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VISAS

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

Soon those non-EU nationals requested to have a Schengen visa to travel to European countries will no longer need to go to a consulate to submit the application and get a passport sticker, but will be able to apply online. 

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process
A picture taken on September 28, 2021 in the Moroccan capital Rabat shows a Moroccan passport backdropped against a Schengen visa. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

The European Commission has proposed to make the Schengen visa process completely digital.

The special visa, which allows to stay for tourism or business (but not work) in 26 European countries for up to 90 days in any 6-month period. 

Nationals of third countries such as South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need the Schengen Visa to visit Europe, but they are not needed for other non-EU nationals such as Britons or Americans. You can see the full list of countries who need a Schengen visa here.

The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, but is in line with an agreed strategy that EU governments are keen to accelerate in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Once agreed, the system will be used by the countries that are part of the border-free Schengen area. These include EU countries, excluding Ireland (which opted out), and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus (which do not issue Schengen visas). Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members but have signed the Schengen Convention, will be part of the new system too.

Paper-based processes required applicants to travel to consulates to submit the application and collect their passports with the visa, a procedure that “proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Commission said.

Some EU countries have already started to switch to digital systems but not all accept online payments for the visa fees. 

When the new system will be in place, the Commission says, applicants will be able to check on the EU Visa Application platform whether they need a visa. If so, they will create an account, fill out the application form, upload the documents and pay. 

The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country will be responsible for the application and applicants will be able to check their status and receive notifications. Travellers will then be able to access the visa online, and if needed extend it too.

“Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one-third have to travel long distance to ask for a visa. It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU,” said Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“With some member states already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one,” said Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

However, first-time applicants, people with biometric data that are no longer valid or with a new travel document, will still have to go to a consulate to apply.

Family members of citizens from the EU and the European Economic Area, as well as people who need assistance, will also be able to continue to apply on paper. 

The EU Visa Application platform will be used from third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa to enter the EU and is different from the ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation), which is currently under development.

The ETIAS will be used by non-EU nationals who are exempt from visas but who will need to apply for a travel authorisation prior to their trip. This will cost 7 euros and will be free for people below the age of 18 and above 70. 

Based on the discussion between the European Parliament and Council, the Commission could start developing the platform in 2024 and make it operational in 2026. EU countries will then have five years to phase out national portals and switch to the common online system. 

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VISAS

EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

Navigating the French visa process can be tricky, but the key thing is to make sure that you're applying for the correct visa type for your situation - here are the 5 key questions that will decide which visa is right for you.

EXPLAINED: What type of French visa do you need?

If you’re planning on moving to France or spending long periods of time here and you’re not an EU citizen then you’re likely to need a visa – but understanding which type of visa to get can be complicated

From working visas to 6-month visas, visitor visas to talent passports, France offers a plethora of different visas, all of which give you different rights and involve a slightly different process.

But people applying for the first time often end up baffled by the choice on offer – so here’s how to decide which visa is right for you. 

How long do you want to spend in France?

This is the first question that you need to consider. If you intend to move to France and make it your home then this is fairly simple and you can move on to the next question.

If, however, you are a second-home owner or someone wanting to simply pay long visits to France (ie more than 90 days in every 180 in accordance with the 90-day rule), then it can be a little more complicated.

First, you need to decide whether you want to make France your main residence, or keep your residence in another country (say, the UK or US) and simply be a visitor when you come to France.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both options.

Making France your main residence – if this is the case, you can apply for a 12-month visa and won’t be limited in how long you can spend in France.

However, as a resident in France you will need to complete the annual tax declaration (even if all your income comes from outside France) and you may also need to register with the French healthcare system. If you are resident in France then you are no longer a resident of your home country, and this may affect things like your tax status and access to healthcare.

Your questions answered: Second-home owners and French residency

Keeping your main residence elsewhere – if you do not intend to live in France then you are limited to the six-month visitor visa. This limits the amount of time you can spend in France, but means that you are not affected by the responsibilities of French residents such as the annual tax declaration. You cannot register in the French health system and a visitor and you have no automatic right to enter France if the borders are closed (as they were during the pandemic).

Slightly confusingly, there are two types of visa that are popularly known as a ‘visitor visa’ – a 6-month one and a 12-month one – we explain the difference HERE.

What do you intend to do in France?

Assuming that you want to move full-time to France, the next question is what you intend to do here – maybe you’re moving for a job, you have plans to set up your own business or you want to retire here. How you intend to fill your days is important, because it affects the type of visa you will apply for.

Study – perhaps the simplest visa option is for those who intend to study in France as the student visa generally has the simplest application process. You must, however, already be accepted by a French educational establishment before you apply for the visa. All French universities are accepted for this, but not all French language schools are accredited for visa purposes, so if this is what you intend to do you need to check in advance if you will be able to get a visa.

How to get a French student visa

If you complete masters level degree studies in France, you get some extra advantages, including the right to stay for an extra year while you hunt for a job and a fast-track to French citizenship.

Ask the expert: How students can remain in France after their studies

Retire – retiring to France is a perennially popular option, and most people who do not intend to work in France come on the long-stay visitor visa. This has a fairly simple application process but requires financial proof that you can support yourself while in France and won’t become a burden on the French state. This can be either in the form of proof of regular income such as a pension or a lump sum in savings. The general guidelines figure is that you must have more than the French SMIC (minimum wage) which is currently at €1,300 per month or €15,600 per year. 

As part of the process, you will also have to give undertakings that you will not work in France – so this isn’t suitable for people who, for example, want to retire from their main job and move to France to open a gîte or B&B. If you intend to work remotely while in France – click HERE

Checklist: How to retire to France

Work – if you intend to work in France there are two routes – become a salaried employee or work for yourself, either as a freelancer or contractor or set up your own business. 

Salaried employee – this is the simplest route in visa terms because once you have a job offer your employer sponsors your visa and you don’t need to provide proof of your financial means or a business plan.

However getting a job can be harder because employers are often reluctant to take on the extra paperwork of sponsoring visas and the associated work permits that certain types of employees need – you may even see job adverts stating that the company will not sponsor visas. It’s not impossible, you just need to be an especially good candidate because employing you is more complicated for a company than employing someone who either already has a visa, or somebody who doesn’t need one (ie an EU citizen). 

Three things to know about work permits in France

Self-employed – being self-employed (auto-entrepreneur in French) covers everything from people working on a freelance or contractor basis to people setting up a small business like running a B&B or selling artisan products right up to people who want to set up a big business. Keep in mind, however, that France does not yet have a dedicated digital nomad visa

In order to get this type of visa you need to be able to show firstly that you can support yourself initially – that you have somewhere to stay (this can be as simple as a 3-month Airbnb booking) and some savings or income, and that you have a detailed business plan for the type of work that you intend to do. 

‘Not too complicated but quite expensive’ – getting a French work visa

Au pair – a popular option for young people is to come to France to work as an au pair while learning French, and there is a specific visa for this. You need to find a family before you apply and you also need to give undertakings that you will take formal French classes while you are here. Full details HERE

Seasonal worker – another popular option for young people is to move to France for a short period and take on seasonal work, such as working the ski season. This has its own process – full details here.

Do you have a French spouse?

If you are married to a French person or have a close relative who is French, you could benefit from a family visa. This has the advantage of allowing you to come to France without a job, but you are not permitted to work on a spouse visa so it’s not suitable for those who intend to seek work.

It’s important to point out that being married to a French person isn’t quite the ‘get out of jail free card’ that some people think – you still need to go through the visa process and also have to fulfil certain financial requirements, so depending on your situation the family visa might not be the significantly easier or better route. 

How to get a French spouse visa

Could you benefit from the Talent Passport?

This is a relatively new visa type that offers a four-year visa and the opportunity to bring family members. It is, however, only available to certain groups – essentially you need to be either working in a specific area like tech or you need to have an international reputation or expertise. Full details here.

Do you intend to apply for asylum?

If you are a refugee or intend to apply for asylum in France then there is a different route to follow – click here for details

What next?

Once you have decided which visa you need, then you are ready to start collecting documents and starting on the application process – you can find a complete guide to applying HERE.

And don’t forget that the paperwork continues even after your visa is granted – once you are in France there are some important admin tasks to complete in order to keep your legal status – full details HERE

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