Applying for a French long-term visa: the pitfalls to avoid
Life in France has a powerful lure. However, before you can enjoy great food, wine and a relaxed lifestyle, the visa application process must be navigated. Not only is this much less fun than living la belle vie, but there are also some serious pitfalls you need to avoid.
We'd all love to pack up and relocate to France, whether it's for a charmed life among the vineyards of the Loire Valley, or a sunny retirement along the Côte d'Azur. There's so much to experience and explore – not to mention, eat and drink!
However, if you come from outside the EU, you're going to need a visa to achieve that dream.
Along with unparalleled culture, heritage and natural beauty, France is a modern and efficient country. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that its visa application systems are straightforward or free from issues.
Together with Fab French Insurance, we identify the pitfalls you may encounter when applying for a long-stay visa and show you how you can avoid them.
Obtaining a French long-stay visitor visa
France offers many different visas for those who wish to work and reside in the country, depending on their circumstances. These include visas designed for students, salaried workers and ‘tech talent’.
Others may wish to retire in France either permanently, or for significant periods of the year (if you're a second home owner, for example). Two specific long-stay visas are popular options for such people – the 'visa de long séjour temporaire visiteur' and the 'visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour'.
While these visas, particularly the VLS-TS, have various subcategories, we’ll focus specifically on visas for those who will not be working in France in this article.
With similiar-sounding names, you'd be forgiven for thinking they could easily be confused, so let's take a look at the differences you need to know.
These visitor visas are ideal for retirees. They are among the more straightforward visas to apply for, with three similar basic requirements to be met – proof of accommodation (whether this is a rental or owned property), proof of a basic level of income (which could also come from savings or a mix of the two), and proof of medical insurance.
The ‘visa de long séjour temporaire visiteur’ (temporary long-stay visitor visa or ‘VLS-T’) allows you to stay in France for a period of up to six months, after which you must leave the country and cannot immediately re-apply.
The ‘visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour’ (long-stay visa equivalent to a residence permit or ‘VLS-TS’) allows the holder to stay for longer than six months and up to a year. If you wish to stay beyond a year, you must apply for a residence permit that fits your personal circumstances in the two months before your VLS-TS expires.
Regardless of which of these visas you choose, there's a requirement for all non-EU applicants to hold medical insurance covering the entire Schengen area, with a minimum value of €30,000.
This medical insurance needs to be comprehensive – that is to say, covering you for medical care both in and out of hospital - and without any excesses or deductibles. As such it’s really important that you organise your compulsory medical insurance with a broker that knows the system.
There's so much to discover in France when you have a long-term visa. Photo: Getty Images
Seek a visa appointment early or employ an expert
Applying for a French long-stay visa is a two-step process. First, you need to use the French government’s online visa application portal to apply. If you have all the relevant documentation, this is a relatively simple procedure.
The second part of the process is where things get a little frustrating.
Having applied for a visa online, you need to book an in-person appointment to confirm and finalise your application. Different countries use different systems to do this. The system for booking appointments is outsourced to contractors, including TLScontact for the UK and VFS for the US, Canada and Australia.
Ideally, this should be as simple as finding an appointment at your closest local consulate. However, this is the part where many have run into unexpected problems.
Some users of TLScontact have found the booking website overly complex and glitchy, with many having to repeat the process a number of times. An idea of the frustration and consternation felt by those who've tried and failed to get appointments can be ascertained from an article published by The Local in April.
With potential technological and organisational issues affecting your ability to make a visa appointment, it could be wise to employ the services of an immigration lawyer, or a consultant such as Fab. Such experts know exactly how to work the system and ‘speak the language’ to secure a timely appointment.
Plus, you'll have more time to daydream about that villa next to the lavender fields ... or perhaps even to focus on making it a reality!
Allow enough time
You're required to apply for your visa between 30 and 90 days before your planned arrival date in France. Don't apply more than three months ahead as your application won't be processed. But leaving it until the final month is too late and could result in you simply being asked to re-apply.
If you have concerns about receiving your visa in a timely manner, it’s also best to apply outside the summer months of July and August if possible. With many French on their summer holidays at this time, applicants have reported delays in getting their visas processed.
Know what to expect after getting your visa
Many visa holders may think that once they're on the ground in France, there's nothing more to take care of. However, if you wish to enjoy all that France has to offer with peace of mind, you need to remember that the process is not quite finished.
If you're a VLS-TS holder, you still need to validate your visa on the online portal, at which point you’ll receive an acknowledgement. Holders of a VLS-TS may also hear from the immigration office, which could send you for a medical screening or appointment with an immigration agent, depending on the information originally supplied in your application.
To avoid potential complications, you may want to ensure that all the documents you'll require to apply for your visa are easily accessible, with additional copies at hand if possible.
Preparation and organisation will make registering and renewing your visa, or conversion to a residence permit, easier and help avoid delays – so that you can focus on enjoying the France you know and love!
This content was paid for by an advertiser and produced by The Local's Creative Studio.