Anyone planning to stay long-term in France (or anywhere in the European Union) will need the appropriate visa to reside there legally. A long-term stay is anything longer than 90 days, and the type of visa you need will depend on the purpose of your visit and your home nationality.
Americans who are traveling in France for less than 90 days do not need a visa; your passport alone will suffice. However, Americans staying longer than 90 days for any reason will need a visa. You will also need a visa if your plans include any type of lucrative or work activity, even if your trip is less than 90 days. If you are a journalist on assignment in France or hold a diplomatic passport, no matter the length of your visit, you need one. If you are from a member country of the European Union, or a citizen of Andorra, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Vatican City, or San Marino, you do not need a visa to visit or work. If you plan to visit Monaco or one of the French territories, consult the French Embassy or your local French consulate for more details. These visas have slightly different rules.
Determine Which Visa You Need
There are several different types of visas, and it can be overwhelming for a foreigner to know exactly which type to choose, what documents to provide, how much to pay, and the many other bureaucratic idiosyncrasies that will arise. Fortunately, there is an official website called France Visas that walks you through the entire process step-by-step, beginning with a visa wizard that will help you select the correct type of visa for your specific situation.
Common types include a work visa, a student visa, and an au pair visa. It's important to know that for each of these, you must already have a confirmed place of work or study in France before applying. In other words, you cannot apply for a work visa because you want to fly to France and look for a job. You will be asked to submit your work contract when applying for a work visa, or your letter of enrollment in a French university for a student visa, and so on.
The first step, regardless of where you are applying from, is to determine your visa type and submit an online application via the France Visas website. The visa wizard will tell you what documents you will need to submit and how much you need to pay.
The application can be submitted up to three months before you depart (and not earlier). The entire visa process can take a couple of months to complete, so you should start the application as soon as you are able to. Once you complete the application, you'll be able to make your in-person appointment to turn in all of your documentation.
Once you've finished the online application, you'll be prompted to make an appointment. The location of the appointment depends on your assigned consulate—some consulates will handle the visa applications themselves, while others outsource to a visa processing center. Regardless of the location, the applicant must physically be present for the initial appointment. If you live far from a city that offers visa processing, plan well in advance so you can arrange travel plans.
The exact documents you need to bring with you depend on the visa type you're applying for, so check them over thoroughly before arriving and bring photocopies of everything. A few documents that all applicants will need to bring include:
- Your current passport, as well as photocopies of the page with your photo
- Completed and printed out application from the France Visas website
- Two ID photos that are 35-40 mm in width (this is smaller than U.S. passport size)
- Supporting documents for your situation in France (e.g., work contract, school enrollment, etc.)
- Any other documents specified during your online application process (e.g., proof of medical insurance, proof of sufficient funds, etc.)
During the appointment, the employees will take your fingerprints and review your documents. If you have everything in check, they will keep your passport to affix the visa.
Waiting and Visa Pick-Up
Once you've turned in all of your documents, all that's left to do is wait. You can track the status of your application via the France Visas website. Once it's ready, you can return to the same location to pick up your passport (some locations may have the option to mail you the passport once it's ready).
The visa will allow you to enter France, but if you're staying long-term, there are likely steps you will need to take upon arrival to register with French authorities and receive a French ID card.