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VISAS

Second-home owners and retirees: French visitor visa explained

Within the complex world of French visas there exists two types of visa labelled 'visitor' but these are in fact very different documents, and have implications for your residency, tax liabilities and visits to France.

Second-home owners and retirees: French visitor visa explained
Those in France on visitor visas are not allowed to work and are frequently either retirees or second-home owners. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

If you’re a non-EU citizen and you want to spend longer than 90 days out of every 180 in France then you will need a visa – and there are many different types of visa depending on your personal circumstances.

We take a look at the different visa types and how to apply for them HERE.

But a frequent cause of confusion is that there are two visas commonly known as a ‘visitor’ visa – but are in fact completely different documents giving you vastly different rights in France.

It would be much easier if one of them could be rechristened, but here we are;

Short-stay visitor visa

Technically known as the visa de long séjour temporaire visiteur – or VLS-T – this visa is perhaps the better named one as it is for visitors – by which we mean people who don’t live in France.

This is a six-month visa and it’s most commonly used by second-home owners who don’t want to be constrained by the 90-day rule, although it is also used by others who want to make longer trips to France without working.

The crucial point about this visa is that you are not a resident of France, you keep your residency in another country, most usually your home country.

Not being a resident in France is important because it imposes certain limits – for example if the borders were closed again for whatever reason you would not be allowed entry to France as a visitor (unless you had an essential reason) – but it also exempts you from certain duties that are imposed on residents, such as making the annual tax declaration.

You can obtain one six-month visitor visa in every 12 months – because by the government’s reckoning if you spend more than six months of the year in France then you are a resident.

We’ll let them explain: “If you are spending between three and six months a year in France in total, you are not considered as a resident in France. You will have to apply for a temporary visitor visa – visa de long séjour temporaire visiteur.

“If you spend more than six months a year in France, you are then considered as a French resident and must apply for a long stay visitor visa (visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour visiteur).”

You can apply for multiple short-stay visas, but only with a six month gap in between them – so far example you can have a visa from January-June 2021, then another from January-June 2022, then January-June 2023 and so on. But you can’t have a visa from January-June 2022 and then September 2022 to February 2023.

During its validity period, you are exempt from the 90-day rule in France (and only in France, the rule still applies if you travel to another EU/Schengen zone country) and your passport doesn’t need to be stamped when entering or exiting France.

Once the visa expires, you revert to being constrained by the 90-day rule, with passport-stamping.

READ ALSO How does getting a visa affect the 90-day rule?

You can find full details of the requirements for a short-stay visitor visa HERE, but one important thing to note is that you must give an undertaking that you will not work in France. 

Your visitor visa does not entitle you to register in the French health system, or to obtain a carte de séjour residency card.

READ ALSO Can second-home owners get a carte de séjour?

Long-stay visitor visa 

This visa – formally known as the visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour visiteur or VLS-TSis, in our humble opinion, quite misleadingly named, as people who have this visa aren’t visitors at all, they live here.

The long-stay visitor visa is for people coming to France to live who don’t intend to work or study – it’s most commonly used by retired people.

With this visa you are a resident of France, so have extra rights such as being allowed back in to the country if the borders close and being able to register in the French health system. But with rights come responsibilities, including having to file the annual French tax declaration (even if all your income comes from outside France, such as a pension from your home country).

Like the short-stay visitor visa you need to give an undertaking that you won’t work in France in order to get this visa, and you will need to demonstrate that you have sufficient financial means to support yourself while you’re here without becoming a burden on the French state.

Just like the other types of visas for residents, after obtaining the long-stay visitor visa you are then able to get a carte de séjour residency card.

Time spent in France on a long-stay visitor visa counts towards the minimum residency period if you intend to apply for French citizenship.

You can find full details on how to apply for the long-stay visitor visa HERE

Member comments

  1. A rider to the above.
    We have a VLS-T, multi entry 6 month Visa. Despite showing this to border control our passports are duly stamped each time. Pointing out the Visa is merely acknowledged with a shrug. Pursuing a discussion would only irritate others in the queue I suspect.

  2. Well, it’s not strictly true that a holder of a 1-year visitor visa (or titre de sejour) is automatically a resident for tax purposes. One can spend less than six months a year in France but still need (and hold) a 1-yr. visitor titre de sejour if the six months are spread throughout the year (e.g., January, May-July, September, December) and not within a consecutive six-month period.

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For members

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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