Obtaining visas for France

As France is a Schengen member state, citizens of a number of countries can enter for short stays without having to apply for a visa.  When it comes to long-term or permanent stays, securing a long-stay visa and residency permit (carte de séjour) is considerably more difficcult for non-EU or non-EEA nationals.

France falls within the Schengen Area, and as such nationals of certain countries, including European Union countries, the European Economic Area, Switzerland, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, do not need to apply for a tourist visa prior to arrival if they are planning to stay in the country for less than 90 days. 

Nationals of countries not listed will need to apply for a Schengen visa prior to arrival in order to be granted entry to France. 

Schengen visas allow 90 days of travel within a six-month period to any country within the Schengen Area. If travelling to multiple destinations, expats should submit the Schengen visa application to the consulate of the country in which they will spend the most time.

It is necessary to apply for a Schengen visa at the nearest French consulate or embassy prior to arrival in France. Processing time can vary, so applications should be submitted before the date of departure.

Expats planning on staying in France for more than 90 days will need to apply for a long-stay visa. This visa is primarily granted to those going to France to work, study or reunite with family. The application requires a number of supporting documents, the specifics of which vary according to each applicant’s reason for moving to France. EU citizens don't need to apply for long-stay visas to live in France for more than 90 days. 

Some long-stay visas act as residence permits and allow expats to live in France for a 12-month period. If granted one of these visas, expats must register with the Office Français d’Immigration et d’Intégration within the first three months of arrival.

 

Non-EU citizens planning on living in France for more than a year must usually apply for a formal residence permit (carte de séjour) in addition to the long-stay visa. 

Expats have two months from their initial entry to apply for this card, but it's best to start the process as soon as possible.

To get a residence permit, expats must have entered France on a long-stay visa. They can apply for their residence permit at the Service des Étrangers section of their local préfecture.  The process and required documents for application vary depending on the préfecture, as do the appointment policies. Some allow scheduling online, while others require scheduling via telephone or in person, if at all.

Once all documents have been submitted, expats will be given a récipissé de demande and a date for the required French medical check-up, which includes an x-ray. Applicants must take the medical confirmation certificate back to the préfecture to complete the final step of the application process.

The carte de séjour is valid for one year and the renewal process can be started two months prior to expiration. 

Depending on where an expat is from, there may be certain requirements that need to be fulfilled before one is granted permission to work in France. These differ according to the expat’s country of origin.

Citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland don’t require work permits to find employment in France. However, non-EU nationals have to navigate a rather complicated application process for the right to employment in France. There is also a limitation on the number of job categories open to non-European foreigners, and as such work permits in France are difficult for expats to obtain.

Eligibility for a work permit in France is related to employment status, and it's usually necessary for expats to find employment before relocating. Expats may need to rely on their prospective employer to obtain the permit on their behalf. Expats looking for employment in France may also need to prove that their skills are unique and cannot be found among EEA nationals, which can be a tricky task.  

Expats planning to work in France for longer than three months are required to have a long-stay visa, which can only be applied for after their prospective work contract is sent to the French Ministry of Labour for approval. Once the contract has been reviewed and approved an appointment can be made to apply for the visa. Expats arriving in France on a long-stay work visa are required to register with the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration.

Work permits for France vary in their length of validity, requirements and number of entries. They generally also depend on the type of worker and their field. Common work permits for expats moving to France include the Skills and Talents permit, as well as the Employees on Assignment permit.

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