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LIVING IN FRANCE

EXPLAINED: How to get a French spouse visa

Being married to a French person doesn't exempt you from visa requirements, but it does give you the option of getting a spouse visa. Here's how they work, and the advantages and disadvantages of going down this route.

EXPLAINED: How to get a French spouse visa
Photo: Andreas Rønningen / Unsplash

Who doesn’t need a visa

First things first, you do not need a visa to join your French spouse in France if you are:

  • A foreign national who holds a French residence permit;
  • A citizen of a European Union or Schengen zone country
  • A foreign national who holds a long-term resident permit from an EU country
  • A national of Andorra, Monaco or Saint Marino

Who does need a visa

Otherwise, you will need a visa before you enter France. Usually, you would need a long-stay visa equivalent to a residence permit (VLS-TS), which allows you to stay legally in France for its duration, generally less than or equal to a year.

After one year of residence, you can apply, as the spouse of a French citizen, for a multi-year residence permit for private and family life. This is valid for a further two years. 

Once you have been married and living in France for three years, you have the option of applying for a 10-year residency card. These are usually issued on condition that you and your French spouse are living in the same home.

When deciding on the type of visa, you also need to bear in mind what you intend to do once in France (work, study, retire etc) – see below.

Marriage

In order to get a spouse visa you need to be married, being pacsé (in a civil partnership) will not do.

If you were married outside France, you will need to have it listed on the French register of marriages at the registres français du service central d’état civil in Nantes. Any non-French documents, such as the marriage certificate will need to be translated.

If you married in France, the commune in which you married deals with the proper registry of the marriage.

Be aware that, legally, any French citizen who marries abroad should first contact the Embassy or consulate in the country in which they plan to marry. The publication of the banns is compulsory for the marriage of a French national abroad.

Supporting documents

The usual paperwork applies. You will need;

  • A travel document, issued less than 10 years ago, containing at least two blank pages, with a period of validity at least 3 months longer than the date on which you intend to leave the Schengen Area or, in the case of a long stay, at least three months longer than the expiry date of the visa requested. 
  • ID photograph.
  • Marriage certificate
  • If you are not a national of your country of residence: proof that you are legally resident in that country (e.g. residence permit).

Please note this list may not be exhaustive and further documents may be requested. The standard visa fee is €99 and you may also need to pay to have supporting documents translated into French. For an accurate simulation of the requirements for your personal situation, log on to the French government’s Visa Wizard

Visa issues

Being married to a French person means that you are entitled to a spouse visa, but depending on your plans for your life in France, it may not be the best visa type for you. 

The spouse visa demands that the holder has the financial means to be able to live in France, but does not allow them to work.

So if you intend to get a job while in France, you may be better off applying for a working visa. It’s possible to study in France while on a spouse visa, but the student visa has certain advantages if you want to convert it into a work visa at the end of your studies.

There’s also the issues that no-one wants to think about – divorce and death. Individual circumstances are taken into account here, but the general rule is that if you are widowed while in France on a spouse visa you can stay, but if you divorce you may not be entitled to stay, unless you have dependent children living in France.

As with all visa issues, if you are uncertain it is better to get legal advice in advance.

What if you came to France without a long-stay visa?

The good news is that the French are generally quite romantic. If you entered France on a short-stay visa and are married to a French national, you can request exceptional admission to stay in France during the first year of your stay.

You can apply for a private and family life card if the following three conditions are met:

  • You have entered France with a short-stay visa (or are of a nationality exempt from tourist visas);
  • You are married in France to a French citizen;
  • You have been living in France for more than six months with your spouse.

After that, you will still have to apply for a multi-year visa and then a 10-year residency card – which, as the name suggests, needs to be renewed after a decade.

Citizenship

It’s also possible to get French citizenship through marriage, although conditions do apply.

You need to have been married for four years before you can apply, although you don’t have to be living in France.

You then need to go through the usual application process of providing a lot of documents, proving that you speak French, and taking part in the citizenship interview – full details here.

Member comments

  1. I feel like this article has left me a bit more confused. Specifically the part saying if you come on a Spouse visa you can’t work… Also the suggestion to start on a Student visa and switch to a Work visa…Why switch from Student to a Work visa, instead of from a Student visa to a Family visa?

    Aren’t you limited to a contractual timeline with a Student/Work visa? Not to mention how incredibly difficult it is to get a work sponsorship in France. Wouldn’t it be easier to switch to the Family visa instead after a year?

    As far as the not being allowed to work part – can you post your reference for that? Is it new? I see that this article is from 2022. On the official “Welcome to France/République Française” website, the most recent post I see on this subject is from 2019 and says :

    “If the family members of the French citizen are third-country nationals, and unless they are exempted, they should apply for a long-stay visa equivalent to a residence permit (VLS-TS), to the consular authorities of their country of residence. For a marriage to be recognized in France, it must be transcribed on the French Civil Registry. If the application is accepted, a VLS-TS marked “Vie privée, vie familiale” valid for 12 months will be issued. Furthermore, family members do not have to pay the visa fee. This residence permit allows the exercise of salaried or self-employed professional activity, without any particular procedure. “

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For members

SCHOOLS

‘Section internationales’: How do France’s bilingual secondary schools work?

For foreign parents in France looking at secondary school options for their children one option to consider is the bilingual 'international sections' in certain state schools. But how do they work?

'Section internationales': How do France's bilingual secondary schools work?

What is an ‘international section’

Essentially international sections in French secondary schools allow students to learn a modern foreign language, such as English or German in much more depth than a standard state secondary. These sections also facilitate the integration of foreign students into the French school system.

There are about 200 ‘International’ establishments (primary schools, colleges and high schools) around France offering international sections in 16 languages.

Most are state run, so for many foreign families they are a much cheaper alternative to private schools, though it should be noted that some of the international sections are fee-paying.

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Even state establishments can charge for enrolment into their international sections. Fees are usually in the region of €1,000 to €2,000 per year (although that’s still cheap compared to somewhere like the American school of Paris which charges between €20,000 and €35,000 a year)

American and British sections are particularly popular – and, as a result are usually the most expensive, while less-popular German sections are less costly. 

Why do they exist?

These sections are ideal for the children of immigrant families, as well as those where one parent is of foreign origin. Syllabuses are set up and developed by French educational authorities and those of the partner country.

In addition to lessons dedicated to modern languages, students benefit from lessons in another subject given in a foreign language. The international sections promote the discovery of the culture and civilisation of the countries associated with the section.

Top tips for raising a bilingual child in France

What languages are available?

According to the government website, 19 languages are available. But that’s not strictly accurate as it then lists American, British and Australian as separate ‘languages’, along with Portuguese and Brazilian. It’s more accurate to say these establishments offer education in 16 languages.

It’s more accurate to say that there are 19 “sections”, dedicated to learning with a linguistic and cultural education slant in favour of the following nations/languages:

American, Arabic, Australian, Brazilian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Franco-Moroccan, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Russian.

In total, there are two Australian schools, 20 American ones, over 50 British schools – most in Paris and the Ile-de-France (Versailles is very popular)

So, what’s studied – and what qualifications do you get?

As well as usual collège-level classes in core subjects, such as maths, history and the sciences, students have four hours of classes in the language, including literary studies, of their choice.

From troisième (age 14), an additional two hours of classes per week cover that country’s history and geography and moral and civic education – the latter is replaced by maths for those studying in Chinese sections.

They can obtain the diplôme national du brevet with the mention “série collège, option internationale”. The dedicated brevet includes two specific tests: history-geography and foreign language.

At lycée, students study four hours of foreign literature per week, as well as two hours of history-geography in the language of the section (maths for the Chinese section) as well as two hours of French as they study towards an OIB (option internationale du bac), often at the same time as a standard French bac.

How to enrol

The first step is to contact the collège you wish your child to attend. This should take place no later than January before the September rentree you want your child to go to the collège.

If you live in France, and your child is attending an école primaire or élémentaire, you should do this in the January of the year they would move up to collège.

Be aware, that some schools require potential students to pass a language test – written and oral – before they can enter an international section. A child wishing to enter sixth grade must be able to read books of the level of Harry Potter in English, to enter the international school of Sèvres’ British section, while another has said that only 20 percent of candidates achieve the grade that would allow them entry into an international section.

Find a school

You will find sections internationales de collège at educational academies across the country. For a full list, with contact details, click here.

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