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Moving to France: Guide to French visas and permits

28th March 2014, Comments23 comments

Moving to France: Guide to French visas and permits
Find out which French visa or permit you need to visit, live, work or study in France.

You may need to apply for a French visa or permit if you want to visit, live, work or study in France. This essential guide will help you find out which French visa or permit you need depending on your nationality and reason for moving to France.

Do you need a French visa?

EU/EEA/Swiss citizens
You don’t need a visa or residence permit if you’re an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen. Under the Freedom of Movement Act, if you're a national from one of the countries in the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA) that is, all the countries of the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – or Switzerland, you don't need a visa or other permit to visit, live, work or study in France but you may apply for an optional EU-citizen residence card if you wish.

Citizens of the 'new' EU member state Croatia can enter France without a visa but will need authorisation to work, possibly up until June 30, 2020.

For more information about EU/EEA/Swiss nationals, read our guide for EU/EEA/Swiss nationals moving to France.

Non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens
Some nationalities need a visa just to enter France, regardless of whether it's for a short stay (up to 90 days) or longer (more than 90 days). Check here to see if you need a visa to enter France.

All non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals will need to apply for a long-stay visa (visa long de séjour) and residence permit if they want to stay in France longer than 90 days (three months), details provided below.

Short-stay/entry visas

France is one of 26 countries making up the ‘Schengen' area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland. They have one common visa and no border controls between them. Note: the UK is not part of the Schengen area.

If you will be stopping briefly in a French airport (even for a few hours) en route to another destination, depending on your nationality, you may need a transit or airport visa. It only allows you into the international zone of a French airport. If you are leaving the airport, even for a day, you may need to get a short stay – Schengen visa.

Schengen visas allow you to enter France (or any other country in the Schengen area – see above) for up to three months (90 days) within a six-month period. You cannot look for work or take up a work contract if you come to France on a Schengen visa and you can’t renew this type of visa from within the Schengen area.

You will need to apply for a Schengen visa unless you are from the EU, EEA or Switzerland and some other countries, including Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the United States of America.

You don’t need a short-stay visa if you hold a French residence permit or a residence permit from another Schengen country, certain travel documents from other EU states, or are from one of countries on this list.

If you’ve have a residence permit in the past but have been away from France for more than three consecutive years, your permit will have expired and you will need a new visa to enter France. If you have lost your visa, then you must apply to the French embassy/consulate in your home country for a return visa.

Relatives and partners of EU/EEA/Swiss nationals

Spouses and dependant relatives of EU/EEA/Swiss nationals have the same entry rights (i.e. they don't need a visa to enter France), even if they are not from the EU themselves, but must apply for a residence permit (carte de sejour) within two months of arriving in France.

Applying for a French short-stay visa
If you need a Schengen visa, you must apply at the French embassy or consulate in your country of residence. You need to hold a passport or national ID document issued within the previous 10 years and valid for at least three months after you intend to leave France. You must be able show that you have adequate funds to support yourself during your visit, somewhere to stay, and have medical insurance with cover of at least EUR 30,000.

You can fill out this application form for a Schengen visa. As at 2014, the non-refundable fee for processing a Schengen application is EUR 60 (reduced rate for citizens of Bosnia, Moldavia, Russia, Ukraine and Georgia).

You may be granted a Schengen visa for a single entry or for multiple entries, and it can be valid for up to five years.
For a list of French consulates and embassies able to issue visas, see here.
Visas in France
Long-term /extended stay visas (visa de long séjour)
If you want to stay longer in France than three months (90 days) – usually for work, study or family reunification – unless you’re an EU/EEA/Swiss citizen, from Andorra, Algeria, Monaco, San Marino or the Vatican City, you have to apply for a long-stay visa (visa de long séjour) from the French embassy or consulate in your home country, before you can enter France.

You can apply for one of these visas if you are:
  • employed (with at least a year-long contract).
  • a temporary worker (with a contract between three months and one year).
  • a scientific researcher.
  • a student or intern.
  • the spouse of a French citizen.
  • the spouse of foreign national legally living in France and wish to be reunited.
  • coming to France as a visitor (not working) and have sufficient funds to live off during your stay.

Visas are valid for different purposes: a holiday (visa long séjour visiteur), employment (salerié), study (étudiant) or if you’re coming to join a relative, a private and family life visa (vie privée et familiale).

If you intend to work while you’re in France, you will have to have an approved contract with an employer before you can be granted a visa/permit (see below, in working in France).

You will need a long-stay visa in order to get a residence permit. You can’t get one on a short-stay visa. Some long-stay visas (VLS-TS), valid for stays between three months and one year, also act as a temporary residence permit as long as the visa is validated by the L’Office Francais de l’Immigration et de I’Integration (OFII).

You can apply for a long-stay visa using this application form (in English). For a list of French consulates and embassies able to issue visas, see here.

Residence permit (carte de séjour)

Within two months of your visa/temporary residence permit expiry date, if you want to stay on longer in France, you have to go to the local préfecture and apply for a renewable residence permit. You may have to provide details of your family situation, financial resources, health insurance, proof of your address in France and an employment contract.

The duration of the permit will depend on your employment/study status and family situation. Usually residence permits are one-year renewable, but there are also three year compétences et talents (skills and talents) permits and permanent residence permits for up to 10 years.

If you are joining a family member in France

EU/EEA/Swiss nationals do not need a visa to join a family member living in France but others will.

If you are the spouse of a French national, you must apply for a long-stay visa from the embassy/consulate in your home country. You’ll need to provide evidence of your partner’s nationality, your marital status and may have to prove that you have an ‘adequate’ knowledge of French (as deemed by the French authorities) or have taken a French language course.

If you are accompanying a relative who is an EU/EEA/Swiss citizen, then you will have to apply for a free-of-charge visa with proof of your relative’s nationality and your family relationship to enter the country – and then apply for a residence permit from your local préfecture within two months of your arrival in France. Family members include spouse and dependent children under 21 and dependent parents. It’s a good idea to contact the préfecture ahead of time to find out what documents you’ll need.

Relatives of other nationalities may be able to apply for a visa for family reunification depending on certain factors, like why your relative is in France and how long they will be there (e.g they have a three-year compétences et talents or 'skills and talents' permit).

For more information about family reunification permits in France, read Moving to France to join a relative or partner.

Studying in France
Nationals from the EU/EEA and Switzerland don’t need a visa to come and study in French higher education and can apply directly to educational institutions. If you are entering the first year of higher education, like French students, you will need to follow the online post-baccalaureat admission (Admission post-bac or APB).

If you’re from elsewhere, you will need to apply for a student visa at the French embassy or consulate in the country in which you’re living. In some countries, you must follow a CEF procedure to apply for an academic course and to get a student visa.

For more information on student visas, see Studying in France: student visas and work permits.

Permanent residency in France

After living for five continuous years in France (less if you fulfil certain other criteria, such as marriage to a French national or hold a degree from a French university), you may be able to apply for a 10-year, renewable long-term EC card or French citizenship through nationalisation and all that it includes, such as the right to vote. You will need to fulfil certain requirements, depending on your individual circumstances, such as proof of marriage, birth certificates and evidence that you have a good knowledge of the French language.

For more information, see our guide to permanent residence visas in France.

Moving to France: Getting a French visa  
When you arrive in France

If you have a long-stay visa that also acts as residence permit, you should contact the OFII with a completed OFII residence form (in French), make an appointment for an interview and medical examination, and pay your residence taxes. You may be tested on you French language skills.

The OFII will put a sticker put into your passport to prove that you are living legally in France. If your visa bears the words 'carte de séjour à soliciter’, you must go to the préfecture to apply for a residence permit.

When your visa/permit expires

If you want to extend your visa/permit, then you must apply to your local préfecture (administrative offices representing the government at a local level) for an extension (prolongation de visa), within two months of expiry, together with supporting documents (e.g. proof of continuing employment).

If the purpose of your stay changes, then you must contact the préfecture to apply for a new residence permit.

If you stay on beyond the duration of your visa, you run the risk of being fined or having an alert recorded against you, when you leave France, which may be detrimental when you make future visa applications.

Working in France

If you’re a national from a country in the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you are free to work in France without restriction. Citizens of Croatia will need work permits possibly up until June 30, 2020.

Most other people who want to take on paid work in France will need to find a prospective employer before they arrive, who will then contact the foreign labour section of the DIRECCTE (Regional directorate for enterprises, competition, consumption, work and employment) for authorisation. If your contract is approved it’s forwarded onto the OFII and then to the embassy/consulate in your home country. Then you can proceed with your visa/residence application.

Some people may be eligible for a compétences et talents card, which allows them to work without employment authorisation. It may be granted if you’ll be working on any type of ‘project’ – business, cultural, humanitarian or sporting, even – which the French authorities deem as making a significant contribution to France or your home country. Some highly skilled workers may be eligible for an EU Blue Card, which enables them to travel and work across the EU without the need for a work permit. For more information on these and other work-related permits, see Working in France: work permits and visas.

For more information:
  • DIRECCTE – this is the French language website for the French Labour Ministry Directions régionales des entreprises, de la concurrence, de la consommation, du travail et de l'emploi. Go the main website and you can be redirected to the French region you need.
  • OFII -– this is the English language version of the website for the L'office Francais de l'immigration et de l'intégration, the French agency in charge of migration. There are offices all over France; look on the website for contact details of your nearest one.
  • France Diplomatie – this webpage is the English version of the website for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for more information on visas and migration to France.
  • ARS – this webpage is the French language website for the Agence Régionale de Santé and where you can find your local Direction départementale des affaires sanitaires et sociales (DDASS).
  • Service-Public – this website is for the French government's public services (in French). To find the contact details of your local mairie (town hall) see here, and for other local departments and public services, see here.


Note: the information in this article is for general information only and you should always seek advice from the French consulate if you have any queries about your particular circumstances.


Have a question? Post your question on Expatica's Ask the Expert service to see if we can help.  



Updated from 2012


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23 comments on this article Add a comment

  • 22nd November 2012, 11:17:40 Linda Baldwin posted:
    I am an American who is married to a British citizen and we have had a home here for 18 years. We became French residents in 2001. It is not at all necessary to visit the Prefecture or the sous-Prefecture for that matter to apply for a Carte de Sejour. You can visit your mairie (town hall) where they have all the application forms and the list of documents you will need to make your application. We never were required to visit the sous-Prefecture. However, after 2 five-year cartes de sejour, I applied in March 2011 for another renewal which should be a ten-year card. I have yet to receive a permanent card and have had to go to the sous-Prefecture every three months to renew a temporary card. You can imagine the cost to the government for this bureaucratic craziness. Because of this situation, I have had a few problems with exiting passport control in Switzerland where I normally pass through on my way to the States, and once I tried to get a three-month loan to purchase a rather expensive hob at Darty. I was turned down because I didn't have a proper carte de sejour. My maire made inquiries with the Prefecture and he claims that there is a one year delay in delivery of cartes de sejour. I certainly have waited a lot longer than that. It was suggested by the maire that I might file a complaint with the EU. If this continues for much longer, I am going to complain as the whole situation has become ridiculous.
  • 22nd November 2012, 20:00:32 john posted:
    Complaining at EU or else would just make you waste more time, you are at the mercy of bureaucrats
  • 24th November 2012, 09:51:27 Laurie posted:
    Starting 19 December 2012, you will have to apply at the prefecture, not the mairie, because only the prefecture will have installed the necessary equipment for issuing a biometric titre de sejour, as required by EU law in 2008 and French decree in June 2011.
  • 5th March 2013, 11:58:31 Catherine posted:
    I am an American married to a Frenchman. I have lived in France 3 years, fulfilled all the necessary paperwork for long term residency. I am now on a temporary year card. Now that I have fulfilled all the necessary paperwork, I am being refused long term residency because my French according to the officials is "not good". I went to French school, passed the basic exam and all other requirements...can anyone tell me how is this possible? I already bought a house here and find this very discouraging....
  • 25th March 2013, 09:34:25 Terry posted:
    Our mairie has all the equipment for biometric scanning and it is a small town.
    One thing to note is that the Greffe will not allow you to register a business in your name even if you are an EU citizen. You need a Carte de Séjour. Now the problem I had was that the Prefecture would not issue a Carte de Sejour unless I had means of support - an income.
    It was illegal for me to own a business I had bought. Eventually after contacting embassies etc it was agreed that the Greffe and the Prefecture would sit at the same table and would grant me the Carte de Séjour and register my ownership of the business simultaneously. Bizarre but true.
  • 27th October 2013, 02:42:52 Ray posted:
    i don,t really know what france want me to do ,because they are very complicative about even having the card the sejour is problem what a difficult france.
  • 23rd January 2014, 03:05:58 Ava Marie posted:
    Basically, if you an American and you can speak French very well to the point you sound like you belong.... chances of getting your permanent residence card are very very high with no snarky remarks or looks from those that will give one to you. Cause that seems to be the case here.
  • 7th February 2014, 17:39:43 NRyan posted:
    I am a Malaysian married to a Brit. I applied for the Carte de sejour thru the Mairie office when I moved here 4 years ago. It was pretty straightforward. Waited 3 months and recieved my 10 years Resident card even though I was told the initial application was only for 1 year which I was supposed to renew every year till the 5th year.
    The system does work well here. By the way, I never had to sit for any french exams. My french is still very basic now.
  • 18th February 2014, 22:23:00 Ella posted:
    Hello NRyan. Did you have to give a job contract of yours or your spouse's when applying? Thanks
  • 27th February 2014, 15:54:58 NRyan posted:
    Hi Ella, Yes my husband had a copy of his job contract (The salary page must be translated to French and converted to euros). Apart from that, just the usual certified translations of your birth cert, marriage cert etc(my embassy in Malaysia took care of all that).
  • 4th March 2014, 11:19:27 nick posted:
    HI i have been living in france for 5years now illegally without problems at all how possible is it for me to obtain a permit
  • 4th March 2014, 13:47:31 Rosie posted:
    I have been in France, with a Carte Sejour Visiteur for over 9 years. Because of my visiteur status, I do not work here. My primary residence is in the US. If I apply for a 10 year Carte Sejour Resident, will I have to pay taxes to the French even if I am not working in France? At this point, I only pay the Tax d'habitation.

    Will a Carte Resident give me the right to open a wine bar? I realize that if I do, I will have to pay French taxes on my earnings in France.
  • 10th March 2014, 09:06:59 NItin posted:
    [Edited by moderator: For help with your specific situation, please check out our 'Ask the Expert' service http://expatica.com/ask_the_expert] I have applied for a visa under a category of Spouse of scientific researcher. I have got Visa type 'D' with CESEDA L313-8. My visa ask me to obtain Carte de Sejour once i reach france. I need to know about the documents required to be submitted in France to get Carte de Sejour and if any of this document requires Apostille.
  • 8th April 2014, 09:47:19 Matt posted:
    Hi, I have a French visa which is valid until May 21 but the thing is I wasn't able to leave for France for some reason and I actually decided to go on June, my question is can I ask for my visa’s validity to be extended or do I have to apply for a new one?
  • 21st April 2014, 09:34:45 Ashwini posted:
    Hi. I have been accepted to go for a 1 month long summer school in Grenoble, France in June, followed by a 22 week long exchange program at Lyon France from July to December.
    I will receive the acceptance letter for the 22 week internship only in June, when I will already be in France for my summer school. Is there any way that I can apply for a long term student visa in an embassy in France in June to extend my stay and avoid a trip back home?
    Thank you.
  • 3rd June 2014, 17:13:24 THOMAS William Glyn posted:
    My wife is Russian and I have found the route via the Mairie pointless, they don't know the rules and they guess. It is better to deal with the "Organ Grinder" and not the " monkey". The Prefecture were obstructive and unhelpful and eventually I discovered the existence of an official of the EU who has direct access to the appropriate Ministry and there afterwards with persistent prodding by me and the EU official we achieved success within 90 days of my wife's arrival in France on. Spanish Schengen visa.
    I cannot find the email address on my iPad, I am currently in Kaliningrad but if you write to williamglynthomas@gmail.com I will send you the contact details
  • 24th June 2014, 19:06:06 A. posted:
    Has anyone else had trouble finding work with a carte de séjour? I've only had one interview, so that's not much to go on I guess, but it only lasted about two minutes. They told me right off the bat that they would only accept American employees with a student visa or European passport. I'm American, married to a Schengen-EU citizen who is relocating for work. In theory, this should allow me the same rights to work as those with EU passports, as long as I comply with the rules and get a residence permit, right?
  • 21st August 2014, 16:58:22 Rajesh posted:
    Hi, I am on deputation by my company from India. I am here for a period of 2 years and I want to apply for resident / citizenship. I have been given workpermit from prefecture for a period of 3 years and my wife has also got the same for a period of 1 year.

    Is it possible to apply for resident ship in France or in any other EU country.
  • 4th September 2014, 11:20:03 thuy posted:
    Hello, I am married to a French citizen for 2 years. We are living in Switzerland. I am a US citizen, and would like to become also a French citizen. Does anyone know if this is possible when we are not living in France? I was told that it was, yet have seen no documentation towards this. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.
  • 28th September 2014, 11:22:05 Emile posted:
    Hello, I am currently preparing my papers for a scientific visa to France but I am having this ambiguity. In my visa application I should mention the address of a housing where I will reside. I was thinking of renting a temporary room for 1-2 weeks and do the real search in France. Will this option be acceptable? If I mention a temporary stay in a room, will I get a visa?
  • 28th September 2014, 11:22:43 Emile posted:
    please contact me on: emile.lakis@lau.edu.lb
  • 18th October 2014, 02:12:43 Dan posted:
    Hello , what's the best way to optain a eurpean permanent permit ? It can be small invistment ? Marrrige contract might be better ? Who can help me with this ? Thanks
  • 13th March 2015, 20:32:04 Lisa posted:

    I am a Brit, living in Canada and married to a Canadian. We are planning to move to France in June of this year. I have read that I need to be able to provide bank statements which prove I can support him but no where can I find the amount I need to have on the bank statements? Has anyone else came across this problem or know the amount of savings you must have? Thank you.

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions our Ask the Expert service]


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