France is the most visited country in the world. It is also a popular place to relocate to, with a strong economy and many popular, vibrant cities. The French Office for Immigration and Integration is the government agency in charge of immigration in France. You don’t need to apply for a French visa if you are an EU/EFTA citizen. You no longer have to apply for a residence permit or register at your local town hall if you’re an EU/EFTA citizen. However, you can apply for a residence card if you wish. Spouses and dependent relatives of EU/EFTA nationals have the same entry rights. However, they must apply for a residence permit within three months of arriving in France.
Some nationalities however needs a visa to enter France, even if just staying for a short period of time. All non-EU/EFTA nationals must apply for a long-term French visa and residence permit if they want to stay in France longer than 90 days.
There are essentially three types of French visa:
- Short-stay visa (uniform Schengen visa), which is for visits to France lasting three months or less.
- Temporary long-stay visa, which is for stays of up to a year.
- Long-stay visa, which is for stays in France of over one year.
1. Short-stay visas
France uses the Uniform Schengen category C visa as its short-stay visa. This is valid for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period. It can be granted for tourism, business trips, short-term study, family visits, medical care, and short-term work-related purposes. The Schengen visa allows you to travel around the Schengen Area for its duration. You will also need the Schengen visa if you travel outside the international zone at any French airport. You can apply for this French visa at a French embassy or consulate in your home country.
You will also need an airport transit visa, also called a category A visa, if you are changing flights in France and staying in the international zone of a French airport. This applies if you are flying from and to countries that are outside the Schengen Area. There are three types of airport transit visas: one-way, return, and multiple entry. Fees are the same as for the standard Schengen visa. You cannot leave the international zone of the airport on this visa. If you need to travel beyond the zone and into the Schengen Area for any reason, you will need a short-stay Schengen visa.
2. Temporary long-stay visas
Temporary long-stay visas are valid for up to one year and are non-renewable. If you come to France on a VLS-TS and want to stay longer than a year, you will need to apply for a French residence permit and meet the criteria for extending your stay. The VLS-TS acts as a temporary residence permit in France. You need to validate this permit within three months of arriving in France. Once you complete the validation process, you can travel freely around the Schengen Area for the duration of your permit. VLS-TS visas broadly fall into the following three categories.
- Temporary worker visas
The VLS-TS visas are issued for anyone traveling to France to carry out work for a period of less than a year. The visa will be marked temporary worker and can be used for a variety of purposes including:
- Transfers to a French branch of an international company
- Temporary seasonal work
- Foreign language teaching jobs
- Professional medical employment lasting less than a year
- To search for highly-skilled work after graduating from a master’s-level qualification in France
- Work exchange program for young professionals aged 18–30
For most of these French visas, you will first need an offer or contract of employment. Your employer may also need to get permission from the French authorities, and possibly a work permit.
- Study and training visas
You can get a VLS-TS visa for short-term study or training courses lasting 3–6 months. For study lasting longer than this, you’ll usually get a standard long-stay visa. To get this visa, you will need to have been accepted onto a higher education program at an accredited French education institution. You can also get a temporary training visa to come and work in France as an au pair if you are aged between 18–30. You’ll need an au pair placement agreement and accommodation with a French family to ensure you can study the language. The au pair visa can be extended up to a maximum of two years.
- Special purpose visas
Other temporary French visas are categorized as special purpose visas, or visas specific for certain circumstances. These include:
- Volunteering on placements lasting less than 12 months, including European Voluntary Service (EVS) placements
- The Work Holiday Program open to young people aged 18–30 from 15 countries (extended to the age of 35 in Argentina, Australia and Canada)
- Extended private stays lasting between 3-6 months, where you can show ability to fund yourself and agree not to undertake any professional or work activity
3. Long-term visas
General long-stay visas are for any stay lasting longer than a year. Typically, the initial visa is granted for one year. After this, you need to obtain a longer-term residence permit. Sometimes you may initially get the temporary VLS-TS if your stay may not last beyond a year. You can then apply for a residence permit if you end up staying beyond a year, providing you meet the necessary criteria. Your long-stay visa will give you the right to travel around the Schengen Area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. You will need to apply for a French residence permit within two months of arriving to legally remain in France. French authorities grant a variety of long-stay visas under four general categories.
- Work visas
You can get a long-stay work visa in France to work or carry out self-employed business activities. For work, you will usually need to have a job offer. If starting a business or working self-employed, you will need to show the economic viability of the project and that you have sufficient funds to start it. Most French work visas are for high-skilled professions. Current visa categories include:
- The multi-year talent passport for highly-skilled workers and entrepreneurs, valid for up to four years and also allows spouse and dependent children to travel with you.
- Internal transfer to a French branch of an international ICT company for senior management and staff with high-skilled expertise. The visa is marked “salarié détaché ICT” (ICT posted employee).
- Long-term repeated seasonal work (travailleur saisonnier).
- Long-term internships or traineeships. Your visa contains the title “stagiaire” (trainee).
- Study visas
Study visas are for international students who have a placement offer for a higher education course at a French university or educational institution. Your visa lasts for as long as your study program. You can work up to 964 hours a year on this French visa, which corresponds to around 60% of normal working hours. If you have a child aged under 18 that wants to study in a French primary or secondary school, you can apply for a school-going minor visa. You will need to provide details about your child’s enrolment.
- Family visas
You can apply for a family visa in France to join certain relatives long-term. The conditions depend on where the family member you are joining is from. If your relative currently in France is a:
- EU/EFTA national (other than France), you can join if you are a spouse, child aged under 21 or a dependent direct relative. You will need to apply for a residence permit within three months of arrival. You may need to get a short-stay visa to enter the country.
- French national, you can join if you are a spouse, child/adopted child aged over 21 or dependent older relative. You will usually need a long-stay visa to come to France.
- Non-EU/EFTA national, you can join if you are the spouse or child aged under 18 as long as the relative you are joining has been living in France for 18 months.
You will usually need to give proof of family relationships for these French visas. If applying to join a non-EU/EFTA family member, you will need evidence that they have sufficient funds to support you. France also offers an adoption visa for parents living in France who want to adopt a child living outside the EU/EFTA.
- Extended private stay visas
You can apply for this visa if you want to relocate to France for purposes of retirement. You will need to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to support yourself in France without recourse to public funds, such as adequate pension coverage. The current income requirements are €120 a day if you don’t have a hotel booking. If you intend to come to France for a long stay period for medical treatment, you will need evidence of adequate health insurance coverage.
- Asylum seekers and refugees in France
France has a similar asylum system to countries such as Germany and the UK. Anyone can claim asylum in France. The process for claiming asylum in France differs slightly depending on where you make the claim. If you apply at one of the French borders, you should make your application via the border police. If you apply from within France you should go to the nearest prefecture. You will then go to a reception center, have your fingerprints taken and the OFII will process your application, usually within three working days.
Following this, you should receive an asylum certificate and your case file will be registered with the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons. You have 21 days to submit your full asylum application. Applications typically take a few weeks to process but can sometimes take as long as six months. They usually involve an interview with an OFPRA official. During the application process, you will have the right to stay in an asylum reception center or other suitable accommodation. You will also be offered a monthly allowance which varies according to how many people are applying together. Additionally, asylum seekers in France have a right to emergency healthcare, legal representation, and school access for children aged 3–16. They can seek employment six months after making an application.
- Residence and citizenship in France
If you are staying in France for more than three months, you will need a residence permit. The temporary VLS-TS visa acts as a one-year residence permit which you need to validate with the OFII within three months of arrival. If you have a standard long-stay visa, you need to apply for a residence permit within two months of arrival. You can do this online or through your local prefecture (in Paris, you need to do it through the police station).
Most standard French residence permits are valid for one year and are renewable for up to five years. After living continuously in France for five years, you can apply for a 10-year renewable long-term permit. You need to fulfill certain requirements, depending on your individual circumstances. These could include proof of marriage, birth certificates, and evidence that you can speak French. Another option is to apply for French citizenship, which you can also do after living in France for five years. Citizenship gives you additional rights such as voting rights and the right to a French passport, but it also involves tougher requirements and additional costs.