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MOVING TO FRANCE

How Americans can move to France (and stay here)

Whether you're nurturing a long-held dream or just planning to flee the country, here is everything you need to know about moving to France as an American.

How Americans can move to France (and stay here)
Lady Liberty will even welcome you to France. Photo: AFP

Back in 2017 when Donald Trump was elected, France’s president Emmanuel Macron issued an invitation to any Americans disappointed with the election result to move to France. The political situation has changed since then, but Americans are generally still pretty welcome – although that doesn’t mean that France’s notorious bureaucracy has got any easier.

Those wanting just a taste of France won’t need a visa if the trip is for less than 90 days (unless you’re a diplomat or a journalist).

All you need is a passport that’s valid for at least three months. 

But for any stays longer than three months it gets complicated. 

READ ALSO What are the biggest challenges for Americans in France?

If you’re lucky enough to have dual nationality with an EU country then the experience will be a lot more straightforward, everyone else should prepare for a truckload of paperwork, and the first thing you need is a visa. 

All visas charge processing fees and you need to be prepared to create a massive bundle of supporting documents.

First things first, find your closest French consulate here. And be prepared to travel, the consulates are few and far between, with one generally serving several states (see image below).

 
 
 

When you’ve found your consulate, you’ll need to decide what sort of visa to aim for before making an appointment, and there are many on offer – from spouse visas to scientist visas. 

For a full guide on getting a visa click HERE.

It’s important to note that your visa has to be sorted before you leave the USA, so there’s no point coming over here as a tourist and then hoping to figure it out from France – they’ll just send you back.

Here’s an overview of the most common types of visa;

Spouse Visa

If you’ve already got a Frenchie on your arm then congratulations, things just got a little easier.

You’ll be able to get a 12-month visa and you’ll have to register at the Immigration Office (OFFI) within three months of arrival. This will count as your residence card (more info on how to get residency later).

The good news is that the application is free but you’ll need a heap of documents including application forms, proof of marriage (in French as well), proof of your spouse’s nationality, and a residence form. More info here.

Work Visa

If you intend to work in France then you have two options; get a work visa as a salaried employee or get an entrepreneur visa if you intend to set up your own business or work self-employed as a freelancer or contractor.

The toughest part of the employee visa is that you need to find a job first, rather than coming to France and then job-hunting. 

Once you find a job, you then need to have your work contract approved by the authorities at the French Labour Ministry (then again at the OFFI offices) and depending on the sector you work in your employer may have to justify why they’re hiring you and not a European.

If you’re bringing family on this visa, get the employer to start a file for them at the same time. You’ll need to fill in application forms, residence forms, and you’ll need to pay a processing fee of around $100.  

If you intend to be self-employed the entrepreneur visa has different requirements, including a detailed business plan and proof of financial means – essentially you need to be able to demonstrate that you can support yourself even if your business idea never takes off.

Visitor Visa

This is for those who want to stay for more than three months but don’t have a job, a French spouse, or plans to study – it’s most commonly used by retired people and it brings with it the requirement to have a certain level of assets.

READ ALSO How much money do I need to get a French visa?

You’ll need: filled-in questionnaires and application forms, a letter of explanation as to what you intend to do in France, letters promising that you won’t work in France (not even working remotely for an employer back in the US), proof that you can support yourself in France, proof of earnings, proof of medical insurance, proof of accommodation in France, among other things. More info here

Student visa

The good news is that the fee is around half that of the other long stay visas, at about $50 and is usually shorter to process, but the bad news is that it’s no walk in the park.

You’ll need a series of documents from Campus France, financial guarantees, enrolment proof, a bunch of forms, and even airline reservation proof. More info here

Au Pair visa

If you’re between the ages of 17 and 30, don’t mind a few household chores and quite like children, then this year-long visa could be right up your alley.

You’ll need all the usual forms, but also an “au pair contract” approved by the French ministry of labour, an invitation from your host family, and you’ll have to sign up to language courses for while you’re here. Read more about becoming an au pair here, and find out more on the visa info here

Besides these options, there is always a scientist visa, an internship visa, and a diplomatic visa.

Talent Passport

If you qualify for it, there’s also the ‘talent passport’ which is really the best type of visa because it lasts for four years before you need to renew and you can bring family members on it. 

It offers a four-year work visa to people who can demonstrate certain business, creative or academic skills, or who have a provable reputation in their field – for example, scientific, literary, artistic, intellectual, educational, or sporting. The categories were recently expanded and cover quite a wide variety of fields. More info here.

What else?

Once you have secured your visa you’re more or less ready to travel, but there are some other things to check.

Health insurance – some visa types, especially those for people who will not be working, require proof of health insurance. Others don’t, but you should still have insurance that will cover your first months in France.

Once you have been living in France for three months, you’re entitled to register in the public health system and get a carte vitale, but the process of getting the card can be quite lengthy.

Americans in France: What’s the deal with health insurance?

Driving licence – you can drive on your US licence initially in France, but once you have been here for a year you need to swap to a French licence, and here the State that your licence was issued in is crucial – some States have an agreement for a simple licence swap, others don’t and in that case you will need to take a French driving test.

By State: How hard is it to swap your driving licence for a French one?

Bank account – for reasons connected to US legislation, Americans can have a hard time opening a bank account in France. We have some tips here.

Taxes – the IRS virtually never lets people go, so you will likely still be filing tax returns in the US, but after you have been here for a year you will also need to file a tax return in France – even if all your income comes from the US. More details here.

And how to stay in France

Think that getting your visa represents the end of your French paperwork? Dream on!

Depending on the type of visa you have you may be required to visit OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et Intégration) on arrival to register where you may be required to undergo a medical examination or to take French classes if your language skills are a little basic.

Other types of visa require you to validate them at your local préfecture within a certain time period.

These ‘in country’ steps are important, so in between popping Champagne when your visa arrives, take the time to read carefully the accompanying documents and note down when you need to do things. 

Your visa will also need renewing, most initial visas last for one year, but there are exceptions.

The exact steps vary depending on your visa type, but the most common route is to apply for a residency permit (carte de séjour) so that you can stay longer than just 12 months – you usually apply for this two months before your visa runs out.

We look in more detail at the next steps HERE.

French administration is in the process of moving its immigration system online, but we’re now at the halfway stage where you can apply for some types of cartes de séjour online, but others require a visit to your local préfecture.

Once you’ve been here for five (continuous) years, you’re eligible for long-term residency, which does away with the annual paperwork.

And if you have been here for five continuous years (or three years if you completed higher education in France) and speak good French, then you can apply for French citizenship – if you’re game for a whole lot more paperwork.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

You can also find lots more information tailored to US nationals in our Americans in France section.

Member comments

  1. Thanks to the Local for providing us Americans with this information. Just wish we were restricted from traveling to France. Does anyone know if France has a retirement visa?

  2. I would also like to know of a retirement visa. I can find no mention of such a thing in the literature/consulate materials. My other BIG question is HEALTH INSURANCE. I have my very good retirement insurance from my former employer, which reimburses me 80% for everything (except meds), but that is not accepted by French authorities as what they need (it needs to be a policy that pays the health system directly). Does anyone know what the minimum-cost health insurance that does meet the requirements are (it is not stated anywhere what the minimum requirements are, just that health insuran ce is required)–please include name of a program and/or an insurance company that provides such or a source that goes into specific detail about how to meet the requirements. Thanks.

  3. We came to France least December on a 1 year “Long sejour Temporaire.” we own property here and have been coming to our place since 2003. We are now both retired. We had planned to spend 4 months here, return to the States for a while and then come back. However COVID “trapped” us here and we’ve been here ever since. At this point we have rented out our house in New York and just want to stay here (in spite of confinenment). We asked our Prefecture about how to get a Carte de Sejour given that our visa is “temporaire.” They said we have to return to the States and start the process all over again. We don’t want to do that, as it would mean we may not be able t return to France any time soon. A lawyer here said we should just apply for a carte de sejour anyway. We have but I am not sure it will work. Any suggestions?

  4. I’m British, I’ve applied for a Carte de sejour under the Brexit agreement. My wife and I retired in 2006 to our property in France. We had been in business between France and US since 1990 and shared our time between California and France. We have UK and US passports and are fiscally resident in US.
    We try to be in France from mid March through late October and then go to US for the winter. We were led to believe that we could maintain our US fiscal situation, but would need to make a tax return in France, but since we were receiving no income in France, and a double taxation exists between France and US, we would have little or no tax to pay in France.
    I’m beginning to hear murmurings that we would have to make France our fiscal residence when we receive a carte de sejour. I’m sure there is a renewable 5 year residence available to retirees after they reach a certain age and can show they have medical insurance and sufficient income to never become a liability to the French Govt.
    Any info available would be of help

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For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

Overstaying, working without a permit and polygamy – what can get you deported from France?

From committing a crime to overstaying your 90-day limit and even having multiple wives - here is a look at all the things that can get foreigners deported from France, and how likely this is in reality.

Overstaying, working without a permit and polygamy - what can get you deported from France?

If you’re living in France and you’re not a French citizen, there are certain scenarios in which you can be expelled from the country, and although this isn’t an everyday occurrence there are quite a wide range of offences that can see you kicked out of France. 

Process

In France, there are a few different deportation procedures for foreigners.

Expulsion – The first, which you may have heard about before, is “expulsion”, which means you must leave the country immediately.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin recently made headlines after calling for the expulsion of an Imam for making anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist comments, as well as speeches that were “contrary to the values of the Republic.” 

For the average person, being expelled from France is very unlikely.

Under president Nicolas Sarkozy, a 2003 law was passed allowing for three possibilities to expel foreigners who are already “integrated” into France – if they have engaged in “behaviours likely to undermine the fundamental interests of the State; that are linked to activities of a terrorist nature; or constitute acts of incitement toward discrimination, hatred or violence because of the origin or religion of persons.”  

In most cases though, “expulsion” only occurs if a person is living in France illegally (ie without a residency permit or visa) and they represent a “serious threat to public order.” 

Notice to quit – The more likely scenario for the deportation of a foreigner living in France is an OQTF (Obligation de quitter le territoire français) – an obligation to leave France.

The decision is made by your préfecture. You will be formally notified, in a document which outlines which country you are to return to, as well as the time limit for when you must leave France. 

This can occur following a prison sentence, or if your residency permit has been withdrawn (again, the most common scenario is following a criminal conviction) or if your application to renew a residency permit has been denied.

You can challenge an OQTF. In most cases, the administrative court responsible for handling appeals should offer a response within six weeks.

Barred from returning – if you have committed an immigration offence such as overstaying your visa or overstaying your 90-day limit, this is often only flagged up at the border as you leave France. In this circumstance, you are liable to a fine and can also be banned from returning to France. Bans depend on your circumstance and how long you have overstayed, but can range from 90 days to 10 years.

In practice, being barred from returning is the most common scenario for people who have overstayed their visa or 90-day limit, but have not been working or claiming benefits in France.  

You can be ordered to leave France within 30 days if you are in one of the following situations:

  • You entered France (or the Schengen area) illegally and you do not have a residency permit or visa. You can be immediately ordered to leave France under specific scenarios such as representing a threat to public order or being a “risk of fleeing.”
  • You have entered France legally, but you have overstayed your visa or overstayed your 90-day limit. If you stay more than 90 days in every 180 in the Schengen area without a valid residency permit, then you can receive an OQTF, although in practice this is not the most common response.

READ MORE: What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in France?

  • Your residency permit application or your temporary residence permit has not been renewed or has been withdrawn.
  • Your residence permit has been withdrawn, refused or not renewed or you no longer have the right to stay in France (more on this below). 
  • You failed to apply to renew your residency permit, and stayed after the expiration of your previous permit. Keep in mind that once your permit expires, you can stay an additional 90 days in France if your home-country does not require a 90-day visa. However, in order to do this you must exit the Schengen zone and come back in to re-start the clock. 
  • You are working without a work permit and have resided in France for less than 3 months. A scenario where this might apply would be coming to France for under 90-days as a tourist (ie without a visa) and take a seasonal job. If you are found to have done this, you can receive an OQTF.
  • Other scenarios include being an asylum seeker whose application for protection was definitively rejected, or being categorised as a threat to public order (for those who have resided in France for less than 3 months).

Why might my residency permit be withdrawn or refused?

For those with a valid temporary or multi-annual residency permit, you might have your titre de séjour withdrawn in any of the following scenarios: 

If you no longer meet one of the necessary conditions for obtaining the permit in the first place. Keep in mind that if you have a salarié residency permit or a passeport talent, these cannot be withdrawn if you become “involuntarily unemployed” (meaning – you do not need to worry about potentially being deported if you lose your job). The best advice for this would be to request a change of status as needed rather than staying on a permit that no longer applies to you.

If you did not fulfil all the criteria for renewing your permit – this could involve failing to appear for an appointment you have been summoned to by the préfecture. 

If your permit was issued on the basis of family reunification, you could lose your titre if you have broken off your relationship with your spouse during the 3 years following the issuance of the permit. This does not apply in the case of death or spousal abuse, and there are exceptions for couples who have children settled in France. 

Other reasons might include:

  • Living in a state of polygamy in France
  • Serious criminal conviction (drug trafficking, slavery, human trafficking, murder etc.)
  • Illegally employing a foreign worker
  • Having been deported or banned from French territory previously
  • Being a threat to public order (usually terrorism related)

If you have a residency card, you can also lose your right to residency if you are out of France for a period of between 10 months and two years – depending on the type of card you have.

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