, financial guarantees, enrolment proof, a bunch of forms, and even airline reservation proof. More info here
 
Au Pair visa
 
If you're between the ages of 17 and 30, don't mind a few household chores and quite like children, then this year-long visa could be right up your alley.
 
You'll need all the usual forms, but also an “au pair contract” approved by the French ministry of labour, an invitation from your host family, and you'll have to sign up to language courses for while you're here. Read more about becoming an au pair here, and find out more on the visa  info here
 
Besides these options, there is always a scientist visa, an internship visa, and a diplomatic visa.
 
And how to stay in France (when the first year is over)
 
At least two months before your visa runs out, you can apply for a residency permit (carte de séjour) so that you can stay longer than just 12 months. 
 
By now, you should have your papers in order (plus copies!), all of which you should take to your local préfecture in order to lodge an application. You'll have to prove things like your family situation, your resources financially, your employment contract, your address and more. 
 
Once you've been here for five (continuous) years, you're eligible for permanent residency. Just remember to bring all your documents along to the appointment, of course, and be prepared to prove that you can speak at least a decent amount of French. 
 

Covid-19 travel restrictions
 
The above info all relates to the process in normal times, and because we're optimists we're assuming that they will come back some day. But if you're planning a move imminently then you need to bear in mind travel restrictions around Covid-19.
 
As a country not on the EU's 'safe countries' list, travel from the USA to France is currently only allowed for essential reasons.
 
You can find the full list of those here, but they do include essential work-related travel if you have a job ready to take up here, and international students are still allowed to come.
 
Even if you fit the criteria for essential travel, there are still a long list of extra health rules, including compulsory Covid-19 tests before boarding the plane in the USA – more on that here.
 
And bear in mind that many consulates are operating on reduced hours, so visas may take longer to process than usual.
 
Where to go (and who to meet)?
 
And lastly, if you're wondering where to settle down here, check out our story on where exactly Americans choose to live in France. And don't forget to see the 11 types of Americans that you'll meet in France. 
 
Good luck!
 
 


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  2. Thanks to the Local for providing us Americans with this information. Just wish we were restricted from traveling to France. Does anyone know if France has a retirement visa?

  3. I would also like to know of a retirement visa. I can find no mention of such a thing in the literature/consulate materials. My other BIG question is HEALTH INSURANCE. I have my very good retirement insurance from my former employer, which reimburses me 80% for everything (except meds), but that is not accepted by French authorities as what they need (it needs to be a policy that pays the health system directly). Does anyone know what the minimum-cost health insurance that does meet the requirements are (it is not stated anywhere what the minimum requirements are, just that health insuran ce is required)–please include name of a program and/or an insurance company that provides such or a source that goes into specific detail about how to meet the requirements. Thanks.

  4. We came to France least December on a 1 year “Long sejour Temporaire.” we own property here and have been coming to our place since 2003. We are now both retired. We had planned to spend 4 months here, return to the States for a while and then come back. However COVID “trapped” us here and we’ve been here ever since. At this point we have rented out our house in New York and just want to stay here (in spite of confinenment). We asked our Prefecture about how to get a Carte de Sejour given that our visa is “temporaire.” They said we have to return to the States and start the process all over again. We don’t want to do that, as it would mean we may not be able t return to France any time soon. A lawyer here said we should just apply for a carte de sejour anyway. We have but I am not sure it will work. Any suggestions?

  5. I’m British, I’ve applied for a Carte de sejour under the Brexit agreement. My wife and I retired in 2006 to our property in France. We had been in business between France and US since 1990 and shared our time between California and France. We have UK and US passports and are fiscally resident in US.
    We try to be in France from mid March through late October and then go to US for the winter. We were led to believe that we could maintain our US fiscal situation, but would need to make a tax return in France, but since we were receiving no income in France, and a double taxation exists between France and US, we would have little or no tax to pay in France.
    I’m beginning to hear murmurings that we would have to make France our fiscal residence when we receive a carte de sejour. I’m sure there is a renewable 5 year residence available to retirees after they reach a certain age and can show they have medical insurance and sufficient income to never become a liability to the French Govt.
    Any info available would be of help

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