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Reader question: Can I come to France for 90 days then get a visa?

The Local France
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Reader question: Can I come to France for 90 days then get a visa?
(Photo by MARTIN BUREAU / AFP)

This is a common question, but in most cases it's not possible to get a visa once you have arrived in France.

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Question: We bought a house in France and arrived under the 90 day rule in July - we know we now need to get a visa but we've had no luck in dealing with the préfecture, what the best way to get a visa?

The short answer to this question is in most cases it's not possible and you will have to go back to your home country.

Here's the longer answer . . . 

As most people know, if you want to move to France to live and you come from a non-EU country you will need a visa.

There are several different visa options which depend on your individual situation - eg worker, student, retiree - but with the exception of certain specific groups (more on them later), first-time visas of these type must be applied for outside of France.

The other key point is that préfectures do not deal with visas - you need to go through the France Visas service.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

Visitor visas are common for second-home owners wishing to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France.

The first option is the short-stay visitor visa (VLS-T), which is typically awarded for a period of under six months and does not involve establishing residency in France. If you wish to come back to France on this visa, then you would have to return to your home country and apply for it again from there.

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The other option for those looking to move to France and establish residency here is the long-stay visitor visa (VLS-TS). 

READ MORE: VLS-T or VLS-TS: What are the key differences between France’s visitor visas?

The first step is to complete your application using France's online portal at the website France-Visas.

Once you have finished this first part on France-Visas, you can click to see the next steps for making an appointment in your country by clicking on the link to 'places of submission'. This will provide information regarding the organisation that will receive you in-person for your visa appointment.

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In the UK, you will have to make an appointment with TLS Contact, which has application centres in London, Manchester and Edinburgh. Applications can be submitted up to 120 days prior to planned departure.

For the United States, you can submit your application through VFS Global, which has 9 centres across the country. "Applications cannot be submitted more than six months before the departure date for short-stay visa applications and no more than 3 months before the departure date for long-stay visa applications", according to VFS Global policy.

After you the appointment and application submission, you will need to wait until the centre gives you back your passport with your visa inside. Be sure to give yourself wiggle room in case of delays.

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During the period that your visa applies, 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.

READ MORE: Reader question: How does getting a French visa affect the 90-day rule?

If you're moving to France to live, you will have extra 'in country' admin once you arrive, including a visit to the Immigration Office and - eventually - to the préfecture to get a residency card.

READ MORE: OFII: Your questions answered on France's immigration office

Exceptions

So that's the situation for most people, but there are certain groups for whom it is possible to apply for residency from within France.

Refugees and asylum seekers can apply in France - more information here.

Family reunification can also be an exception to having to apply for a visa from outside of France - in many cases the dependent family member can apply for residency in France with their family member's local préfecture. Typically, the relationships considered for family reunification are dependent minor children, as well as spouses and sometimes partners ("with a lasting and proven relationship").

Brexit Withdrawal Agreement - if you benefit from the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (ie you were living in France before December 31st 2020) you have the right to be joined by a family member, and in that case this includes dependant parents as well as children or spouses/partners.

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READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Can you bring an ageing parent to France to live?

Why is there confusion around this?

Looking at Facebook groups and questions from readers, the biggest reason for confusion seems to be simply people comparing themselves to others who are in a completely different immigration situation.

For example, Brits who were in France prior to 2021 had a greatly simplified residency process thanks to the Withdrawal Agreement - but this is not available to new arrivals who must go through the standard visa process for non-EU nationals.

Some are also thrown off due to the exceptions which exist surrounding dependent family members, and there's also confusion around the difference between residency cards (cartes de séjour) and visas. 

Visas are generally required for new arrivals into France - they must be applied for outside France, usually in your home country or country of residence, through the online France Visas service.

Residency cards (cartes de séjour) are in most cases issued to people who are resident in France, some time after their visa was issued, and are dealt with by the local préfecture. In most cases you cannot go directly onto a carte de séjour - you need a visa first. The exception to this was Brits who were resident in France prior to 2021 and who benefited from a special post-Brexit process that allowed them to be issued with five-year or 10-year cards without the need for a visa.

The 90 day rule 

You may be tempted to stay longer than 90 days in France without a visa, particularly if you were hoping to not have to return back to your home country any time soon. This is not advisable as people found to have over-stayed without a valid residency permit can be fined, deported and banned from re-entry to the EU.

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In practice, enforcement varies between countries and most countries keep the toughest penalties for people who have overstayed for many months or even years, or who are working illegally.

The most likely scenario for people who have over-stayed for a short time is a fine - French authorities have been issuing €198 fines to over-stayers - and a stamp in the passport flagging the person as an over-stayer. This stamp will likely lead to added complications on future trips, and can make getting a visa more difficult.

The 90 day rule is calculated on a rolling calendar, so you always count back 180 days from the present date to see how many days you have spent in the EU without a visa or residency permit, and therefore how many you have left - if you're confused, the online Schengen calculator HERE allows you to input your dates and work out your total. 

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