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What Kind Of Visa Do I Need To Visit France Legally?

By Annie André

(Boring Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you use them to buy something, I may earn a small commission (which helps me buy more croissants) at no additional cost to you. Merci for your support)


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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 on when you’ll need to apply for a visa to enter France.

You may not need a visa to enter 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)
  • Andorra
  • Monaco
  • Switzerland

As a passport holder to one of these 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.

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 than 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.

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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 under which most people will need to choose from.

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 visiter 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 than 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 perspective 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 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 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 but don’t think you can qualify for any of the above visas, don’t forget that there is still a chance that y ou 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- which are all bound by the same freedom of movement rules as France.

Bonne Chance!

  1. Hi Annie! About a year ago I saw your episode about moving to Marseilles and when the episode was over I called my husband and told him we were moving. Since he hates his job and our last child was getting ready to graduate from college, he agreed with enthusiasm! I want to thank you for inspiring us. For the last year we have been studying French and preparing to abandon everything and run away from home. November is our goal – but we still have a lot to sort out. Anyway – my first questions is – is there a part #3 to the Moving to France video series? And my second question is – do you have a post on what you thought of Marseilles and why you made the decision to leave it?

    1. Hi Rebekkah,
      Wow that is so amazing to hear. You are doing the right thing by learning French before you leave too. It will help you in spades once you get to France.
      No there is no part three to the video.
      IF you send me email to annie«at»annieandre.com i will answer your questions and usually turn them into a blog post. I will write up a post about what I thought about Marseille and why we decided to leave.. It has been something i have been wanting to do for a long time anyways..

  2. Having done your adventure in almost every way, except that I did it with 90 days in, 90 days out for 2 years, I have to ask: How it is going on the next part where you write about how to actually get a long term visa?
    I was living in the southeast US where I was faced with trying to get a visa from the French consulate in Atlanta which had such a bad reputation that I just did my sabbatical via 90-day tourist visas. (I was living up the coast from you in Nice and Juan-les-pins/Antibes).
    NOW, I am in San Francisco and making money so as to go back for more. What is the secret to getting that long stay visa!

    1. Bruce,
      thank you for leaving a comment. I have not written the next part yet.. but i can assure you there is no secret. On the french embassy and consulate websites it states that
      ” You must apply apply for a long stay visa by applying at the nearest French Embassy / Consulate in your home country. You cannot apply while in France or abroad. This information is stated directly on the French Embassies website.”

      To me that means that you must go to the embassy nearest your residence. We had to do the same thing when we were living in Montreal we had made our residence Maryland and had to drive to Maryland to apply. Now that you are in San Francisco, your resplendence surely must be SF so once you get your application filled out it is purely a matter of filling out the paper work. Aside from all the various documents you need which is stated on the application you will need to have certain things in place.
      1- Money. Show that you can afford to take care of yourself and live for one year in France. They never say how much you will need but I would use a general rule of thumb and say you should have around 1500 to 2,000 for each month you plan to stay in France. So multiply those figures by 12 for the long stay visa.
      Next, we had to show that we had an actual place to stay while in France. You will have to find an apartment to rent as proof that you will have a place to stay. Their are other things too but these two were the ones that most people will have problems with.

  3. You give some great directions on how to get a visa. With this information, I think anyone can take this necessary step. You could use this information to get long or short term visas too.

    I’ve had to get several visas for short term traveling through some countries in Asia and the process to get them is about the same as the one you outlined here. The Chinese visa was particularly tough because I forgot to include a self addressed stamped envelope with the materials I sent them. I actually called the consulate and talked to someone who barely spoke English and I told them what happened. It was an easy fix.

  4. Wow – this is so incredibly packed with information! What an excellent resource for folks looking to live abroad in France. Even if they’ve got their sights set on another European country, I bet this is a great primer to give them an idea of what to expect. Thanks for providing all these details. I’ll definitely be referring expat aspiring friends!

  5. Wow! There is some great information here Annie! I have always wanted to travel to Europe but I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to go. You are making this decision much easier for me! I will try to keep up with some of your other posts related to France as well. Thank you so much for the information and keep it up!

  6. What a great video Annie, you’ve really provided some gems here.

    I’m getting a real lesson here even if I don’t intend to move to another country. I’m finding this so fascinating.

    Off to your life abroad video.

    :-)

    1. Yeah, i’m so glad to hear that. my biggest concern was that i wanted to make this NOT boring. i.e. interestin even for people not wanting to move to France. thanks for all your feedback. If ever you have any questions please let me know so that i can perhaps make a post or video out of them Adrienne.
      Salut :)

  7. My wife is always jealous cause having a US passport means I don’t need a VISA most of the time. So I guess I’ll have to leave her home when I visit! :)

  8. Hi Annie, thanks for this! I actually had no idea that the “long-stay visa” existed. Can I ask you a couple questions?

    1) Being unable to study – does that mean only studying at the university level? Or does it also preclude, for example, taking French classes at a language school?

    2) Does the no-study rule also mean you’re homeschooling your kids?

    Thanks in advance :-) It’s my husband’s dream to live in France someday, so I’m eating up all this info!

    1. Brasilicana,
      Great questions i’ll clarify on my next post about filling out and fullfilling the application requirements in regards to schooling.

      For now i will answer very briefly.
      1) with a long stay visa you cannot study at an accredited university like Sorbonne. However you can study at most language schools. just don’t choose one that lasts for more than 90 days unless you have the long stay visa.

      2) The no study rule only applies to me and my husband. My minor children have the right to attend public or private school since we live legally on french soil for as long as our visas are good. It is free for them to attend.
      The best part is school is free at the preschool age too. In the us you would have to pay. In Canada it’s almost free.

      If you or your husband have anymore questions please let me know. I’ll do my best to answer them.

  9. This is great information Annie. I am not planning on living in France right NOW, but you never know that could change overnight. :)

    1. Hi Meg, i’ve been talking to other people who live in different countries and a lot of what i talk about can apply to most countries. Names, places are different. Plus people who don’t ever plan on moving to france ask me how we did it all the time so in the least i hope it quels peoples curiosity.

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