Living in France For Members

What are the rules for moving to France if you are not from the EU?

The Local France
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What are the rules for moving to France if you are not from the EU?
Photo: AFP

We all know that EU freedom of movement makes it much easier to travel, live, love and work in France, but what happens if you don't have the golden ticket of a European passport? Well it's still possible, but a lot more complicated for third country nationals.


For citizens of the EU, moving to France basically involves throwing some clothes in a rucksack and jumping on the bus/ferry/plane (although there are some rules) - but those who are not European need to put a little more thought and advance planning into it, not to mention paperwork.

For British people this concept will be fairly new (although none of this applies to people who move here before December 31st, 2020), for Americans, Australian, Indians and other Third Country Nationals this is the system they currently face.

READ ALSO Work options visas for Americans in France

International travel is harder outside the EU. Photo: AFP

It's complicated and there are many variations but essentially it's a two step process - first get a visa that allows you to spend a certain amount of time in France and then apply for the relevant permit or carte de séjour that allows more long-term residence.

In general the visa needs to be sourced before moving to France, usually in your home country, and then the carte de séjour application is done while living in France.


Visa requirements change depending on which country you are coming from, and generally depend on what bilateral arrangements France has in place with that country, so some nationalities need a visa for any type of trip to France while others can spend a certain amount of time here visa free.

Americans and Australians can spend 90 days in France visa-free. For other nationalities click here to find out the rules.

What the situation will be for British people after the end of the Brexit transition period we don't know - it's one of the things still to be decided - but it looks like that Brits will be allowed to spend a certain amount of time in France with no visa, either 90 days out of every 180 or possibly six months out of every year.

But while a couple of months of visa-free stay can be very useful in helping you go for job interviews, look at apartments and get a feel for nice areas to live, you will likely then have to go back to your home country and make a visa application from there.

The type of visa you want depends on why you are coming to France, but popular types include a spouse visa (if you're married to a French person) a student visa, a visitor visa (which does not allow you to work) or a work visa.

Visas other than work visas generally require you to provide proof that you can support yourself while in France and won't become a burden to the state, so a healthy bank balance is essential as is full health insurance.

READ ALSO What you need to know about health insurance in France

If you have a scientific mind, there are specialist visas available. Photo: AFP

If you're not swimming in spare cash, then a work visa is your best bet, but this is not simple either. You need a confirmed job offer before you can even apply for the visa and in some circumstances the company needs to provide the French government with a justification for hiring you.

It's not quick either, with applicants being advised to allow for a three-month processing time.

There is some good news for potential employees though, France is keen to attract more business, particularly tech-based ones and has launched the Choose France initiative which includes among other things a 'French tech visa' which is a simplified visa process for tech employees or startups. Full details on their (English-language) website here.

There are also various specialist visas for highly qualified people and seasonal visas for people to, for example, work the ski season.

For young people who are just looking for a new experience the one-year au pair visa can be a good option as it carries less of a burden of financial proof. You'll need to be between 18 and 30 with an offer of work and accommodation in place from a host family and you'll also have to commit to signing up to language classes while you're here. Obviously people not fond of children may find this route a bit problematic.

You will generally also have to pay a processing fee for your visa.

Carte de séjour

So if you manage to get your visa and move to France - congratulations, but that is only half the battle.

The visa will be time limited and as it comes to an end you will need to either renew it or apply for the carte de séjour that will give you rights for a longer stay in France.

Some types of visa require you to make an application within two months of arrival - those visas state carte de séjour à solliciter à l’arrivée en France.

Everyone else needs to start their carte de séjour application two months before the visa runs out and, this being France, you will need a lot of paperwork.

Obtaining residency is also a two-step process - first you apply for a short-term card and then once you have been in France for five (continuous) years you are entitled to apply for the carte de séjour permanent which allows you to stay in France for as long as you like.

Like visas, there are different types of carte de séjour depending on whether you are employed, self-employed, studying, retired or otherwise economically inactive.

Different types of card require different types of proof.

But overall you will need proof of ID, proof of address such as utility bills and proof relating to your status - so work contract for employees, university papers for students or accounts for self-employed people.

Basically don't throw away any paperwork and be prepared to supply multiple documents.

You apply for the carte de séjour at your local préfecture (or the Préfecture de Police if you live in Paris) and processing times can vary quite significantly depending on where you live.

Some préfectures have English-speaking employees but others do not, so be prepared to speak French at your appointment.

You will have to pay a fee for your card and any supporting documents that are in English may have to be translated into French using a certified translator.


After five years of continuous residence in France you are also entitled to apply for French citizenship. This is a long process (18 months to two years is average) and complicated with strict requirements including a high level of French.

But if you manage to obtain citizenship then you are entitled to stay in France condition-free for the rest of your life. You can even run for president if you want to.




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