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MOVING TO FRANCE

How to apply for a French visa as a US citizen

US citizens who plan to stay in France for more than 90 days will need a visa - here's how to successfully navigate the application process.

An Air France plane stationed in Orly airport.
There's a lot of paperwork before getting your flight to France. Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

If you’re coming to France to live, or for a visit lasting 90 days, it’s likely that you will need a visa if you are American.

Here is our guide to the steps you need to take: 

General rules 

You must apply for the visa before travelling to France, rather than arriving in France and then making the application.

All applications must be first made online via the France-Visas page

Almost all Americans wanting to stay longer than 90 days will need a visa – including those married to French citizens – but the exception is those who have dual nationality with an EU country.

The type of visa that you need will depend on whether you intend to live in France or just pay long visits and what you intend to do here (work, study, retire etc).

Fortunately, the online portal has a helpful little tool called the visa wizard – you tell it your personal circumstances and it tells you the type of visa you need.

For the most part, there is no need to translate documents into French.

You can find more details on the main visa types below.

The process

Step one involves heading to the Visa wizard HERE and filling out a questionnaire. You will be asked to provide details like your age, whether or not you are married to a French person, and what you will be doing in France and the wizard then tells you whether you need a visa and if so what type. 

Next it’s time to get the paperwork together. Everyone applying for a visa to come to France must have the following before beginning the online application: a travel document (ie passport) less than 10 years old with two blank pages and a validity that stretches at least three months longer than the expiration date of the visa; two ID pictures in ISO/IECI format and various supporting documents. The exact documents that you need depend on the type of visa you are applying for (more details below).

Once you have all your paperwork together, then you make the application online HERE.

Following the online application, you will need to have a face-to-face appointment with a private company called VFS – there are 9 VFS branches in the USA; Washington DC, Boston, New York, Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, so depending on where you live this could involve a long journey. 

You should make sure that your face-to-face meeting is booked at least one month before your date of departure to France. Applications cannot be made more than three months before the departure date.

VFS charges a $38 administrative fee. You will also need to pay a fee for the visa itself and the price varies depending on your reasons for travel. 

Once the visa is issued – and processing times vary with the pandemic having an effect – you can travel to France.

That’s not the end of the paperwork, however. As a general rule (although this depends on the visa type) you must validate your visa within three months of arriving in France, via this online portal – you may also be required to pay a visit to your local Préfecture and undertake a medical examination.

If you fail to doing so, you may be breaking the law, so when your visa arrives make sure you check carefully the requirements. 

The majority of visas last one year, so after that time you will also need to apply for a new visa or apply for residency, depending on your plans.

You eventually become entitled to apply for permanent residency in France after five years of living in the country continuously, and you can also apply for French citizenship after five years of residency

Visa types

Below is an approximate guide to the documents you will need to provide. But be sure to check the requirements for your precise situation via the online visa wizard

Working in France

If you plan to work in France for a period more than 90 days, you will need to provide extra documentation.

The cost of the one-year visa is €99 ($112). You may need proof of a clean criminal record. 

Depending on what kind of economic activity you will be doing, you may need to have international health insurance – which can be cancelled once you have enrolled in the French social security system. 

What extra documentation you require to apply for a visa depends on your personal situation: whether or not you have been recruited by a French company, intend to set up your own business, or are part of a religious order.

If you have already been recruited by a French company, you will need them to provide you with a work permit and the company may also need to sponsor your visa application. If you are moving to and intend to find work once you are here, you don’t need such a permit. 

If you plan to start a business, you will need to provide a written presentation of your project, your business plan and a multi-annual estimated budget – and that is just the start. 

Certain professions like doctors and teachers need to meet extra requirements and you may also have to apply to have your professional qualifications recognised in France. 

To find out exactly what documents you need to provide, fill out the simulator here

Retiring in France

Most people who move to France post-retirement, apply for a one-year visitor visa.

This is also the visa used by people staying in France for tourism for a period of more 90 days. The cost is €99 ($112) and you are not allowed to work while here on a visitor visa.

You need to prove that you have the financial resources to support yourself – this can either be income such as a pension or savings.

You must be earning more than the French minimum wage – €1,269 post-tax – every month. If you’re using savings, you need a year’s equivalent – €15,228 – in your bank account.

You need proof of accommodation in France: property title deed, tenancy agreement or any other supporting document. Or proof that accommodation will be provided by a person residing in France, or if not, a document explaining the accommodation arrangements planned for France.

You also need health insurance that covers you in France, covering any possible costs for medical repatriation, and emergency and/or hospital treatment, for a minimum amount of €30,000.

This insurance must valid in France for the whole stay – but can be cancelled once you have registered with the State health system, which is free and will cover the majority of medical costs. Anyone living or working in France has the right to do this after 90 days in the country and must fill in the following form (although it can take up to 6 months for your application to be processed).

Studying in France

If you are applying as a student, you will only need to pay €50 for the visa. 

You will need to show that you are financially secure. This means you must either present a scholarship certificate or 3 bank statements showing availability of at least €615 per month. 

You will also need to create an account on EEF-Pastel and generate a pre-registration certificate with your personal EEF number, showing that you are enrolled in a French education establishment.

The law authorises foreign students to work 964 hours per year. Part-time work will not be sufficient to cover all your expenses and should be considered as a secondary source of income.

Some students, such as those coming to France for internships, also need to take out an international health insurance policy. This can be cancelled once you have enrolled in the French social security system. 

Au Pair visa

If you plan to come to France as an Au Pair – proving low-cost childcare to a family while also learning French – you will need to have an au pair placement agreement (pdf) setting out your working conditions, your pay and the arrangements for your French classes.

You will also need to provide details of your accommodation and insurance arrangements. You need to prove that you have a basic knowledge of French, have attended secondary school or have a professional qualification. 

An Au Pair can extend their visa for a maximum of two years.

You do not need to take out an international health insurance plan.  

Spousal visa  

If you are married to a French person, you will still need to apply for a visa – although VFS fees aside, this is free. 

Along with all the usual documents, you will need: a full copy of a French marriage certificate, drawn up by a French town hall, or transcribed in the consular civil status registers for marriages outside France. You will also need proof of your spouse’s French nationality. 

You do not need an international health insurance policy, but this may be a good idea until you are enrolled in the French social security system. 

If you are in a civil partnership, pacsé or otherwise living in a couple with a French citizen but are not legally married, you must apply for a regular visitor visa if you want to stay in France longer than 90 days. If you want the right to work in France and are pacsé with a French person, you can apply for a carte de séjour once you have arrived in the country. 

READ MORE Does it make financial sense to get married in France?

Spouses of non-French nationals who have obtained a visa to work in France can also apply for a visa to join them. This costs €99 (around $112). 

You will need to provide proof of your relationship to the person who has already received a visa – either a marriage or birth certificate. 

Once the application has been accepted by the police station, the consular services will contact you to issue your long-stay visa, which is valid for three months. You will then be issued with a residence permit which must be applied for at the police station in the département where you reside.

The family of those who have received a talent visa (see below) can also apply to join them. 

You do not need an international health insurance policy, but this may be a good idea until you are enrolled in the French social security system. 

Talent visa 

France also has a talent visa, typically costing €99 (about $112) available for certain people, including: investors, entrepreneurs, researchers, artists, professional athletes and people with an international reputation in their profession. 

These visas can be valid for a four-year period from the date of your arrival in France. Family members who join talent visa holders will also be issued multi-year visas. You and your family must visit your local prefecture in France to request a multi-year residence permit within three months of your arrival in France. 

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

The supporting evidence you need depends on your situation. Scientists for example need a Convention d’Accueil signed by their host organisation. Investors will need to provide proof of an undertaking to create or safeguard jobs within four years of investing in French territory. Professional artists will need to provide evidence of their work. 

You do not need an international health insurance policy, but this may be a good idea until you are enrolled in the French social security system. 

Diplomats and employees of international organisation

If you plan to work in France as part of the diplomatic service, you will still need to apply for a visa and require a note from the Department of State or Department of Defense. 

If you work for an international institution such as the UN or the OECD, the organisation will need to provide you will a note verbale. 

Ordinarily, the diplomatic service or organisation you are working for will have covered you with international health insurance. 

Exemptions 

You do not need a visa if you are a foreign national who holds a long-term resident permit from another EU nation.

If you hold dual nationality with an EU country (or are a citizen of Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway or Switzerland), you do not need to apply for a visa. 

Extra help and note of caution

VFS and the French consulate in Washington DC have warned that visa applications are suffering significant delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Also, check the latest travel restrictions between France and the USA, for more on this, click HERE

The above text provides approximate guidance. Be sure to check the online visa questionnaire provided by the French government for full details of your individual requirements. 

If you are already in France and worried about your visa situation, you can contact the French government’s support unit, known as the Directorate-General for Foreign Nationals in France. You can call 0806 001 620 or email [email protected]

You can also contact the US Embassy and Consulate – although they will likely redirect you to the France-Visas service of the French government. 

Member comments

  1. Once you have a visa, can anyone tell me how long you can be out of the country during the year before the visa is invalidated? i.e. you go home to your home country for family visits, or to a 2nd home.

    I have heard that you cannot be out of the country for either 3 or 6 months. Not sure the correct answer or if it varies by prefecture.

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For members

PROPERTY

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

If you're looking to rent an apartment in a larger city in France, you're likely to see announcements that require a 'garant'. Here is what you need to know about finding a guarantor in France.

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

Renting in large cities in France – particularly in Paris – is a known challenge for foreigners, especially new arrivals. In the countryside, it’s a bit easier, with less competition properties, but in the big cities compiling your dossier and landing the right place can be a challenge.

One of the biggest surprises for many people is that most landlords ask for a guarantor (garant) in order to sign a lease for an apartment. It is not a legal requirement, but in competitive real estate markets, it certainly feels like one.

Though asking for a garant might feel a bit juvenile, it is quite common, and applies to a lot more people than you might realise. Here is what you need to know:

Who typically needs a guarantor?

The most common group to need guarantors are students. However, if you are a foreigner who is not employed with a CDI (indefinite contract) and if you do not make over three times your monthly rent, you will likely need a guarantor as well.

If you don’t collect your income in France (or if you don’t have an income) you will need a guarantor.

You will also likely need one if you are still in the probationary period of your CDI, or if you cannot show three months worth of pay stubs from your job yet (even if you pay meets the three times a month requirement). If you do have a CDI, you could ask your employer to sign you an attestation d’employeur which verifies your monthly income. 

If your income is not steady or consistent (perhaps you are a freelancer). Typically, if you use an agency during the leasing process, they will require a guarantor, especially if any of these conditions apply to you. 

It is worth noting that showing bank statements typically do not suffice – landlords are looking for proof of ongoing income, not savings.

Who can count as a guarantor?

The guarantor should be a third party, such as a parent or close relative who agrees to pay your rent if you fail to pay.

This person must fulfil all the requirements outlined above (ie earning more than three times your rent with an indefinite contract).

The other tricky part is that this person must work and live in France, and usually it’s best that they are French themselves.

However, this can pose a problem for foreigners who might not know anyone that fits that description, so thankfully there are some other options fill this requirement, like taking out a caution bancaire or using an online agency. We explained the ins-and-outs of these bellow.

What does my guarantor need to show?

The guarantor needs to put together a dossier of documents including;

  • Proof of identification (a passport or French ID card)
  • Proof of residence that is less than three months old (eg utility bills).
  • Most recent tax returns
  • Employment contract and typically three months worth of payslips
  • If they earn money via real estate, they must also provide documentation for this
  • If the person in question is retired, they must provide proof of pension (again, this must exceed your monthly rent threefold). 

So, what if I don’t have a French person who can be my guarantor? There are a few options for you:

Use an online service

There are two main online services that can act as guarantors for foreigners in France.

The first is Visale, which is accessible primarily to foreign students.

This is a programme offered via the French state through “Action Logement” and it covers up to three years of unpaid rent. You must be between 18 and 30 years old to apply, and you must hold a long-stay visa (VLS-TS) – either a student visa or a ‘talent’ one.

For students who are already citizens of a European Union country, then simply presenting a student card and a valid passport will be sufficient. It can be applied to private housing and student residences, but it is ultimately up to the landlord as to whether they will accept a tenant who uses Visale as their guarantor. The main benefit to Visale is that it is free for the user.

Visale does come with some restrictions, however. Your rent (including charges) cannot exceed €1,500 in Paris, and €1,300 in the rest of the country. In addition, the lease must be for a primary residence, and your rent should not exceed 50 percent of your total income.

Another option is GarantMe, a paid online website that can also serve as an official guarantor.

Landlords might actually prefer this service over a physical guarantor who might refuse to pay or for whatever reason not have the funds to do so. The benefit to GarantMe is that they accept a wider range of tenants for their service, but the downside is that there is a fee. The minimum payment (per year) is €150, but the fee is normally 3.5 percent of the annual rent (including charges) and it renews automatically.

The nice thing about GarantMe, is that in order to apply for the service, you basically need to create a full dossier that will be identical to what you’ll need for your apartment search anyways.

Take out a Caution Bancaire

Basically, a caution bancaire is a bank guarantee, and typically its a bit more of a last resort option because it is quite restrictive for the tenant. It involves blocking off a large sum of money to be used to pay rent if you fail to do so.

Depending on the landlord (and the bank), they might ask you to block between six months worth of rent to sometimes up to two years. This would be used as guarantee during the duration of your lease, but it takes a bit of administrative coordination and obviously requires a large sum of liquid funds.

Sometimes activating a bank guarantee can take a few weeks, and for foreigners, of course, this would require already having a French bank account. There can also be fees, depending on the bank, for using a caution bancaire, and simply closing of caution bancaire account in itself can involve fees.

The other downside to this is that not all landlords will accept it, which is why this option might be best served as a last resort.

Attempt to find an apartment that does not require a garant

This is quite difficult in Paris (and other large cities around France). It is possible sometimes if you stick to foreigner-oriented sites like NY Habitat or Paris Attitude. Another possible loophole could be to see if your insurance plan offers coverage of unpaid rent. This is quite uncommon, but could be a possible option. If you rent specifically particulier-à-particulier (meaning you do not use an agency at all) you might be able to negotiate with the landlord, or if you have a sub-lease you might not need to show proof of a guarantor.

Ultimately, however, in most cases when renting in France’s large cities, you’ll likely need a guarantor.

What should I be aware of when it comes to guarantor websites?

As mentioned previously, Visale is only for people in the 18-30 age group, so unfortunately it does not apply to everyone. It is also intended for lower income people or students, so if you are a high earner you might be rejected.

Regarding using a website like GarantMe, beware that they will charge you every year – it is not a one time fee. This will be deducted from the card you put on the site and the only way to cancel the charge will be to show proof that you have moved out (i.e. an état des lieux or letter releasing you from the obligation signed from your landlord)

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