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VISAS

Getting a French visa – what paperwork comes next?

Citizens of non-EU countries will need a visa if they want to move to France or spend long periods of time here. But people fondly imagining that the paperwork is all finished once they get their visa may be in for a disappointment.

Getting a French visa - what paperwork comes next?
Photo: Raymond Roig / AFP

Welcome to French bureaucracy, you’ll never leave . . .

Visas

First things first, if you are a citizen of a non-EU country (including the UK) and you want to either move to France or spend more than 90 days out of every 180 here you will need a visa. CLICK HERE to find out how to get your visa.

However getting a visa is usually only the first step in your French paperwork journey, what happens next depends on the type of visa you have and how long you intend to stay in France.

READ ALSO Organise your documents and dress smartly’: Readers’ top tips for getting a French visa

Here’s a look at the most common visa types and what happens next:

Moving to France

If you’re moving to France you will need a visa, but the type will depend on the purpose of your move – work, study, joining family members or retirement

Once you get your visa, in between celebrating, it’s important to read carefully the accompanying instructions, because these will tell you what to do next.

There are two main types of long-stay visa:

Visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour  (VLS-TS) allows its holder to stay in France for up to one year. With this visa, there’s no need to apply for a residence permit because, to all intents and purposes, it is one. 

Holders of this type of visa will, however, have to register with the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration (OFII) within three months of arrival.

This involves a fee of around €200, while the OFii can also request an in-person appointment and a medical examination. To register with the OFii, log on to this government online portal.

The second type, the visa long séjour temporaire (VLS-T) visa includes the wording “residence permit to be requested within two months of arrival”, which is self explanatory.

The holder of this type of visa must report to their local préfecture within two months of arrival in France in order to obtain a carte de séjour (residency permit).

In order to get the carte de séjour, you will require various documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, a medical certificate and you will have to pay a fee on top of the one you paid to get your visa in the first place.

Some also require signing an ‘integration’ contract, agreeing to support French values and pledging to take French lessons if necessary.

They are issued for periods from one to 10 years – depending on your circumstances – and then you will need to apply for renewal.

In certain cases, in particular for visas issued under the Talent Passport scheme – for highly qualified employees or highly-qualified and/or experienced people with a ‘real and serious’ project for setting up a company – a multi-year residence permit may be issued.

READ ALSO Not too complicated but quite expensive’ – getting a French visa as a Brit

Just visiting

If you don’t intend to live in France, but you do want to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 here then you also need a visa. This is particularly relevant to second-home owners, who will usually get a visitor visa if they want to enjoy long stays at their French property.

Britons with second homes in France are not considered resident, so cannot apply for a carte de séjour under the Brexit withdrawal agreement

The visitor visa requires a guarantee that you will not work while in France and in addition to the usual paperwork you will need to prove that you have the financial means to support yourselves for the period of your stay in France.

READ ALSO How to get a visitor visa 

Once you have the visa, there is no need for extra registration in France.

However the visa itself only lasts for a year.

As your visa approaches its expiry date you have the option to renew the visa, or to apply for a carte de séjour visiteur. The carte de séjour visiteur is not the same type of card as that given to British residents in France under the Brexit deal, and can only be obtained by people who have already had a visa.

Like the visa, the application process for the carte de séjour requires proof that you are financially able to support yourself and there is also a fee.

CLICK HERE for full details of a carte de séjour visiteur.

Citizenship

Once you have been living in France for five years (or two years if you completed higher education at a French university) then you have the option of applying for citizenship, which will do away once and for all with any requirement for visas and residency cards.

READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?

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VISAS

‘Be ready to wait’: Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Now that Britain is out of the EU, just how much harder is the process of moving to France from the UK after Brexit? British readers share their experiences of applying for visas as 'third country nationals’.

'Be ready to wait': Your tips for getting a French visa post-Brexit

Whether you’re moving to France to live, or you’re a second-home owner wanting to spend more than 90 days out of every 180 in France, if you’re British you will now need a visa.

You can find more on how to apply for a visa, and how to understand what type of visa you need, in our visa section HERE.

But how these systems work in practice is not always the same as the theory.

To learn more about the process of getting a visa as a UK national, The Local asked British readers for their experiences of going through the system.

The consensus among respondents was that the whole thing was bureaucratic, though there were notable differences in experiences that ranged from the “easy” to the “complicated” and “time-consuming”, while the advice for future applicants was, routinely, have all your paperwork ready – and be prepared for a lengthy wait at one of the UK’s TLS centres

Appointments

Like most visas, French visas for UK nationals must be applied for before you leave home. You can find a full explanation of the process here, but the basic outline is that you apply for the visa online, and then have an in-person appointment in the UK in order to present your paperwork. 

Sue Clarke told us: “As long as you get all your paperwork together correctly and in the right order, the time it takes to receive your passport back with the visa in it once TLS has sent it off is only a few days.

“TLS – the centre which works on behalf of the French Embassy to collate your application – is so very busy,” she added. “That part of the process took hours even when you have an appointment.”

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

“The visa process itself was fairly well run, and a decision for the initial visa was quick,” wrote Ian Sheppard, who successfully applied for a visa in July 2022. 

“Although getting the follow up residence permit was a pain, [and] took longer than expected, and there was little to no communication with severely limited ways to get in touch about the application.”

Sheppard thought that, biometrics apart, the process could have taken place online, and wondered whether the follow-up residence permit application could be more closely linked to the initial visa application, “rather than effectively submitting the same application twice”.

Georgina Ann Jolliffe described the process as “stressful”. 

“A lot of the initial stage was unclear and I needed a lot of reassurance about the visa trumping the Schengen 90 days. (The Local helped on that one),” she wrote. 

“[The] lack of ready communication was very stressful. It could be slicker, however staff at Manchester TLS were excellent.”

Jacqueline Maudslay, meanwhile, described the process as “complicated”, saying: “The waiting times for the appointment with the handling agent (TLS in the UK) are long and difficult to book online. We applied for a long-stay visa and were given a short-stay visa, with no reasoning and no option of talking to anyone.  

“We had met every criteria for the long-stay visa. There needs to be a contact link with the French Consular website directly for discussing visa applications.”

Handling agent TLS’s website – the first port of call for applicants from the UK – was a target for criticism.

“The TLS system is probably the most user unfriendly system I have ever used,” wrote Susan Kirby. “It throws up errors for no legitimate reason and even changes data you have keyed in. Dates are in American format so you have to be very careful and it can be very difficult to edit.”

Bea Addison, who applied for a visa in September 2021 with a view to retiring in France, agreed that it was complicated and believes the French system is chaotic and badly organised compared to other countries. “Even staff in the French Embassy in London were not knowledgeable of the process and documentation,” she wrote.

“The renewal in France was applied for in July 2022 … we have received an attestation that we will be granted renewal visas, which expired in October 2022, but we have not yet received a date to attend the préfecture due to a backlog.

Second-home owners

Many of our survey respondents were not moving to France, but were instead second-home owners who did not want to be constrained by the 90-day rule.

They have the option of remaining residents of the UK and applying for a short-stay French visitor visa – which must be renewed every year.

Second-home owner Peter Green told us: “Our appointment with TLS was delayed by two and a half hours and the whole experience was chaotic.

“We now have to go through exactly the same process again to get a visa for 2023. With second-home owners there should be a fast track that just involves proving financial viability, nothing else has changed. The system needs to be fully computerised.”

Second-home owner Alan Cranston told us his application met with no problems, but came with “unwanted cost and effort”. 

“Our six-month visa was for our first stint at our house in France in the spring, and that then overlapped our second visit in the autumn which was under Schengen. How that is handled seems to be a muddle (we did not leave the country for a day at the end of the six months, as some advise),” he said. 

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