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.
Do you need a French visa?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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Updated from 2012