Whether or not you need a French visa to enter France depends largely on the purpose of your visit, the length of time you want to stay in France (less than 90 or more than 90 days) and in what country(s) you hold nationality.
Here is a detailed explanation of when you’ll need to apply for a visa to enter France.
You may not need a visa to enter France or live in France if…
You can literally pack your bags today and live in France tomorrow without ever applying for a visa if you are a passport-holding national to one of the following countries.
At the time of this writing, there are 34 such countries with more being added in the future.
- EU countries (European Union)
- All EEA countries (European Economic Area)
As a passport holder to one of the above countries, you have the right to legally live, work and study in France without a visa or permit indefinitely.
If you’re not familiar with what countries make up the EU and EEU, go check out this article which has a complete list of countries whose citizens are visa exempt and free to live and work in France and most of Europe.
Do you have a relative from an EU country- A parent, grandparent or great-grandparent?
Even if you’re not a citizen of an EU country, EEU member country, Andorra, Monaco or Switzerland, you may have a relative who is and if you do, you could be eligible to get a second passport through descent as far back as your great-great-great grandparents in which case you would be eligible to live in France and any other Schengen country legally.
It’s worth looking into, especially if you’re long-term goal is to eventually live in France. Or if you want to pass on that citizenship to your children.
NON-EU and non-EEU Nationals
If you are not a national of an EU or EEU country and you can’t claim citizenship to one of those countries through descent then whether or not you need a visa and what kind of visa you need depends on the length of time you want to spend in France, where you are from and the purpose of your stay in France.
Short stay Visa: For 90 days or less
When I first visited France for a short vacation, I was relieved to learn that I didn’t need a visa to enter France so long as I stayed for less than 90 days within any 180-day period.
You won’t either as long as you are a citizen of a short-stay visa-exempt country.
- Short Stay Visa exempt countries include United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, And over 30 other countries. Visit the French consulate website in your country for the full updated list of countries exempt from short-stay visas. don’t forget Eu and EEU nationals never need a visa to enter France.
No Visa runs to reset the counter on your 90 days short stay visa.
If you think you can do a visa run to a neighbouring country like Italy or Spain to reset the counter after you use up your 90-day stay, think again. France is part of the Schengen area which is comprised of 26 countries that act as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy.
Once in France, you are essentially in the Schengen area. There is no border control between any of the 26 Schengen countries’ mutual borders. In other words, once your 90 days runs out, you cannot travel to another Schengen country. You must leave the Schengen area altogether and cannot re-enter any Schengen country again until 180 days have passed from the date of entry stamped in your passport.
Long Stay Visas: Stays greater than 90 days (and to live in France)
When my husband and I decided to move to France with our three children to live (for one year), things got a lot more complicated primarily because we wanted to stay in France for a period greater than 90 days. We had to apply for a long-stay visa known in France as a “Visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour” or “VLS-TS” for short and it’s typically good for stays up to 12 months with the possibility to renew. There are exceptions.
We spent a lot of time and money gathering documents and making sure we complied with the very long list of visa requirements. At one point, we even had to go to court which is a whole other story- you can read about it here. The whole process from start to finish took us a little over a year.
Note: You can’t apply for this visa in France and you can’t apply more than three months before your arrival date. You must do it from your home country or where you are a legal resident. No exceptions to this rule that I know of.
The Six Categories of long stay visas: which one do you need?
Depending on your situation, you’ll need to apply for the long stay visa that best fits your needs and you must meet the requirements for that visa which always involves rounding up a mountain of paperwork. Here are six categories from which most people will need to choose.
1- Long stay “visiter” visa
Individuals who want to spend a sabbatical year or gap year abroad in France or something similar can apply for the visitor visa and live in France for up to 12 months.
The biggest hurdle you might face is that you CAN NOT LEGALLY WORK in France with this visa and you must prove you have sufficient personal funds to stay in France.
The amount you need to prove you have access to should be no less than the current minimum wage in France which can change from year to year but is roughly 1153 Euros per month or 13836 Euros per year for one person.
[pullquote align=”normal”]Minimum wage in France is called “Salaire minimum interprofessionnel de croissance” or “SMIC” for short. It is the net number not the gross.[/pullquote]
2-Long stay” student” visa
If you manage to get accepted to a university in France or your current university has an exchange program then you can apply for a student visa. The student visa is usually good for the length of time of your study and you are allowed to work part-time.
3- Long stay “work” visa
If your goal is to work in France, you must first find a job. Then your employer in France must draw up a work contract and send it to the local Employment Office for approval before they send if off to the Office Français de l’Immigration et de L’Integration (OFII).
Sounds good, but it’s not so easy because the job usually has to be for a desirable or specialized work skill like computer programming or nursing. The prospective employer needs to show that you are needed for the job, one that they can’t find a French or an EU citizen to fill.
If they can prove this and the contract is endorsed by OFII, the contract is then sent to the appropriate French consulate and the visa is issued. The consulate then sends an email or a letter to your home address asking each passport holder to make an appointment to apply for a long-stay visa in person (you, your spouse + children).
4- Long Stay “Working holiday” Visa
France has agreements with certain countries which allow people between the ages of 18 and 30 years old – in some cases up to 35 years old to work in France for a period of up to 12 months. Besides age, there are certain restrictions and criteria.
- You can participate only once in this program.
- You usually have to show that you have enough money to sustain yourself for the first few months of your stay. (Around 2500 euros)
- Check with the French consulate in your country for the full details and list of requirements for this visa.
The countries with which France has a working holiday agreement include Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia (4 months) and Taiwan. There are a limited number of this type of visa issued for each country per year.
5- Marriage: Long stay “spouse” visa
Obviously, you need to find someone to marry or already be married to a French person.
6- Internship: Long stay “internship” visa
An internship visa will usually be issued to trainees under certain conditions.
You must come to France for more than 3 months to take a vocational training course or to do an internship in a company or in a public hospital. If your internship is extended, you must apply for a residence permit at the local prefecture.
Still interested in visiting France?
If you’re still interested in visiting France or living in France but don’t think you can qualify for any of the above visas, there is still a chance that you may be able to acquire an EU passport and citizenship through descent if you have a relative from one of the countries that make up the EU, EEU and associated states. Once you have a passport from one of the countries that have the same freedom of movement rules as France, you can live in France or visit France for as long as you like.