Home Moving to France Visas & Immigration Guide to visas and immigration in France
Last update on October 07, 2021

Find out what paperwork you need to live, work, and play the French way with our guide to visas and immigration in France.

There’s a lot to love about France. When visiting this rich, diverse country, it’s easy to see why so many from around the world decide to make the move to what the locals call l’Hexagone. But, if you’re thinking of dipping your toes into the French lifestyle, be sure to know all the immigration requirements well ahead of time.

For example, do you need a visa or permit to live or work in France? You may need to apply for a French visa even if you simply want to visit this great country. To help you understand what you need, this essential guide gives an overview of which French visa you need depending on your circumstances.

This guide to French visas and permits includes:

Immigration in France

France is the most visited country in the world. It is also a popular place to relocate to, with a strong economy and many popular, vibrant cities. As an EU country that is part of the Schengen Area, France has a two-tier immigration system. EU/EFTA citizens can travel passport-free with the same rights to look for work and study as French nationals. Non-EU/EFTA nationals usually need a visa.

Visa for France

Just over 13% of the French population is classified as immigrants, according to 2020 figures. Around one-third of these have taken French citizenship. The largest migrant communities are from North Africa, with nearly 25% from Algeria and Morocco. In 2020, the French government announced plans to introduce quotas on non-EU economic migrants.

The French Office for Immigration and Integration (L’office Francais de l’immigration et de l’intégrationOFII) is the government agency in charge of immigration in France.

Who needs a French visa?

EU/EFTA nationals

You don’t need to apply for a French visa if you are an EU/EFTA citizen. You no longer have to apply for a residence permit (carte de séjour) or register at your local town hall (mairie) if you’re an EU/EFTA citizen. However, you can apply for a residence card if you wish.

Spouses and dependent relatives of EU/EFTA nationals have the same entry rights. However, they must apply for a residence permit within three months of arriving in France.

Non-EU/EFTA nationals

Some nationalities need a visa to enter France, even if just staying for a short period of time. You can check the France-Visas website for the requirements of your own country and own situation.

All non-EU/EFTA nationals must apply for a long-term French visa (visa long de séjour) and residence permit if they want to stay in France longer than 90 days.

UK nationals after Brexit

Since 1 January 2021, the UK is no longer a member of the EU and its citizens can no longer benefit from free movement to EU countries including France. As of September 2021, UK nationals can travel to France without a visa for short stay visits or if staying overnight at a French airport. However, as ever with Brexit, this is liable to change, so be sure to check travel requirements before traveling.

If you travel to France on a UK passport and plan to stay longer than three months, you’ll need one of the French long-stay visas. The correct visa for you will depend on your individual circumstances. You will also need to apply for a residence permit (carte de séjour). For more information, see our guide to moving to France after Brexit.

Types of French visa

There are essentially three types of French visa:

  • Short-stay visa (uniform Schengen visa), which is for visits to France lasting three months or less.
  • Temporary long-stay visa (visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour – VLS-TS), which is for stays of up to a year.
  • Long-stay visa (visa de long séjour), which is for stays in France of over one year.

See below for information on individual types of short-stay and long-stay visas in France.

Short-stay French visas

France uses the Uniform Schengen category C visa as its short-stay visa. This is valid for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. It can be granted for tourism, business trips, short-term study, family visits, medical care, and short-term work-related purposes. The Schengen visa allows you to travel around the Schengen Area for its duration.

You will also need the Schengen visa if you travel outside the international zone at any French airport.

Security at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris

You can apply for this French visa at a French embassy or consulate in your home country. Alternatively, you can apply online. Before applying, you should check the French visa wizard to see what your individual requirements are.

You should make your application between six months and two weeks prior to your trip. Documents you will need are:

  • Travel ID such as a passport which is valid for at least three months after your travel dates.
  • Two recent passport photos
  • Supporting documents, which will depend on the purposes of your stay. These usually include proof of reason for traveling (e.g. study invitation letter), proof of finances and health insurance. You can check your requirements on the visa wizard.

You will then need to attend an appointment at the French embassy or consulate in your home country to submit your biometric data and pay your visa fees. The fee for this visa is €80 (€40 for children aged 6–12, free for children under 6). See the full list of fees here.

When you arrive in France, you will need to present your passport, visa, and supporting documents to enter the country.

Short-stay visa for non-European French territories

If you plan to travel to any of the French overseas territories and are subject to visa restrictions, you will need a separate visa as these territories are not within the Schengen Area. This means that you will need two separate visas if you plan to travel to France and the overseas territories. Application guidelines, processes, and fees for this visa are similar to the standard short-stay visa.

Airport transit visa

You will need an airport transit visa, also called a category A visa, if you are changing flights in France and staying in the international zone of a French airport. This applies if you are flying from and to countries that are outside the Schengen Area. Check requirements for your country using the visa wizard.

There are three types of airport transit visas: one-way, return, and multiple entry. Fees are the same as for the standard Schengen visa.

You cannot leave the international zone of the airport on this visa. If you need to travel beyond the zone and into the Schengen Area for any reason, you will need a short-stay Schengen visa.

Temporary long-stay French visas

Temporary long-stay French visas (VLS-TS) are valid for up to one year and are non-renewable. If you come to France on a VLS-TS and want to stay longer than a year, you will need to apply for a French residence permit and meet the criteria for extending your stay.

The VLS-TS acts as a temporary residence permit in France. You need to validate this permit within three months of arriving in France. Once you complete the validation process, you can travel freely around the Schengen Area for the duration of your permit.

Man on phone in France

The application process for this visa is similar to the short-stay visa process. You can apply by visiting a French embassy or consulate in your home country or you can do it online. Standard documentary requirements are:

  • Travel ID such as a passport which is valid for at least three months after your travel dates.
  • Two recent passport photos
  • Supporting documents, which will depend on the purposes of your stay. These usually include proof of reason for traveling (e.g. study invitation letter), proof of finances and health insurance. You can check your requirements on the visa wizard.

You will then need to attend an appointment at the French embassy or consulate in your home country to submit your biometric data and pay your visa fees. The general fee for this visa is €99. You will need to present both your French visa and passport along with all supporting documents when you enter France.

VLS-TS visas broadly fall into the following three categories.

Temporary worker visas

The VLS-TS visas are issued for anyone traveling to France to carry out work for a period of less than a year. The visa will be marked “travailleur temporaire” (temporary worker) and can be used for a variety of purposes including:

  • Transfers to a French branch of an international company
  • Temporary seasonal work
  • Foreign language teaching jobs
  • Professional medical employment lasting less than a year
  • To search for highly-skilled work after graduating from a master’s-level qualification in France
  • Work exchange program for young professionals aged 18–30
Temporary agricultural workers in France

For most of these French visas, you will first need an offer or contract of employment. Your employer may also need to get permission from the French authorities, and possibly a work permit.

Study and training visas

You can get a VLS-TS visa for short-term study or training courses lasting 3–6 months. For study lasting longer than this, you’ll usually get a standard long-stay visa. To get this visa, you will need to have been accepted onto a higher education program at an accredited French education institution.

You can also get a temporary training visa to come and work in France as an au pair if you are aged between 18–30. You’ll need an au pair placement agreement and accommodation with a French family to ensure you can study the language. The au pair visa can be extended up to a maximum of two years.

Special purpose visas

Other temporary French visas are categorized as special purpose visas, or visas specific for certain circumstances. These include:

  • Volunteering on placements lasting less than 12 months, including European Voluntary Service (EVS) placements
  • The Work Holiday Program open to young people aged 18–30 from 15 countries (extended to the age of 35 in Argentina, Australia and Canada)
  • Extended private stays lasting between 3-6 months, where you can show ability to fund yourself and agree not to undertake any professional or work activity

Long-term French visas

General long-stay French visas are for any stays lasting longer than a year. Typically the initial visa and permit granted is for one year. After this, you need to obtain a longer-term residence permit from your local préfecture. Sometimes you may initially get the temporary VLS-TS if your stay may not last beyond a year. You can then apply for a residence permit if you end up staying beyond a year, providing you meet the necessary criteria.

The visa application process for long-stay visas is very much the same as for other French visas. This includes the option to apply online and the requirement to visit the French embassy or consulate in your home country to pay the fees and give your biometric data. The general fee for long-stay visas is €99. You will also need to provide the necessary supporting documentation including anything relevant to the purposes of your stay.

Ski instructor in France

Your long-stay visa will give you the right to travel around the Schengen Area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. You will need to apply for a French residence permit within two months of arriving to legally remain in France.

French authorities grant a variety of long-stay visas under four general categories.

Work visas

You can get a long-stay work visa in France to work or carry out self-employed business activities. For work, you will usually need to have a job offer. If starting a business or working self-employed, you will need to show the economic viability of the project and that you have sufficient funds to start it.

Most French work visas are for high-skilled professions. Current visa categories include:

  • The multi-year talent passport (passeport talent) for highly-skilled workers and entrepreneurs, valid for up to four years and also allows spouse and dependent children to travel with you.
  • Internal transfer to a French branch of an international ICT company for senior management and staff with high-skilled expertise. The visa is marked “salarié détaché ICT” (ICT posted employee).
  • Long-term repeated seasonal work (travailleur saisonnier).
  • Long-term internships or traineeships. Your visa contains the title “stagiaire” (trainee).

Study visas

Study visas are for international students who have a placement offer for a higher education course at a French university or educational institution. Your visa lasts for as long as your study program. You can work up to 964 hours a year on this French visa, which corresponds to around 60% of normal working hours.

If you have a child aged under 18 that wants to study in a French primary or secondary school, you can apply for a school-going minor (mineur scolarisé) visa. You will need to provide details about your child’s enrolment.

Read our guide to French study visas for more information.

Family visas

You can apply for a family visa in France to join certain relatives long-term. The conditions depend on where the family member you are joining is from. If your relative currently in France is a:

  • EU/EFTA national (other than France), you can join if you are a spouse, child aged under 21 or a dependent direct relative. You will need to apply for a residence permit within three months of arrival. You may need to get a short-stay visa to enter the country.
  • French national, you can join if you are a spouse, child/adopted child aged over 21 or dependent older relative. You will usually need a long-stay visa to come to France. Check here for requirements.
  • Non-EU/EFTA national, you can join if you are the spouse or child aged under 18 as long as the relative you are joining has been living in France for 18 months.

You will usually need to give proof of family relationships for these French visas. If applying to join a non-EU/EFTA family member, you will need evidence that they have sufficient funds to support you.

France also offers an adoption visa for parents living in France who want to adopt a child living outside the EU/EFTA.

Extended private stay visas

You can apply for this visa if you want to relocate to France for purposes of retirement. You will need to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to support yourself in France without recourse to public funds, such as adequate pension coverage. The current income requirements are €120 a day if you don’t have a hotel booking.

If you intend to come to France for a long stay period for medical treatment, you will need evidence of adequate health insurance coverage.

Read our guide on retiring to France for more detailed information.

Asylum seekers and refugees in France

France has a similar asylum system to countries such as Germany and the UK. Anyone can claim asylum in France. There were 81,800 asylum applications in the country in 2020, the third-highest total in the EU behind Germany and Spain.

The process for claiming asylum in France differs slightly depending on where you make the claim. If you apply at one of the French borders, you should make your application via the border police. If you apply from within France you should go to the nearest prefecture. You will then go to a reception center, have your fingerprints taken and the OFII will process your application, usually within three working days.

A refugee family in France

Following this, you should receive an asylum certificate and your case file will be registered with the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Office Français de Protection des Réfugiés et ApatridesOFPRA). You have 21 days to submit your full asylum application.

Applications typically take a few weeks to process but can sometimes take as long as six months. They usually involve an interview with an OFPRA official. During the application process, you will have the right to stay in an asylum reception center or other suitable accommodation. You will also be offered a monthly allowance which varies according to how many people are applying together. The current amount for a single applicant is €6.80 per day (or €14.80 if no accommodation is provided).

Additionally, asylum seekers in France have a right to emergency healthcare, legal representation, and school access for children aged 3–16. They can seek employment six months after making an application.

Asylum application outcomes

OFPRA will deliver one of three verdicts:

  • Granting of full refugee status, with a 10-year renewable residence permit.
  • Granting of subsidiary protection, with a maximum residence permit of four years at the end of which they will review your case.
  • Rejection of application, in which case you will need to leave France voluntarily or face deportation. You can appeal through the National Court of Asylum (Cour Nationale du Droit d’AsileCNDA).

See more information here (in French) and here.

Residence and citizenship in France

If you are staying in France for more than three months, you will need a residence permit (carte de séjour). The temporary VLS-TS visa acts as a one-year residence permit which you need to validate with the OFII within three months of arrival.

If you have a standard long-stay visa, you need to apply for a residence permit within two months of arrival. You can do this online or through your local prefecture (in Paris, you need to do it through the police station).

Most standard French residence permits are valid for one year and are renewable for up to five years. After living continuously in France for five years, you can apply for a 10-year renewable long-term permit (carte de resident). You need to fulfill certain requirements, depending on your individual circumstances. These could include proof of marriage, birth certificates, and evidence that you can speak French.

Another option is to apply for French citizenship, which you can also do after living in France for five years. Citizenship gives you additional rights such as voting rights and the right to a French passport, but it also involves tougher requirements and additional costs.

Residency for UK nationals living in France before Brexit

UK nationals living in France before 1 January 2021 can stay in the country on much the same terms as EU/EFTA citizens as long as they have applied for a Withdrawal Agreement Residence Permit (WARP) before 1 October 2021. Those living in France for less than five years will get a temporary five-year renewable permit. Those living in France for more than five years will get a renewable ten-year permit or the chance to apply for French citizenship.

Family members of UK citizens already living in France also have certain residency rights. See our guide to moving to France after Brexit for full details.

Arriving in France

Once you have arrived in France and applied for/validated your residence permit, the OFII will contact you for an interview regarding integrating into French society. You will also have to undergo a two-day civic training course and take a French language test. Other things you should consider to help you settle in include:

See our guide on 10 things to do during your first week in France for a more detailed list of what to consider.

Appeals and complaints

If your application for a French visa has been refused and you wish to contest it, you need to lodge an appeal with either the French embassy or consulate in your home country or the Visa Appeals Board in France (Commission de Recours contre les Décisions de Refus de Visa). You need to do this within two months of the decision. The appeal must be in French if sent to the Visa Appeals Board.

In instances where you have been refused a French residence permit, you can appeal in the first instance to your local prefecture (recours gracieux). The next step is to take it to the Ministry of the Interior (recours hierarchique) if unhappy with the outcome.

The final option to challenge any immigration decision in France is to take it to an administrative court (recours contentieux). However, this involves getting specialist legal help and can be costly. Because of this, you should be sure that you have a strong case before taking this course of action.

Useful resources