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TOURISM

How American tourists have rediscovered their love for France

It's the first summer without travel and health restrictions since the start of the pandemic and the Americans are heading back to France in droves.

How American tourists have rediscovered their love for France
Tourists pose in front of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris in 2021. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

If you’ve been walking down the streets of Paris or perhaps even some quaint villages in Provence then you might have heard a notable uptick in the number of American accents you hear..

It’s the first summer since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic without strict health or travel restrictions and American travellers are heading across the pond to take advantage of their ability to eat croissants and enjoy the Eiffel Tower once again. 

While tourism in general has been exploding across Europe, in France specifically, the industry is hitting and even exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Revenue per room for French hotels is higher than it was in 2019, and the Eiffel Tower is once again seeing 24,000 people per day, which is the same level of visitor numbers the Iron Lady saw before the Covid-19 epidemic.

And American visitors in particular are returning to France in their thousands.

As of late May, travel from the US to Europe saw a 1003 percent increase compared to April 2021, which has certainly been reflected in France, which is second favourite destination in Europe for Americans after Italy.

In fact, American tourists represent the largest group of tourists to make their way back to France, making up around 12.7 percent of foreign tourists in 2022 – over double that of British tourists who make up just 5.8 percent.

In preparation of a summer filled with Americans, Air France even increased its capacity for flights to and from the United States. This summer, it the airline is operating close to 200 weekly flights to 14 destinations across the U.S. which represents 20 percent more than it did in 2019 before the start of the pandemic.

And Americans are not visiting France’s capital city Paris. A new survey shows they are heading much further afield in France.

Coastal destinations such as Nice, Marseille, and Bordeaux have risen in popularity among American visitors. In comparison to 2019, Nice has seen a 182 percent increase in ticket reservations, with Marseille also seeing a strong increase of 128 percent.  

Besides Paris and the coasts, Americans are also reportedly making their way to the cities of Avignon, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence and Reims, as well as Giverny near Paris.

Train-setting across France

For the American visitors in France this year, they have chosen trains as their preferred method of transport. Across Europe, train lines have seen an average of 50 percent more American tourists than in previous years. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about taking the train in France

According to Trainline, France’s national rail service SNCF, has seen ticket purchases by American tourists shoot up by 93 percent from pre-pandemic levels, and the rail industry is welcoming the rise in ticket purchases: “these numbers are great news for the rail industry in France and Europe,” said Christopher Michau, the Director of European Partner Relations at Trainline to BFMTV.

“All tourist destinations across the country should prepare for an influx of American visitors this summer, as bookings are 14 times higher in France than they were a year ago at the same time,” warned Michau.

Why take the train? Michau judges it is likely to due a better understanding of Covid-19-related travel restrictions, but more importantly, a “desire to travel more sustainably.”

While Americans are not known for taking long vacations, this summer American tourist is spending around 10 days in France on average. And while they are here, they are big spenders.

In a survey of tourists visiting France from abroad, Americans came in first place for their daily spending budget while on holiday. The average American allocates about €400 per day in France, racking up an average total bill of €7,650 (which includes the cost of flying to and from the United States).

It is safe to say that this spending is important to France’s tourism sector, which prior to the pandemic (in 2019) made up 7.4 percent of the country’s GDP and represented 9.5 percent of total jobs.

American tourists are of particular importance, as they represent France’s leading “long-haul” outbound market, and Air France considers the U.S. to be its leading long-flight destination.

However, though France in pre-pandemic times received large flows of foreign tourists, the country has always had a steady supply of domestic tourists.

In the first half of 2022, foreign tourists, represented 79.9 percent of the flow of travellers but 21.1 percent were French tourists.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: How important are American tourists to France?

Not all sunshine and rainbows

Even though Americans are flocking back to France, the journeys are not without hiccups and headaches for some.

Prior to the start of the summer holiday season, airlines and airports were already reporting serious staff shortages after nearly two years of pandemic cutbacks. On top of staff shortages, both air and rail travel have been impacted by strikes, as workers seek wage increases.

Waiting time in airports has significantly increased, and flight cancellations are more frequent, making this summer complicated for travel. Air France cancelled over 10 percent of its short and medium haul flights at Charles de Gaulle the first weekend of July just in preparation for strike action, and the Paris airport group has been urging passports to arrive “three hours (before scheduled take-off) for an international flight, two hours for a domestic or European flight.” Meanwhile, the high season for travel has not started yet, it typically begins once schools in France break-up for the summer holidays, which is July 7th this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

In addition to travel complications, the Covid-19 pandemic has unfortunately not ended yet. Cases are on the rise again across Europe, and in France, new variants already make up over 75 percent of cases. The country is seeing an average of 100,000 new Covid-19 cases per day, with the peak of the seventh wave not expected until late July. 

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VISAS

Second-home owners and retirees: French visitor visas explained

Within the complex world of French visas there exists two types of visa labelled 'visitor' but these are in fact very different documents, and have implications for your residency, tax liabilities and visits to France.

Second-home owners and retirees: French visitor visas explained

If you’re a non-EU citizen and you want to spend longer than 90 days out of every 180 in France then you will need a visa – and there are many different types of visa depending on your personal circumstances.

We take a look at the different visa types and how to apply for them HERE.

But a frequent cause of confusion is that there are two visas commonly known as a ‘visitor’ visa – but are in fact completely different documents giving you vastly different rights in France.

It would be much easier if one of them could be rechristened, but here we are;

Short-stay visitor visa

Technically known as the visa de long séjour temporaire visiteur – or VLS-T – this visa is perhaps the better named one as it is for visitors – by which we mean people who don’t live in France.

This is a six-month visa and it’s most commonly used by second-home owners who don’t want to be constrained by the 90-day rule, although it is also used by others who want to make longer trips to France without working.

The crucial point about this visa is that you are not a resident of France, you keep your residency in another country, most usually your home country.

Not being a resident in France is important because it imposes certain limits – for example if the borders were closed again for whatever reason you would not be allowed entry to France as a visitor (unless you had an essential reason) – but it also exempts you from certain duties that are imposed on residents, such as making the annual tax declaration.

You can obtain one six-month visitor visa in every 12 months – because by the government’s reckoning if you spend more than six months of the year in France then you are a resident.

We’ll let them explain: “If you are spending between three and six months a year in France in total, you are not considered as a resident in France. You will have to apply for a temporary visitor visa – visa de long séjour temporaire visiteur.

“If you spend more than six months a year in France, you are then considered as a French resident and must apply for a long stay visitor visa (visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour visiteur).”

You can apply for multiple short-stay visas, but only with a six month gap in between them – so far example you can have a visa from January-June 2021, then another from January-June 2022, then January-June 2023 and so on. But you can’t have a visa from January-June 2022 and then September 2022 to February 2023.

During its validity period, you are exempt from the 90-day rule in France (and only in France, the rule still applies if you travel to another EU/Schengen zone country) and your passport doesn’t need to be stamped when entering or exiting France.

Once the visa expires, you revert to being constrained by the 90-day rule, with passport-stamping.

READ ALSO How does getting a visa affect the 90-day rule?

You can find full details of the requirements for a short-stay visitor visa HERE, but one important thing to note is that you must give an undertaking that you will not work in France. 

Your visitor visa does not entitle you to register in the French health system, or to obtain a carte de séjour residency card.

READ ALSO Can second-home owners get a carte de séjour?

Long-stay visitor visa 

This visa – formally known as the visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour visiteur or VLS-TSis, in our humble opinion, quite misleadingly named, as people who have this visa aren’t visitors at all, they live here.

The long-stay visitor visa is for people coming to France to live who don’t intend to work or study – it’s most commonly used by retired people.

With this visa you are a resident of France, so have extra rights such as being allowed back in to the country if the borders close and being able to register in the French health system. But with rights come responsibilities, including having to file the annual French tax declaration (even if all your income comes from outside France, such as a pension from your home country).

Like the short-stay visitor visa you need to give an undertaking that you won’t work in France in order to get this visa, and you will need to demonstrate that you have sufficient financial means to support yourself while you’re here without becoming a burden on the French state.

Just like the other types of visas for residents, after obtaining the long-stay visitor visa you are then able to get a carte de séjour residency card.

Time spent in France on a long-stay visitor visa counts towards the minimum residency period if you intend to apply for French citizenship.

You can find full details on how to apply for the long-stay visitor visa HERE

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