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Can I get a French student visa if I sign up for a language course?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Can I get a French student visa if I sign up for a language course?
This picture taken on February 16, 2010 in Paris, shows the square in front of the Sorbonne university. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

If you are looking to move to France to better your French language skills, some courses might allow you to qualify for a student visa - but many will not.

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The idea of a prolonged stay in France to learn the language while also soaking up some French culture and a few pain au chocolat is a popular one and there are many language schools that offer intensive courses.

But before signing up, you need to think about your visa situation.

Do you need a visa?

If you benefit from the 90-day rule which allows you to visit the Schengen zone without a visa or residency permit for 90 days out of 180, you may sign up for a course that would be shorter than three months.

Those who benefit from the 90-day rule include Brits, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders.

If you're a citizen of an EU country you are not limited to 90 days in 180 and can sign up to a language course without any residency paperwork.

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Many language schools offer options of 90-days or less - for example Alliance Française (which has a presence in most of France's bigger cities) offers several four-week intensive courses. Campus France also has a list of short-term programmes to choose from, many of which are available over the summer period.

Schengen visa

Those who don't benefit from the 90 day rule (for example Indian nationals) but intend to stay for 90 days or less need a short-stay Schengen Visa to enter France.

You can reference your intention to take a language course when describing your plans for your (less than) 90 day visit to France, but there is no need for a specific student visa for a short course.

Longer courses

But if you are looking to spend more than three months in-country - and you were hoping a French language course might facilitate qualifying for a visa, then be aware that not all courses are created equal.

In order to meet the criteria for a French student visa, the programme must be longer than three months (90 days) and it must be taught at an accredited higher education institution.

This would include university courses and other institutions of higher education and vocational training - as well as some, but not all, language schools.

The visa issued will reflect the length of the course, ranging from four months to 12 months.

How to pick a language course

If you intend to apply for a student visa, you need to be very sure that the course will qualify you for one. Most language schools require full or partial payment in advance and it's unlikely that you will get a refund if your visa application is refused.

Before signing up to the course, you need to verify in writing two crucial questions;

  • Is the institution accredited?
  • Can they issue a certificate of enrollment?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, then you will not be able to get a student visa.

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What is the certificate?

This document is typically referred to as either an "accord préalable d’inscription" or a "certificat de préinscription" and is essentially a formal letter confirming that you are enrolled on the course. It ought to have the school's official letterhead, with your contact information as well as the theirs, plus the details of the programme of study, according to Studapart

Only language schools accredited as higher education establishments can issue these - but most schools only issue them for certain courses.

Some language programmes have a minimum number of hours required before they will issue such a document, often at least 20 hours of instruction per week. The exact number of hours varies from school to school, but it is very unlikely that signing up for four hours worth of French classes per week will suffice.

The institution may also require that you pay an additional fee for the document to be transmitted. This is the policy of Alliance Française in Paris for instance - which will issue the document for a fee of €250 which is not refundable in the event that your visa application is rejected, but will be deducted from your tuition fees if you are granted the student visa.

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On top of that, if the course is not through a university, you may be required to show some proof of payment, either fully or partially covering your tuition fees in advance.

Finally, certain nationalities, including Brits and Americans, must go through the Études en France platform to receive a Campus France ID number (typically written like "MAXX-XXXXX), which will be a necessary part of the application. You can check on the Études en France website to see if your programme is listed. 

Other requirements for a student visa

Once you have the all-important certificate, you then begin the process of applying for a student visa.

EXPLAINED: How to apply for a French visa

You're likely to need other documents as well, you may also need to show proof of your previous studies - for instance, a high school or bachelor degree diploma.

Otherwise, applicants must demonstrate proof of accommodation in France. If you hope to stay with a friend, they should write up an 'Attestation d'hébergement' for you. 

You will also need to show that you can support yourself financially while in France - the guideline amount is to have savings or income of at least €615 per month for the length of your visa.

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Choosing a quality language course

According to Campus France, centres with the label 'qualité FLE' (French as a foreign language) guarantee quality linguistic teaching.

You can find an interactive map with all language centres that have met the qualifications to receive an FLE label HERE

Other visa options

If you are concerned that the course of your choice will not meet requirements for a long-stay student visa, you might consider applying for a visitor visa instead.

There are two types: the VLS-T, typically for stays between four to six months, and the VLS-TS, which is for stays between six months and one year.

EXPLAINED How to get a visitor visa for France

You can enrol in a language course while on a visitor visa, and the benefit is that you could choose a more casual and affordable option.

Once you have set up in France, there are several other options for free or reduced-price language classes, from your local town hall to discussion groups at a nearby library.

READ MORE: How to find affordable language classes in France

If you intend to study in France, you can find lots more helpful information in our Studying in France section.

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