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LIVING IN FRANCE

EXPLAINED: How to get a French spouse visa

Being married to a French person doesn't exempt you from visa requirements, but it does give you the option of getting a spouse visa. Here's how they work, and the advantages and disadvantages of going down this route.

EXPLAINED: How to get a French spouse visa
Photo: Andreas Rønningen / Unsplash

Who doesn’t need a visa

First things first, you do not need a visa to join your French spouse in France if you are:

  • A foreign national who holds a French residence permit;
  • A citizen of a European Union or Schengen zone country
  • A foreign national who holds a long-term resident permit from an EU country
  • A national of Andorra, Monaco or Saint Marino

Who does need a visa

Otherwise, you will need a visa before you enter France. Usually, you would need a long-stay visa equivalent to a residence permit (VLS-TS), which allows you to stay legally in France for its duration, generally less than or equal to a year.

After one year of residence, you can apply, as the spouse of a French citizen, for a multi-year residence permit for private and family life. This is valid for a further two years. 

Once you have been married and living in France for three years, you have the option of applying for a 10-year residency card. These are usually issued on condition that you and your French spouse are living in the same home.

When deciding on the type of visa, you also need to bear in mind what you intend to do once in France (work, study, retire etc) – see below.

Marriage

In order to get a spouse visa you need to be married, being pacsé (in a civil partnership) will not do.

If you were married outside France, you will need to have it listed on the French register of marriages at the registres français du service central d’état civil in Nantes. Any non-French documents, such as the marriage certificate will need to be translated.

If you married in France, the commune in which you married deals with the proper registry of the marriage.

Be aware that, legally, any French citizen who marries abroad should first contact the Embassy or consulate in the country in which they plan to marry. The publication of the banns is compulsory for the marriage of a French national abroad.

Supporting documents

The usual paperwork applies. You will need;

  • A travel document, issued less than 10 years ago, containing at least two blank pages, with a period of validity at least 3 months longer than the date on which you intend to leave the Schengen Area or, in the case of a long stay, at least three months longer than the expiry date of the visa requested. 
  • ID photograph.
  • Marriage certificate
  • If you are not a national of your country of residence: proof that you are legally resident in that country (e.g. residence permit).

Please note this list may not be exhaustive and further documents may be requested. The standard visa fee is €99 and you may also need to pay to have supporting documents translated into French. For an accurate simulation of the requirements for your personal situation, log on to the French government’s Visa Wizard

Visa issues

Being married to a French person means that you are entitled to a spouse visa, but depending on your plans for your life in France, it may not be the best visa type for you. 

The spouse visa demands that the holder has the financial means to be able to live in France, but does not allow them to work.

So if you intend to get a job while in France, you may be better off applying for a working visa. It’s possible to study in France while on a spouse visa, but the student visa has certain advantages if you want to convert it into a work visa at the end of your studies.

There’s also the issues that no-one wants to think about – divorce and death. Individual circumstances are taken into account here, but the general rule is that if you are widowed while in France on a spouse visa you can stay, but if you divorce you may not be entitled to stay, unless you have dependent children living in France.

As with all visa issues, if you are uncertain it is better to get legal advice in advance.

What if you came to France without a long-stay visa?

The good news is that the French are generally quite romantic. If you entered France on a short-stay visa and are married to a French national, you can request exceptional admission to stay in France during the first year of your stay.

You can apply for a private and family life card if the following three conditions are met:

  • You have entered France with a short-stay visa (or are of a nationality exempt from tourist visas);
  • You are married in France to a French citizen;
  • You have been living in France for more than six months with your spouse.

After that, you will still have to apply for a multi-year visa and then a 10-year residency card – which, as the name suggests, needs to be renewed after a decade.

Citizenship

It’s also possible to get French citizenship through marriage, although conditions do apply.

You need to have been married for four years before you can apply, although you don’t have to be living in France.

You then need to go through the usual application process of providing a lot of documents, proving that you speak French, and taking part in the citizenship interview – full details here.

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For members

TRAVEL

Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

Ever seen those drivers who avoid the queues at toll booths and driving straight through? Here's how they do it.

Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

If you’re driving on French autoroutes one of the things you need to know is that they are not free – you will have to pay regular tolls, payable at toll booths known as péage.

Usually, drivers pick up a ticket from a booth at the start of their journey, then pay the required amount at a booth at the end of it – or when they move onto a different section of autoroute – based on the distance they have travelled.

But the toll booths themselves can be busy, especially during the summer, and long queues sometimes build up.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

This is where automated pay systems – known as télépéage – come in, especially for those who use the motorway network regularly.

As well as allowing you to pass straight through péages without stopping for payment, it’s also very useful for owners of right-hand drive vehicles, who may otherwise find that they’re sitting on the wrong side for easy and speedy payment.

Here’s how it works

Order your télépéage badge online

Click on the Bip&Go website here and follow the instructions to order a scannable personalised device (up to a maximum of two per account for private users). You will need to set up an account to arrange electronic payment of charges.

The website is available in English, French, German or Dutch.

You will need to supply bank details (IBAN number), address (for delivery), mobile phone number (to activate your account) and the vehicle’s registration details.

Your badge will be dispatched to your address within 48 hours from the opening of your online account. You can have the device sent to addresses outside France, but allow longer for it to arrive. 

If you’re in France, you can also pick up the device at one of Bip&Go’s stores, if you prefer – you will need need your bank details, proof of identity and a mobile phone.

Attach your badge 

Place your device on on the windscreen to the right of the rearview mirror. It is activated and ready to go. Then, simply, drive.

At the péage

All toll booths are equipped with the sensors that recognise that the vehicle is carrying the necessary device. At most, you will have to stop briefly for the device to be recognised and the barrier to lift.

You will also be able to drive through certain booth areas without stopping. These are indicated by an orange t symbol on the overhead signs. The maximum speed you can pass through these booths is 30kph.

Payments

Payments are processed automatically. You can monitor the amounts you have to pay on an app.

Do I need separate badges for motorway networks run by different companies?

No. The badge allows holders to travel on the entire French motorway network, no matter which company manages the motorway, and you can also use it to cross a number of toll structures in France such as the Millau Viaduct, the Tancarville Bridge or the Normandie Bridge, and pay to park in more than 450 car parks. 

Is it only valid in France?

No, with certain packages, you can also as easily travel on motorways in Spain, Portugal and Italy, and use a number of compatible car parks. You can even use them on Italian ferries.

Okay, but how much does it cost?

Subscriptions to the Bip&Go service depend on what type of service you want. A fixed price rolling subscription is €16 a year – plus toll charges – but assumes you’re a regular user of French motorways. 

A pay-as-you-go subscription is €1.70 for every month the badge is in use – plus toll charges – and carries a €10 additional fee if the badge is not used in a 12-month period.

How much are the toll charges?

They depend on the road you’re on, how far you travel along it, and the vehicle you’re driving.

Heading from Toulouse to Biarritz along the A64 will cost a total €23 in fees for a private car and if you’re driving all the way from Calais down to the Mediterranean coast expect to pay around €70 once you add up the various tolls along the way.

You can find out tariffs for autoroutes on the website of France’s official autoroute body AFSA – where you can also calculate the cost of your journey – including fuel.

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