French visas and permits

Moving to France: Guide to French visas and permits

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Find out which French visa or permit you need to visit, live, work or study in France.

Do you need a visa to go to 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. 
 
This guide to French visas and permits includes:

Do you need a French visa?

EU/EEA/Swiss citizens

France visa requirements depend on your current citizenship. You don’t need to apply for a French 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.
 
As of July 1, 2015, the 'new' EU member state Croatia now has free access to the EU labour market, including France, and Croatian citizens no longer need authorisation to work.

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 for Frencg visa requirements to see if you need a visa to enter France.

All non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals will need to 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 (three months), details provided below.
 
French visa

Short-stay/entry visas

There are many types of French visas, the first being the short-term visa. 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, nor the EU as of 2016's Brexit. While it's unclear what the final outcomes of Brexit will be, it's likely that reciprocal arrangements will be made for British citizens living and working in France.

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 French 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 French 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 had 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. Because the French consulate will have to perform background checks with the perfectural authorities who issued the permit, it's best to keep your permit in a safe place to avoid losing it, because the replacement process can take a long time.
 

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. See our guide to joining relatives or partners in France for more information.
 

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 of EUR for citizens of Amenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, as well as those with a non-biometric passport from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia; those with biometric passports do not require a Schengen visa).

You may be granted a Schengen visa for a single entry, double entry or for multiple entries, which can be valid for up to five years.
 
For a list of French consulates and embassies able to issue visas, see here.
 
France visa

Long-term /extended stay visas (visa de long séjour)

Curious how to live and work in France? 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 or from Andorra or Monaco, 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 submit a French visa application for a long-stay 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 accomodation, travel insurance and sufficient funds to live off during your stay.

Visas in France 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 French 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 (French local authority/administrative offices representing the government at a local level) 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 French 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.
 
Apply for 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 a French visa appointment for an interview and medical examination, and pay your residence taxes. You may be tested on your 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 within two months.

When your visa/permit expires

If you want to extend your visa/permit, then you must apply to your local préfecture 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. As of July 1, 2015, the 'new' EU member state Croatia now also has free access to the EU labour market. 

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 of a French work visa. If your contract is approved, it’s forwarded on to 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. (Click the "EN" in the top right corner for English). 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 regional health department Direction départementale des affaires sanitaires et sociales, or (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.
 
Click to top of guide to guide to French visas and permits.
 
 
 

Expatica

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 2017

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Laurie posted:

    on 24th November 2012, 09:51:27 - Reply

    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.
  • john posted:

    on 22nd November 2012, 20:00:32 - Reply

    Complaining at EU or else would just make you waste more time, you are at the mercy of bureaucrats
  • Linda Baldwin posted:

    on 22nd November 2012, 11:17:40 - Reply

    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.