Whether you’re a Brit who has never had to worry about visas before, or from another part of the world and are planning to move to France for the first time, official instructions can leave you with lots of questions.
Of the respondents to our survey, the majority were applying for a visitor which is for those who do not intend to work – usually retirees.
READ ALSO How to get a visitor visa for France
(article continues below)
See also on The Local:
Others had applied for work or study visas, or through the talent visa programme.
Respondents came from the USA, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UK.
From organising your documents to dealing with French officials, here is what they suggest for visa newbies.
Prepare in advance
In many countries, French authorities use service providers such as TLS or VFS Global to process applications.
“We found out that they open appointments up on Fridays, one month out,” American Amy Cooke told The Local, adding that getting a VFS appointment was the main difficulty during the process.
However, this isn’t the only option.
“Sometimes they don’t make it clear that you can apply at the French embassy or consulate. Skip the visa centre and the extra fees! Apply at the French embassy or consulate directly,” said Ammar Mogharbel, from Saudi Arabia.
Readers also stressed the importance of factoring in Covid-related delays. Pamela Ellis had an appointment for a long-stay visa in Miami in July, but was told it would take a month for her visa to arrive from the time she had a meeting and submitted the necessary documents.
“I had already made plans to stay in Europe, so I continued with my plans, now I have to return in September to get my visa so that I do not break the 90-day Schengen rule,” she said.
“In the past, and I have gotten visas every single year, it only took 2 weeks from the time I submitted my papers.”
Don’t go it alone
Navigating the visa process, particularly as a first-timer, can be incredibly confusing, so it’s always a good idea to reach out to people who have been in the same situation.
Karen Golikov suggests: “Join Facebook groups like Applying for a French Visa or Retired Americans in France or Americans in France – Kind & Open Group. They were a huge help” (or head to The Local’s visa guide).
Depending on the type of visa you are applying for, you may also want help building your case.
“I used the services of a French woman based in the state of Washington, USA, to help me craft a convincing proposal, which she then translated into excellent French and I submitted to the French Consulate in San Francisco,” said Sharona Tsubota, who applied for a French passeport talent (talent passport).
The talent passport is a relatively little-known visa option, which applies to a range of jobs if you are coming to France to work – either as an employee or self-employed.
If you run into problems or you are in an unusual situation, you may even want to seek legal advice.
Reader DF from the US was hoping to move from a working visa to a student visa. “After combing through the government website, forums, etc., there was essentially no information how to do it. Moreover the préfecture did not have a process for it.
“I learned that if you hire an attorney, they can petition a jury to force the préfecture to take a meeting as it is not expressly forbidden in the law to do a changement de statut de salarié à étudiant. After that, I was given an appointment at the préfecture and the lawyer had to accompany me and explain to them that they can indeed process this request, despite no one in that office having knowledge of such a thing.”
Peter Craic, from Australia, found French officials to be rude when applying for a long-stay non-working visa, partly due to his lack of French. “Hire a solicitor and the rudeness evaporated,” he advised.
Organise your documents
Ah, the dossier. Perhaps the element of the process most likely to give applicants night sweats, and our readers had plenty of advice on the subject.
Several readers stressed the fact that the order in which the documents are listed on the application is not arbitrary – so you should bring them in the same order as they are listed on the form, with copies.
“Check all the information on the French Embassy site and the Visa Centre site to make sure you have all the paperwork you need. And then check again,” said Lynn Buist from the UK.
Once the visa is ready, she recommends picking it up from the visa centre in person. “The most stressful bit of the whole process was when one of the passports was temporarily lost by the delivery company.”
“Prepare all of the original documents and copies in quadruplicate. Have a French euro bank account with the visa minimum yearly amount deposited for each person,” said John Howard from the US.
Egyptian Omar Mansour, who has previously applied for both working and student visas, said: “When in doubt bring extra documents for proving anything like housing or income (eg scholarships, bills to prove your address).”
“Originals mean originals and copies mean copies. Don’t try to persuade or finesse your way through this process. You will not succeed,” warned Byron Tully from the United States.
“Present your documents with a cover page stating your name and a table of contents on the first page, written in French. Place tabs with labels (written in French) for the various documents. This will make it easy for you to present each document requested, and it will make it easy for the person processing your application to find the documents they’re looking for later.”
No, really, organise your documents
Those are the general tips for preparing your application, but different people will face specific challenges.
Depending on where you are from, you may need to show proof of health insurance cover with no deductibles.
“This was a surprise, and also to our insurance agent who had never heard this before,” American Eloise Clark, who applied for a long-stay non-working visa, told The Local. “Because of this and because of a pre-existing condition, our insurance is very expensive and doesn’t cover much except in-hospital and repatriation costs.”
You will also be asked for proof of accommodation. “1 week of AirBnB wasn’t enough, but we explained that we wanted to look for long-term accommodation after we arrived; they accepted 3 weeks’ of AirBnBs,” Clark said.
“If you have a name change be extra prepared. The French do not change last names and do not understand it,” John Howard added. Indeed, we recently explained why maiden names are so complicated in France.
First impressions matter
As with any bureaucratic interaction, when applying for a visa you’re at the mercy of the person in front of you. Our readers stressed the importance of making a good first impression during your visa appointment.
“Dress like you’re meeting the in-laws for the first time,” Tully suggested. “Not formal, but respectable. Say Bonjour to the person handling your application. Apologise for your French language skills unless your French is excellent. Present the documents as each are requested. Don’t make jokes. Don’t get upset if more documents are requested. This is your first step in a different world. Best to get with the programme and and go with the flow.”
“Speak in French and never in English,” Mansour added.
Although arriving with the correct documents is perhaps the best way to endear yourself to the staff.
Ian Burgess, whose wife Jenelyn is from the Philippines and had to apply for annual visas every year at the local French préfecture before eventually being granted permanent residency, said immigration staff have to put up with a lot of people who come unprepared.
“You being organised and prompt will help your situation no end,” he said.
Don’t get complacent
A good rule of thumb in general when moving to France is never to believe that the paperwork is finished.
Caroline Haines had no trouble applying for a long-stay visa from Canada, but problems arose later on. “We had no idea that we had to attend another interview with the Immigration Department in France within the first three months of our trip there,” she said. “No one told us this at the visa interview and we must have missed it on the website. If you do not do this your visa is invalid.”
Many thanks to everyone who took the time to share their advice. You can find out more about visas and other necessary paperwork in our Moving to France section.