France receives more international travelers every year than any other country in the world, and many of them are able to visit without applying for a special visa. Travelers from countries including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Mexico, Japan, and many more are exempt from needing a visa to enter France for periods of 90 days or less; all you need is a valid passport that doesn't expire for at least three months from the date you plan to return to your home country. It's worth double-checking the expiration date before planning the trip so you aren't caught by surprise right before leaving and need to rush order an emergency passport.
The rules for entering France actually apply to an entire bloc of 26 European nations known as the Schengen Area. If your trip to France also includes a tour through Europe, you can enjoy border-free crossings between the Schengen countries which are: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Because the Schengen Area is considered one entity, your 90-day limit applies to your entire trip, not just France. If you travel around France for seven days and then cross the border to Spain, your first day in Spain is Day 8. The limit is also 90 days within a six-month period, so they don't need to be consecutive. For example, if you travel around France for seven days and then head to the U.K. for a week—which is not in the Schengen Area—those days in the U.K. don't count toward your total. But if after the U.K. you take a plane to Spain, the first day in Spain is still Day 8.
If you do need a visa, there are two broad categories of visas depending on your situation: Tourist Schengen Visas and long-term national visas. The Tourist Schengen Visa is for travelers who plan to visit France or other Schengen countries but have a passport from a country on the non-exempt list. Schengen visa holders can travel freely around the Schengen Area for up to 90 days, just like travelers from a visa-exempt country.
Long-term national visas are necessary for anyone from a country outside of the EU who plans to stay in France for longer than 90 days. This group is further broken down into work visas, study visas, family visas, and working holiday visas.
|Visa Requirements for France|
|Visa Type||How Long Is It Valid?||Required Documents||Application Fees|
|Schengen Tourist Visa||90 days in any 180-day period||Bank statements, proof of medical insurance, hotel reservations, roundtrip plane tickets||Up to 80 euros|
|Student Visa||One year||Acceptance letter into program, proof of medical insurance, proof of financial means, accommodations, certificate of criminal record||Up to 99 euros|
|Work Visa||One year||Proof of financial means, certificate of criminal record, work contract||99 euros|
|Family Visa||One year||Family status certificates||Up to 99 euros|
|Working Holiday Visa||One year (not renewable)||Proof of financial means, health insurance, and accommodations; roundtrip plane ticket; letter of intent; certificate of criminal record||99 euros|
Schengen Tourist Visa
The Schengen Tourist Visa is only necessary for visitors from non-exempt countries who plan to visit France or the Schengen Area for 90 days or less. Some Schengen Visas allow you to leave the Schengen Area and enter again while others are good for only a single entry, even if your trip is under 90 days, so pay attention to what your visa says.
If you aren't sure if you need one, you can use the French Visa Wizard to quickly and easily find out.
Visa Fees and Application
If the itinerary only includes France, then you'll apply for a visa through the local French consulate in your home country. If you're visiting multiple countries in the Schengen Area, make sure you apply at the right consulate. Write out all of the countries you plan to visit and list how many days you'll be in each one. If you'll be spending the majority of the time in France, you should still apply at the French consulate. But if you're spending an equal number of days in two or more countries, apply at the consulate for the country you arrive in first.
The application fee for the Schengen Visa is 80 euros, which is payable in the current exchange rate of the local currency. However, there are discounts for certain groups, such as for visitors from European countries that aren't in the EU, young children, and students.
Depending on the country where you apply, you'll either turn in your application directly to the French consulate or to a visa outsourcing center. Either way, the documents you need to supply are the same:
- Schengen Visa application
- Valid passport
- Two identical photos (35 millimeters by 45 millimeters)
- Travel insurance policy
- Roundtrip flight itinerary
- Proof of accommodation (hotel reservations or notarized letters from hosts in France)
- Proof of financial means (e.g., bank statements, pay stubs, proof of employment, etc.)
You can start the application process for your Schengen Visa no earlier than six months before you depart. To receive a decision and have your visa processed usually takes about 15 days, but it can take longer, so you should apply at least three weeks before you plan to set off.
If you've been accepted into a school program that will keep you in France for longer than 90 days, you'll need to apply for a student visa. Citizens of certain countries—including the U.S.—can apply for the visa online through the Études en France website, where the visa fee is only 50 euros; students with passports not on this list must apply through their local consulate and pay a fee of 99 euros.
In addition to all of the standard visa documents, you'll also need to show a letter of acceptance or registration in a French school or program and a clean criminal record from your home country. If your program requires previous studies or prerequisites, you'll need to turn in a copy of your degree, diploma, or some other proof of completion.
If you plan to move to France to work as an au pair for a French family, you'll apply for a student visa, as well. You'll apply through the same channel and pay the same fee as if you were going to study in a school, but instead of a letter of acceptance into a program of study, you'll need an official letter of invitation from a host family which includes the au pair's duties, work schedule, salary, and lodging.
Residents with a student visa in France are allowed to work part-time up to 21 hours per week, which is 60 percent of a full-time work schedule in France.
With virtually all long-term visas, including student visas, you'll need to apply for a carte de séjour—or residency card—once you arrive in France at the local préfecture, which is a government administration building or police office.
If you're moving to France with the goal to earn money, whether it's from a salaried position, working as an independent freelancer, or starting your own business, you'll need to apply for a work visa. A work visa costs 99 euros in all cases, and you'll need to make an appointment and apply in person at your local French consulate.
In addition to all of the standard visa documents, you'll need to support your application with supporting paperwork depending on what type of work you'll be doing. The easiest instance is if you've been offered a job by a French company, in which case you only need to show your official work contract. If you are working as a freelancer, you'll need to show you have the financial means to support yourself plus a CV, employment history, or portfolio that demonstrates your work. For entrepreneurs who plan to start a business, you'll need several tax forms and a detailed business plan to present with your application.
After you arrive in France, you'll need to apply for a residency card at the local préfecture office in the city where you settle down.
If you have an immediate family member who lives in France, you can apply for a long-term visa to join them. The family member in France must be a French citizen, a citizen of an EU country, or a foreign national who is legally residing in France. In this case, a family member refers to a spouse (of the opposite or same sex), a dependent or child under the age of 21, or a parent or grandparent.
The exact process for applying depends on the nationality of the person already residing in France and of the person who wants to join them, so check to confirm for your specific situation. The fee caps out at 99 euros for the visa, but many family members are eligible to arrive in France with a short-term visa at no cost and then apply for the residency card when they arrive at the local préfecture office in the city where they live.
Working Holiday Visa
A working holiday visa allows young people from a select group of countries to come to France for one year and find work, often in education or seasonal jobs such as ski resorts. Unlike a work visa, you are not required to already have a job when entering the country. However, the working holiday visa is only good for one year and cannot be renewed; if you've already completed one working holiday year in France, you are not eligible to do it again.
Visa Fees and Application
In addition to all of the standard visa documents, you'll need to show you have the financial means to support yourself, a place to stay when you arrive, roundtrip tickets, a clean criminal record, and a letter of intent explaining why you want to go to France (written in French or English). The fee for the working holiday visa is 99 euros for all applicants.
To apply for a working holiday visa, you must be between the ages of 18 and 30 (or up to 35 for Canada) and from one of the 13 countries that have a working holiday agreement with France:
- South Korea
- New Zealand
- Hong Kong
Whether you're visiting France from a visa-exempt country—such as the U.S.—or you're traveling with a Schengen Tourist Visa, you can only be in the Schengen Area for 90 days in a 180-day period. If you aren't sure, it's easy to figure out. Pull out a calendar and go to the date of the final day you plan to be in the Schengen Area. Going backward, count up all of the days you were in a Schengen country during the previous six months. If that number is 90 or less, you don't have to worry.
If you count more than 90 days, there will be consequences. The exact punishment depends on what country you get caught in and the unique situation, but expect a fine and deportation at a minimum. Authorities may give you a couple of days to prepare or deport you immediately. Overstaying your visa also makes it more complicated to come back to the Schengen Area in the future, and you may be jeopardizing your future trips to Europe.
Extending Your Visa
If you need to stay in France or another Schengen country longer than 90 days and you don't have a long-term visa, you can apply for an extension under extenuating circumstances. Eligible reasons include receiving medical treatment, staying for an unexpected funeral, a natural disaster or conflict in your home country, or personal reasons such as an unplanned wedding. In all cases, whether or not your extension is granted is at the discretion of the immigration official who helps you.
You can request the extension in France by bringing your passport and current visa—if you have one—to the local préfecture office nearest to where you're staying. You'll need to bring documentation that supports your reasoning and, most importantly, your request must be made while you're still legally in the country. If you wait until after your 90 days are up, you've already overstayed your visa and you may be deported immediately.
Eur-Lex. "Regulation (EU) 2018/1806." November 14, 2018.
Schengen Visa Info. "How to Extend a Schengen Visa while being within Schengen Area." May 11, 2019.