Guide to France Visa Application and Residency Info with Video

France is a country that has captivated countless visitors with its beautiful landscapes, rich cultural and culinary traditions, and a savoire vivre which places good food, excellent wine, and the enjoyment of friends and family as a top priority. Many who have traveled to this beguiling corner of Europe have decided to call la belle France home. If you plan to work, live, or retire in this haven, you’ll need to secure a visa that can put you on the road to permanent residency or citizenship. Although a bit of a paperwork headache, the steps for obtaining the right to reside in France are not difficult, and many applicants successfully complete the process every year.

In this article, we’ll discuss visiting France for stays up to three months, how to secure a visa for extended stays up to 12 months and beyond, permanent residency requirements, citizenship options, and different visa paths if you want to work or open a business in France.

Video: Visa and Residency in France

Temporary Visas

For citizens belonging to Schengen Zone member states and the U.S, no visa is required to visit France for stays up to three months. When you end the three-month period, or 90 days, you will need to exit the Schengen area. If you stay longer than 90 days in the Schengen area within a 180-day period, you could be subject to a fine, deported, or even banned from re-entering the area.

Some travelers manage to stay longer in Europe by doing what is known as the “Schengen Hop” - essentially leaving a Schengen area country like France after the 90 days are up, and traveling to a nearby country that is not part of the Schengen area - like Croatia, Georgia, the UK, or Turkey. When the clock ticks over on day 181, you can legally return to that area, i.e. continue for another 90 days in France or your chosen European country in the Schengen area.

Long Stay Visas

For those wishing to move to France on a permanent basis, you’ll need to apply for a Long Stay Visa which allows you to stay in France for up to 12 months and is the first step to acquiring residency status. France doesn’t have a designated retirement visa, golden visa, or other visa requiring you to invest in the country to obtain residency. Therefore, the long-stay visa is the standard visa to apply for if you want to live or retire in France.

You must apply for the Long Stay Visa in your country of residence, i.e., the United States or Canada. In addition, you can’t apply for a visa more than three months before your departure date to move to France. For this reason, it’s a good idea to sketch out a timeline for your move and start getting your documentation in order once you’ve decided on your moving date.

For example, if you decided to move to France at the start of September, you would begin the visa process at the beginning of June.

You’re not allowed to work in France on the Long Stay Visa and must submit a written statement saying that you will not seek employment in France. As with many European countries, France has had, and continues to have, relatively high unemployment. It’s very difficult to obtain work in a French company unless you’re already employed at an American or Canadian company that sends you to work in France for a limited time.

To apply for the Long Stay Visa, you will need the following items:

  • Two passport-sized photos
  • A passport must be valid for at least three months from the date of return, with at least two blank pages.
  • Proof of health insurance which must cover France and the entire Schengen area, with €30,000 of coverage for the entire 12 months. This is a special, visa-specific health insurance that you can cancel after 12 months, as you will be on the French healthcare system by this point.
  • Proof of accommodation, for three months minimum, on arrival in France. This does not need to be a deed on a house or even a long-term rental reservation, although those are acceptable. You can also show proof of a three-month stay at a hotel, an Airbnb, or a short-term rental.
  • As stated previously, you’ll need to write a brief statement saying you will not seek employment.

Next, you must show proof of financial means, equivalent to the French minimum wage.

This can be three months of bank statements, any financial statement, proof of Social Security benefits, a pension, or similar financial documentation proving you have sufficient funds to support yourself in France.

If you’re under 65 and moving as a single person, you need to show earnings of at least $696 per month. If you’re over 65 and single, this amount is $1073 per month.

If you’re moving as a couple and under 65, you need to show financial means equivalent to $1036 a month. If you are moving as a couple and over 65, you must provide documentation of $1666 a month.

Lastly, you’re required to write a cover letter stating your purpose of seeking the visa. Explain why you would like to move to France and include the details of your long-term plans and where you will stay upon arrival.

Once you have gathered all this documentation, and you are in the three-month window to apply before your leave for France, you will fill out the application form on the France-Visas website (https://france-visas.gouv.fr/web/france-visas/), the official French government visa site. The application itself and the process are all detailed in English, and you can save your work as you go.

Once you have clicked the submit button, you can download and print your application, and you will be directed to make an appointment at a visa processing center called VFS Global. Although the French consulate makes the final decision on your visa, the processing is now handled by a third party, which has processing centers in the major U.S. and Canadian cities – including Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. You will have to attend an in-person appointment at the nearest processing center. You can find the VFS processing center nearest you and make your visa appointment on the VFS website: www.vfsglobal.com.

On the day of your appointment, you will take your printed application, and all the documents listed for the Long Stay Visa. You will be required to leave your passport at the VFS center so that they can forward it along with your documents to the consulate. Your passport will be mailed back to you with the French visa inside.

Other Types of Long Stay Visas

There are other routes for attaining a Long Stay Visa in France, although they’re only for a specific category of person.

One such visa is the Long Stay VLS-TS. This visa is designed for students who intend to come to France for a period of 12 months only and requires the holder to leave France, go home, and apply again for a visa if they would like to return. This is not the visa to apply for unless you are coming as a student for a one-year period.

Another option, if you wish to work in France, is to apply for a Talent Visa – where the documentation will be quite similar to that of the Long Stay Visa, except you will have to provide proof of skilled work, or financial investment, depending on which section of the Talent Visa you decide to apply for.

There are several options: a designation of “highly skilled worker,” a person of artistic or cultural interest, someone of international renown, or the option to invest or open a business in France. Persons wishing to open a business in France must show a minimum of €30,000 already invested in a business framework and apply for a merchant card. You can find additional details on each branch of the Talent Visa on the France-visas website. If you are seeking to open a business in France, engaging a lawyer with expertise in the process is highly recommended.

Permanent Residency

Once you arrive in France with your Long Stay Visa, you must validate your visa online. You will also have to complete a very short, very standard medical exam at a local immigration office known as the OFII. The actual visit should take at most 20 minutes and consists of a vision test, lung scan, and some basic questions about your health. This visit will in no way exclude you from getting French healthcare. It’s a formality, and the French healthcare system has no age or pre-existing condition rules or exclusions.

You can start to renew your Long Stay Visa in France three months before it expires, understanding that wait times vary. At this point, you should be issued a residence card, known as a Carte de Sejour. When you submit your application, you’ll receive confirmation (a PDF document called a Confirmation du Depot) that the renewal is being processed, and you have the right to stay legally in France.

You can currently renew your visa online at the Ministry of the Interior website This renewal process (of the Carte de Sejour residence card) continues every year for four years, for a total of five years lived in France. At the five-year mark, you’re eligible to apply for a 10-year residency card or French citizenship.

It’s important to note that if you reside outside of France for a total of 10 months or more during those first five years, you risk being denied long-term residency or citizenship.

The benefits of long-term, 10-year residency include not having to complete paperwork and file every year to extend your stay. You can also seek work as a salaried employee or open a business in France. Under special circumstances, like family ties to France, you may be able to apply for a 10-year resident card after your first year of living in France on a Long Stay Visa. Please visit the Service Public website to see if you meet the specific criteria.

Citizenship

Following the process of ensuring your right to reside in France by renewing your residency card every year for four years allows you to apply for French Citizenship if you so desire.

If you wish to seek French citizenship, you’ll have the right to vote in France, work in France, and live and work in any other EU member country.

Applying for French Citizenship

The first step is to submit an application online or with your local prefecture – government administrative headquarters for your county. You will need to provide the following documentation:

  • Two signed copies of the application form in French.
  • Two recent passport photographs – available at local kiosks or photo centers in France.
  • A valid passport.
  • Proof of address - this can be a recent gas, phone, or electric bill.
  • Copy of your Carte de Sejour.
  • French language skills certificate to show that you have an intermediate level in the language (level B1).
  • Proof of marital status.
  • Criminal record check if you’ve lived in France for less than ten years.

All documents need to be translated into French. Please remember that you will need to enroll in French classes well before starting the application process if your French level is not B1 – a solid intermediate level.

Processing Times

The processing time for a Long-Stay Visa is 2-3 weeks from your appointment at VFS. The French consulate makes the final decision and you’ll be notified by email following your VFS appointment if any additional documentation is needed.

The timing on the application for the Carte de Sejour (visa renewal completed in France) varies from administrative district to administrative district, and also from person to person. You can expect anything from a few weeks to have notification of approval to several months. As stated previously, as long as you have the confirmation (Confirmation du Depot) that you’ve submitted your application, you can legally remain in the country.

The processing time for French citizenship through naturalization is around 18 months.

Application Costs

The current fee to submit an application for a Long Stay Visa or Talent Visa is €99 ($106). Since the process has been streamlined by the third-party processing center, VFS, many feel comfortable completing the application process without outside assistance. However, you can seek counsel from an immigration specialist. VFS charges a processing fee of €31.50, about $33, and you will also have to pay a courier fee to have your passport mailed back to your home address.

The Carte de Sejour residence card costs €269 ($293). To apply for French citizenship, the application fee is currently €55 ($60).

Conclusion

Although the idea of obtaining French residency can seem overwhelming, it’s important to focus on the first step in making your French moving dreams a reality: obtaining the Long Stay Visa. This is a very clear, well-organized process that has been considerably streamlined over the past several years. Applicants have reported being pleasantly surprised at the relative ease of submitting their visa requests.

Once you have your French Long Stay Visa in hand, all of the other administrative steps to obtain long-term residency, or eventual French citizenship through naturalization will take place on French soil. Hold on to copies of every document along the way. They will most likely all be requested again during different stages of your life in France.

Although you can engage the services of an immigration professional, we’ve found that most visa applicants can complete the process on their own. For further questions, it’s always advisable to go directly to the source: france-visas.gouv.fr. This helpful website, in English, is the official French immigration directory and will always be the most up-to-date. You can also check on fellow visa and resident applicant experiences on Facebook groups like Americans Living the Dream in France and American Retired and Thriving in France.