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EXPLAINED: How to apply for a visa to France

EXPLAINED: How to apply for a visa to France
Non-European ciitzens need a valid visa to get into France. Photo: AFP
Getting a French visa is a complicated affair and navigating the rules regulating the process can be something of a headache. Hopefully, this step-by-step guide will make things a little easier.

Before jumping on a plane to France, non-EU citizens will often need to apply for a visa.

US citizens, Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians and a long list of other nationalities wanting more than a holiday in France must first visit a French embassy in their home country and provide a long string of documents to get a visa fitting for their purpose. Since the end of the Brexit transition period, this now includes Brits too.

READ ALSO How Americans can move to France (and stay here)

If you need a visa, you need to arrange this in your home country BEFORE you make the move to France.

So if you fall into any of those groups, here’s how you go about getting a visa.

1. Find out if you need a visa

This bit is easy. The French government has set up a visa wizard website (link here) where you can easily check whether or not you need a visa for your trip to France. The website is accessible both in French and English.

Fill in your nationality, age and where you’re travelling from, how long you are planning to stay (more or less than 90 days), and what kind of travel document you will use.

If you are a visitor from a country outside the EU and/or Schengen area, chances are you will be told that you need a visa. Some countries are exempt from the rule, but their citizens are told to bring a long list of other documents that they might be asked to show upon entering France.

READ ALSO Will British people be able to move to France after Brexit?

Spouses or relative of EU/EEA/Swiss nationals do not need a visa to enter France, but must apply for a residence permit (carte de sejour) within two months of arriving in France.

2. Find out what kind of visa you need

There are a range of different types of visas you can apply for depending on your nationality, where you are travelling from and your purpose for going to France. 

Short-term visas

A visa de court séjour (short-stay visa) permits you to enter France or another Schengen country for a period that lasts up to three months (90 days). Your stay must be for non-professional purposes, meaning you cannot work in France while you are here.

Some non-EU, non-Schengen countries have agreements that make it possible for their citizens to come to France for short stays (like holidays) without such a visa. This list includes the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (full list available here).

For example, a US citizen going to France for less than 90 days does not need a visa, but must be able if asked to show a range of other documents upon their arrival, including proof of where they will live and that they will be able to pay for their stay (full list here). 

For further information about the short-term visa and the exceptions related to it, you can access the French official website here, in English.

Long-term visas 

Anyone from a non-EU, non-EEA, non-Schengen country who is planning a stay exceeding three months must apply for a visa de long séjour (long-stay visa), which allows the the holder to stay in France for a period of up to a year.

If your end-goal is a residency permit you will need a long-stay visa first. There are some exceptions to the rule (for example for family members and spouses of EU/EEA/Swiss citizens, more information here), but as a general rule you cannot apply for a residency permit while on a short-stay visa.

Long-term visas cover:

  • Joining family members  

  • Education

  • Professional reasons (job, internship or training)

  • Extended tourist stays or other personal motives like retirement 

If you wish to join a family member in France, you will need to provide supporting documents that will depend on your nationality, the nature of the relationship and the reasons for your stay (more details here).

If you want to work as an employee in France you will need an approved contract from your employer before applying for a visa. You can come as a self-employed to set up a business in France, but you will need to prove the financial viability of the project to get a visa (more details here).

Those working in a liberal profession or a business must be able to prove that they have sufficient financial resources, earning at least the French minimum wage (SMIC).

If are coming as a visitor you will need to prove that your financial situation is sufficiently robust to finance your stay in France.  The documents you need will depend on your particular case and will be indicated in the visa wizard, but you will likely be asked to provide information about your financial situation (pension, savings), your accommodation and health insurance which will cover any medical costs in France (more information here). You must also formally agree not to engage in any professional activity during your stay in France. 

READ ALSO How to get a visitor visa for France 

3. Apply

Visa applications cannot be submitted more than three months prior to the start of your trip for a long-term visa and six months for short-term visas.

You can access the application here. You need to register as a user and then you can begin to plot in all the necessary information (you don’t need to do the whole thing at once as you can save the form every time you go pass over to a new step).

When you have completed the application, you print out the form along with the receipt and the other supporting documents that they will ask you to provide (eg work contracts, financial information).

Bring all the document to the French embassy or consulate in your country of residence, where you can when you submit your file. Some countries allow you to submit your application by post, others insist you attend the embassy or consulate in person – which can be at the other end of the country to where you live.

Usually, as the authorities process the application, you’ll be invited back for a meeting in person.

You are able to track the status of your application here.

4. Pay

Visas are not free, you will be charged a fee and this is not refunded even if your application is denied.

You can find the full list of fees here, but generally short-stay visas are €80 and long-stay are €99.

This is only part of the cost, however. Any supporting documents that you supply must be translated into French and you will need to pay for a certified translator to provide these. Find out more about certified translations and costs here.

5. What next

Once you are in France with the visa there are further administrative steps, exactly which ones depend on the type of visa you have. Our ‘Visas – what next’ guide gives you the full details.


Member comments

  1. Hello. I tried accessing the link to concerning joining family members in France but it’s of no help in terms of finding out what documents are necessary. When I put my details in, I got a message saying “Your application cannot be processed online. For more information, please contact your place of issue directly at United Kingdom.” Which, as it didn’t say what ‘place of issue’ meant, isn’t much use. Maybe everything concerning the UK is suspended till October?

  2. Hello, if British people living in France will be required to have a long-stay visa after 31.12.20 will that be in addition to a Carte de Resident Longue Duree? And if a British person wishes to surrender their UK nationality and become 100% French, would they still require one of the 2 above documents?

  3. Has the French government stopped outsourcing its visa process? Last year when I obtained a long-term visitor visa, one could not go directly to an embassy or consulate and a notice on the government website said that ALL visa applications were outsourced and gave a link. Once filling out the form with documents, I was sent a note to then apply for an appointment on line with the outsourced provider. Attended that appointment with documents and if all way okay, handed over my passport to be send by the outsourcer for a final higher level check at its head office in my country (Canada) in Montreal. I was advised when the visa was granted and my passport sent back to the local office for pickup. One could pay an extra fee to have the passport sent to one’s residence.

  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. 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?

  6. This article is meaningless in this Covid period, particularly the couvre-feu as no visas are being issued.

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