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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?
Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP

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

Member comments

  1. “ if you do not intend to live in France then you are limited to the six-month visitor visa. ” Not sure what the basis is for this statement. One can have a one-year renewable “visitor” visa, spend up to six months a year in France, and not become a resident, at least for tax purposes.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

The cost of living is a hot topic in France and across Europe right now - so where are the cheapest places to live?

MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

At a time when purchasing power has never been so central to French people’s concerns, French daily Le Parisien has compiled a list of towns and cities where your money will go the furthest.

In order to produce this ranking, Le Parisien compiled the average salary in each location and then looked at the price of the average supermarket shop, the cost of transport (fuel as well as public transport), property prices (to buy or rent), property tax rates and the cost of a cinema ticket. 

READ ALSO Food, fuel and transport: Which prices will rise in France in 2023?

And it turns out smaller is better.

Of the 96 towns and cities tested, Niort, in the département of Deux-Sèvres in south west France (population around 60,000) came top,

Laval, in Mayenne (population around 50,000) was third; Saint-Brieuc, in the Brittany département of Côtes-d’Armor (population around 45,000), was 8th, and Rodez, down in the southern département of Aveyron (pop: c 25,000) was 10th.

The 20 most wallet-friendly towns in France are:

  1. Niort
  2. Châteauroux
  3. Laval
  4. Nevers
  5. Belfort
  6. Chaumont
  7. Épinal
  8. Saint-Brieuc
  9. Saint-Étienne
  10. Rodez
  11. Châlons-en-Champagne
  12. Quimper
  13. Arras
  14. Foix
  15. Poitiers
  16. Le Mans
  17. Colmar
  18. Montauban
  19. Bourg-en-Bresse
  20. Nantes

READ ALSO The 20 small towns most popular with house-hunters in France

Niort gains, the study found, in part because it has offered free local public transport since 2017 - a policy that other towns that rank well also implement, including second-placed Châteauroux (Indre), Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain, 24th) and Gap (Hautes-Alpes, 63rd).

For various reasons, including infrastructure, offering free public transport that meets higher levels of demand in larger cities is unviable, the report said. 

In fact, France’s larger cities are noticeably low in Le Parisien’s rankings. Lyon stumbled on to the list in 58th, Paris in 77th, Marseille 84th, and Montpellier 90th. Nantes, coming in 20th, is the only ‘large city’ representative in the top 20.

READ ALSO Wild boar, fast internet and kindly neighbours – why small-town France has the best of all worlds

The report stated that, despite salaries being little higher than average in larger conurbations, people also pay more for shopping, public transport, movie tickets, and housing.

The survey found that, on the whole, your euro goes further in the west of the country - where supermarkets are cheaper, and towns aren’t too congested, while the cost of a tank of fuel is lower, as are - researchers discovered - the more abstract costs, such as insurance, for the same level of service as elsewhere.

READ ALSO OPINION: An inflation ‘tsunami’ is about to hit France

Eastern France, the study found, benefited from relatively cheap property prices - offering more bang for a house-buying buck than the expensive ‘coastal bounce’-affected south or the Ile-de-France region, which orbits the cost-of-living singularity that is Paris.

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