As an expat in France (and I suppose officially a long-term expat now, as weird as that feels to say), I get a lot of questions and hear a lot of misconceptions about visas for France, especially about renewals. Though there are a lot of great resources individually for each of these topics below, based on the posts I see in many expat Facebook groups, the French government doesn’t do a great job of clarifying the rules- and they write it all online in French, with terminology that is not always easy for even a fluent speaker to understand. So based on what I’ve learned from my own trial and error and what I’ve taken away from the answers of those more in-the-know than I am, here is my crash course on the most common questions and misconceptions about visas for France!
Do I need a visa to come to France?
If you’re staying less than 3 months total, nope! However, if you’re planning a more permanent move, this is probably the most major factor you will need to consider. It’s not possible to come to the country and try to find a way to stay longer- that will at best get you a slap on the wrist when you decide to leave and at worst result in a ban from all the Schengen states for an indeterminate amount of time. Finding a job here can be difficult as well; companies have to prove that you and only you can do the job instead of hiring a French or European person, which can prove costly to them in terms of time and paperwork.
If your company doesn’t have offices in France or isn’t willing to transfer you, the two most popular options are to come on a student visa and take classes, be they for French or cooking or art, or a long stay visitor visa. You are allowed to work 60% of full time with the former (964 hours total per year) and are not allowed to work with the latter, but if you work remotely for an employer based outside of France, this could be an ideal situation for you. The acquisition of either of these is mainly contingent on you having enough funds (either already in a bank account or current proof of income, like payslips) to prove you can support yourself for one year (and being enrolled in a school if you are a student). If you do a Master’s degree at a French university, you are allowed to stay for 1 year after you finish your degree on a special visa (an autorisation provisoire de séjour, or APS) that allows you to look for a job, and can subsequently stay (without the company having to pay the sponsorship fees) if you’re hired in your field of study for at least 1.5x the minimum wage. If you like kids, you could also become an au pair like I did!
These who come to France to be with their significant other may find these rules to be frustrating- I get it, you just want to be with the person you love! But my theory here is this: anyone can do anything for a year. If you plan on spending the rest of your life with this person, what’s a year or so in the grand scheme of things, in order to have a stable situation and be able to stay legally in the country and work without issues? During that year, make sure you’re preparing all the paperwork you’ll need to change status if you’re getting married or PACSed- check out my post on getting PACSed here and on getting the VPF carte de séjour here.
Visa vs. titre de séjour vs. carte de séjour vs. carte de résident- what the heck is the difference?!
This is one of the most common mistakes, and honestly it’s because people think that the names are interchangeable, and they’re not (which I’m completely guilty of exploiting for the SEO in my post about getting a carte de séjour vie privee et familiale). A visa is the sticker put into your passport by the French consulate in your home country. Normally long stay visas are categorized as VLS-TS, which stands for visa long séjour valant d’un titre de séjour. This is basically a request to immigrate to France, means that you’re allowed to enter the country and apply for a residence permit with the OFII (see below). This permit is called a titre de séjour, which essentially is a general term for residence permit, no matter how long it’s valid for. The sticker you get from the OFII and the sticker you get from the home consulate make up your residence permit for the first year. If you decide to renew your long stay residence permit (which is normally valid for 1 year), you make an appointment at your prefecture to apply for a carte de séjour, which is a physical card that represents your residence permit, or your legal status allowing you to stay in France. This card acts as your French ID as a non-French legal resident in the country. If you have a carte de sejour that you renew consecutively for 5 years, you’re eligible to apply for a carte de résident, which is valid for 10 years, unless you choose to apply for citizenship (which is a whole ‘nother ball game). Voilà, the differences between the terms!
What do I have to do for the OFII?
The OFII, or the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration, is the subject of a lot of confusion/frustration for many people upon their arrival in France, but it doesn’t need to be! Basically upon arrival, you have to send the residency form that you filled out when you applied for your visa in your home country to your local OFII office. Paris Unraveled has a great, very thorough post on this with all the links you need! Make sure you ask to send it with an “avis de réception” so you will get send a notification when it was supposed to have arrived. That way, when you follow up with the OFII if you don’t hear from them, you can prove that you actually sent your papers when you were supposed to. You HAVE to have the appointment with the OFII in order to validate your titre de séjour (residence permit). You probably won’t have issues traveling out of the country, despite what you may have been led to believe (they rarely even look at visas when traveling in the Schengen zone), but if you want to renew in the future this will definitely present a problem. Make sure you follow up with the office if you don’t have an appointment within 6 months of arriving! They are notorious for losing people’s paperwork and making things complicated.
Which prefecture should I go to for my visa renewal?
The prefectures de police who deal with immigration are not the prefectures of each arrondissement; they’re the main prefecture of the city or departement that you live in. For example, I live in Paris, so my prefecture is the main prefecture de police at Cité, but for someone who lives in Neuilly-sur-Seine, their prefecture is the one in Nanterre. My departement is Paris, theirs would be Hauts-de-Seine. Most of the prefectures have online sites to make appointments for renewals, but each one is different, so figure out what departement you live in, use their site and don’t rely on what someone in Paris (since many expats live in Paris) says about their experience at the prefecture- each one is different! That being said, also don’t rely on what a person who works at your prefecture says if you go to ask them a question; there’s a chance that when you come back for your appointment, the person in front of you will say something completely different. Some of the more obscure paper requirements are not set in stone and it’s up to the individual person in front of you if they ask for it. Be prepared for them to ask for anything- this is where it helps to ask around for what kind of crazy documents others have had requested of them. Sometimes the most obscure things can make your life so much easier!
If you’re a student in Paris, there is a separate prefecture for you, on Boulevard Ney in the 18th arrondissement by Porte de Clignancourt. All appointments are online and can be made by clicking here, or here if you’re changing your status (for example, from student to VPF like I did).
Can I stay longer in the country after a tourist visa?
I personally get this question a lot, since many people are on the 90-day tourist visa that doesn’t require any applications, here to visit their French partner and wanting to know how they can stay longer with them. Unfortunately there’s essentially no legal way to extend a tourist visa- if you don’t already have a long-stay visa, you need to go back to your home country and request one from your consulate. If you overstay the 90-day tourist visa, you will become a “sans papiers” (person without papers, basically an illegal immigrant) and that comes with its own set of difficulties. There’s really no way around this, and if you overstay you’re likely to risk fines or temporary bans from not only France but all Schengen travel. Not worth the risk!
How far ahead should I make my visa appointment?
For students, you’re not even allowed to make an appointment more than 3 months away from the expiration of your visa. For those renewing their same visa or CDS on the same status, you can make appointments online at your prefecture’s website. If you’re changing status, depending on what it is, you may have to call in and make an appointment. While you won’t get kicked out of the country if you don’t adhere to the time frame given to schedule your renewal, you may be stuck unable to work on an expired visa (see below) for a few months waiting for your appointment, and we can all agree that’s no fun. I had to wait 4 months for my appointment when I switched from student to VPF status, so try to make your appointment as far in advance as you can. However, as long as your appointment is made before your current visa expires, you’ll be fine!
What happens when my visa expires?
Technically? Nothing. No one’s going to come hunt you down and drag you kicking and screaming onto a flight back to your home country if you have an expired visa. If you have a convocation for a renewal appointment already, you’re unofficially cleared to stay in the country. However, it’s possible that you’d run into issues if you tried to travel outside of France, so best to stay in the country until you’re officially legal again. Keep in mind also that you can’t legally work on an expired visa, so keep in mind the above information about appointment-making if you have a job who wouldn’t be willing to wait around for you to renew.
If you’re just renewing on the same status (staying a student, for example) you can get a récépissé, which is essentially a receipt saying that your residence permit is still valid, which will allow you to be able to continue working in between the expiration and appointment dates. However, if you’re switching status, especially if you’re going from being a student to basically anything else, you may not be able to get one (I recently met someone who got one from the student prefecture when she was doing the same status change as I was, so it could be worth a try). It was a boring two months in between the expiration of my student carte de séjour and my appointment, but at least I didn’t have to leave the country. Silver linings, people.
Should I leave the country to “reset” my tourist visa?
The Schengen tourist visa (meaning passport-only visa-free entry) allows citizens of the countries to which it applies to stay in the Schengen area for 90 out of every 180 days. These don’t have to be consecutive days, but the numbers still stand, which is why anyone who says you can leave and go to London for a night and come back and it will be “reset” is full of baloney.
If you’re on a long stay visa or carte de séjour, however, and it expires, you can stay and travel within the Schengen zone for an additional 90 days on the tourist visa. It’s a bit ambiguous whether or not you’re technically supposed to leave the Schengen zone to get a stamp in your passport and “activate” the 90 days- some people don’t do it and have no problems, some people may get questioned, so in the end it’s your call. Just don’t overstay or you might face bigger consequences!
I hope that answers some of the questions you may have had about dealing with the madness that is the French visa process! Were you confused by some of these misconceptions about visas for France? What kind of nonsense have you had to deal with from French bureaucracy? Sound off in the comments below, and feel free to answer each others’ questions!