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MOVING TO FRANCE

Visas and residency permits: How to move to France (and stay here)

If you dream of moving to France, then you may need to start thinking about boring practicalities like visas, residency cards and health insurance. But none of these are insurmountable problems - here's our guide to moving to France and ensuring that you can (legally) stay here.

Visas and residency permits: How to move to France (and stay here)
Moving countries generally involves some paperwork. Photo: Kenzo Tribaullard/AFP

When looking at coming to France there are two main things that are important – your nationality and what you intend to do here – work, study, retire etc. And the rules on paperwork vary considerably depending on these factors.

Here’s a guide to what you need to be thinking about, depending on your situation.

You hold the passport of an EU or Schengen zone country

Congratulations, because you have hit the passport jackpot in terms of moving. If you have the passport of any EU country, including Ireland, or a Schengen zone country then you are covered by EU Freedom of Movement and can move to France with minimal paperwork. This applies to dual nationals, but you will need to ensure that you use your EU passport for all official functions (travel, ID etc) in order to benefit from this.

France is unusual within the EU in that it does not require EU citizens to register for residency after they have lived there for a certain period. If you’re moving long-term, however, you will need to register within the French health system, and remember that all residents of France need to file an annual tax declaration, even if all their income comes from outside France.

You are British, American, Australian, New Zealander or Canadian

If you don’t benefit from EU freedom of movement you are likely to be looking at getting a visa for longer stays in France. People from the above counties do, however, benefit from the 90-day rule, which means you can travel to France visa-free for up to 90 days in every 180, which may be enough for second-home owners or frequent visitors.

READ ALSO How does the 90-day rule work?

If you want to stay longer than that, however, you face having to get a visa first and then, if you want to stay in the long term, a residency card. Visas must be applied for in your home country before you move.

And it’s here that your reason for moving becomes important, as it determines the type of visa that you will apply for.

Below is an overview, but you can find more details on visa types HERE.

Working – if you’re coming as an employee you will need your employer to sponsor your visa, while if you intend to be self-employed or freelance you apply for an entrepreneur visa, which requires proof of resources. Depending on your type of work, you may also qualify for a Passeport Talent, which gives extra benefits in terms of how long it lasts and whether you can bring family with you.   

READ ALSO Talent passport: The little-known visa that could make moving to France a lot easier

Studying – student visas are fairly straightforward to apply for, but you will need a confirmed place at a French university or further education centre in order to apply.

Not working – if you’re retired or don’t intend to work in France you will probably want a visitor visa. This visa type requires you to declare that you will not work in France, so it’s not suitable for semi-retired people, and also has financial requirements demonstrating that you will be able to support yourself and will not become a drain on the French state. You are also likely to need to demonstrate that you have full health insurance cover for your first year in France.

Spouse visa – if you’re lucky enough to be married or in a registered civil partnership with a French or other EU national, that does not exempt you from needing a visa. It does, however, mean you can get a spouse visa which has fewer requirements.

You’re from another country

Not all non-EU countries benefit from the 90-days of visa-free travel so if you are coming from certain destinations, including India, you will need a visa to enter France for any length of stay – find a full list of the countries requiring visas HERE.

Also be aware that France applies different rules for Algerian citizens, for historical reasons.

The visa system itself is the same as detailed above and depends on why you’re coming to France.

What next 

Once you’ve got the visa and made the move to France you might be tempted to think that you’re finished with French bureaucracy. Unfortunately this is not the case.

At some point you will need to register for the residency card known as the carte de séjour and when you register depends on your visa type – some demand that you register within three months of arriving, so you need to be aware of this and make sure that you don’t miss the deadline.

When registering you may also have to undergo a medical and commit to signing up to French classes if your language skills are a little rusty.

If you intend to stay you will also need to register within the French health system and remember that all residents of France need to file an annual tax declaration, even if all your income comes from outside France. 

Citizenship

If you intend to make France your home, you may wish to apply for French citizenship, which will remove all annoying requirements for visas and residency cards if your application is successful, as well as giving you the right to vote in French presidential elections (or even to stand for president, if you want).

If you have French parents or a French spouse you can get citizenship without having to be resident in France, but if you don’t have any useful family members you will be looking at gaining citizenship through residency.

France is relatively generous in granting citizenship through residency, and you can apply after being a full-time resident of France for five years (or two years if you graduated from a French university or higher education establishment).

You do require B2 level French, however, plus a lot of paperwork and you will need to do some swotting up for the interview in which you are tested on your knowledge of French history, culture and value – find the full requirements HERE.

This is just an overview of the various requirements, you can find a lot more information in our visas, residency and moving to France sections.

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For members

VISAS

What is the EU’s ‘single permit’ for third-country nationals and can I get one?

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a so-called "single permit" to both reside and work in the EU. But what is the single permit, how does it work and what could change in the future?

What is the EU's 'single permit' for third-country nationals and can I get one?

Among the recent proposals made by the European Commission to simplify the procedures for the entry and residence of non-EU nationals in the European Union, there is the reform of the ‘single permit’.

In 2020, 2.7 million non-EU citizens were issued a ‘single permit’ to both reside and work in the EU, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat. Five countries together issued 75% of the total, with France topping the list (940,000 permits issued), followed by Italy (345,000), Germany (302,000), Spain (275,000) and Portugal (170,000).

Seven in 10 single permits were granted for family and employment reasons (34 and 36 percent respectively) and just less than 10 percent for education purposes.

But what is this permit and how does it work?

What is the EU single permit?

The EU single permit is an administrative act that grants non-EU citizens both a work and residence permit for an EU member state with a single application.

It was designed to simplify access for people moving to the EU for work. It also aims to ensure that permit holders are treated equally to the citizens of the country where they live when it comes to working conditions, education and training, recognition of qualifications, freedom of association, tax benefits, access to goods and services, including housing and advice services.

Equal conditions also concern social security, including the portability of pension benefits. This means that non-EU citizens or their survivors who reside in a non-EU country and derive rights from single permit holders are entitled to receive pensions for old age, invalidity and death in the same way as EU citizens.

The single permit directive applies in 25 of the 27 EU countries, as Ireland and Denmark have opted out of all EU laws affecting ‘third country nationals’.

Who can apply for a single permit?

The directive covers non-EU nationals who apply to reside in an EU country for work or who are already resident in the EU for other purposes but have the right to access the labour market (for instance, students or family members of a citizen of the country of application).

As a general rule, these rules do not apply to long-term residents or non-EU family members of EU citizens who exercise the free movement rights or have free movement rights in the EU under separate laws, as their rights are already covered by separate laws.

It also does not apply to posted workers, seasonal workers, intra-corporate transferees, beneficiaries of temporary protection, refugees, self-employed workers and seafarers or people working on board of EU ships, as they are not considered part of the labour market of the EU country where they are based.

Each country can determine whether the application should be made by the non-EU national or the employer or either of them.

Applications from the individual are required for the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden. For Bulgaria and Italy it is the employer who has to apply, while applications are accepted from either the recipient or the employer for Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

How long does it take to process the application?

The EU directive says the competent authority must decide on the application within 4 months from the date it was lodged. Only in exceptional circumstances the deadline can be longer.

Where no decision is taken within the time limit, national law determines the outcome. In some EU countries (including France, Italy and Spain) this is a tacit rejection while in others it is a tacit approval.

If the application is incomplete, the authority should notify the applicant in writing specifying which additional information is needed, and the time count should be suspended until these are received.

In case of rejection, the authority must provide the reasons and there is a possibility to appeal.

How does it work in practice?

Although the intention of the directive was to simplify the procedure and guarantee more rights, things always get complicated when it’s 25 countries turning rules into reality.

A 2019 report of the European Commission on how this law was working in practice showed that the directive “failed to address some of the issues it proposed to solve”.

The Commission had received several complaints and launched legal action against some member states.

Complaints concerned in particular excessive processing times by the relevant authorities, too high fees, problems with the recognition of qualifications and the lack of equal treatment in several areas, especially social security.

Only 13 countries allowed the transfer of pensions to non-EU countries. In France, invalidity and death pensions are not exportable to non-EU states. Problems were identified also in Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Slovenia.

In Italy single permit holders were excluded from certain types of family benefits and it was the EU Court of Justice that ruled, in September 2021, that single permit holders are entitled to a childbirth and maternity allowances as provided by Italian laws. The EU Court also rules that Italy and the Netherlands were charging too high fees.

Sweden restricts social security benefits for people living in the country for less than one year and takes too long to process single permit applications, according to the report.

Generally the report found that authorities were not providing sufficient information to the pubic about the permit and associated rights.

What will change?

As part of a package of measures to make working and moving in the EU country easier for non-EU nationals announced at the end of April, the European Commission has proposed some changes to improve the situation.

The Commission has suggested shortening the deadline for member states to issue a decision ensuring that the 4 month limit covers the issuing of visas and the labour market test (to prove there are no suitable candidates in the local market).

Under the proposal, fees should be proportionate and candidates should be able to submit the application both in the member state of destination and from a third country.

In addition, permit holders should be able to change employer during the permit’s validity, and the permit should not be withdrawn in case of unemployment for at least 3 months. These measures should reduce vulnerability to labour exploitation, the Commission says.

The Commission also suggests member states should introduce penalties against employers who do no respect equality principles especially with regard to working conditions, freedom of association and affiliation and access to social security benefits.

These proposals have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council and can be modified before becoming law.

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