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Reader question: Do I need a lawyer to deal with my French visa or residency card?

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Reader question: Do I need a lawyer to deal with my French visa or residency card?

French administration can be a daunting task - but will paying a lawyer actually get you a better service? We take a look at what lawyers can and cannot do.


Ultimately, of course, this comes down to a personal choice - for some people the idea of taking on another French administration task can be simply too daunting/terrifying/boring and they would rather pay someone else to do it.

But you need to be careful that you find someone with the right qualifications, and understand exactly what you can expect from them.

Visa applications

The French visa application process is two-step process - first make the application online via the French visa service, and then you are directed to a contracted service in your home country which will deal with checking your documents and handling the in-person appointment and gathering fingerprints and biometric data.

EXPLAINED How to apply for a French visa

The French system is designed to be used by individuals. If you instruct a lawyer to make your application for you, they will just be going onto the same website and filling in the same form as everyone else - there is no special privilege for lawyers. 


Also, bear in mind that you will still need to assemble your dossier for the application - ie gather together supporting papers such as your birth certificate, academic qualifications, financial proof, health insurance documents etc.

The France Visas website is available in English, so language is less of an issue here than with other admin tasks.

When is a lawyer a good idea? If your situation is complicated it can be a good idea to consult a lawyer to ensure that you are applying for the right type of visa. If you apply for the wrong type of visa for your situation then your application will be rejected and you will have to start again (and pay the visa fee again).

For most people this is straightforward - if you're coming to France to study you want a student visa, coming for a job then you want a working visa etc - the France Visas website also has the 'viza wizard' which allows you to enter your personal circumstances and then points you to the correct visa.

EXPLAINED What type of French visa do you need

However if you don't fall neatly into a single category of student, worker, retiree etc then it's a good idea to consult a lawyer about your visa options - especially if your long-term plan is to change your status, since this is not always possible. 

Carte de séjour applications/renewals

Once in France you will usually need to apply for a carte de séjour residency card, and in most cases these need regularly renewing until you reach the stage of a carte de séjour pluriannelle or permenant (usually after five years of residency).

If you change your status you may also need to apply for a different type of card, depending on your length of residency - eg if you arrive on a student visa and then graduate and get a job you will need to switch to a residency card that allows you to work. Or if you arrive on a spouse visa and then get divorced you may need to change your status. 

Reader question: My status changed, do I need to change my carte de séjour?

The application is done via your local préfecture (unless you're in Paris, in which case it is the Préfecture de Police) and as with the visa system, it's designed to be used by individuals.

Most préfectures these days have an online process which is relatively straightforward to use. The application process is in French, so it's a good idea to get some help if your French is still at the beginner stage, although this doesn't necessarily have to be a lawyer.  


Most people complete carte de séjour applications and renewals without involving a lawyer.

When is a lawyer a good idea? If you are in any kind of irregular situation it can be a good idea to consult a lawyer - perhaps your previous card has expired, or your status has changed and you're not sure which type of card you need to apply for now.

Renewing cards can be a time-consuming process and, especially in Paris, it can be hard to get appointments at the préfecture - some people resort to lawyers if they have been waiting for months, but there's little evidence that getting a lawyer involved actually speeds things up. If you're in a small town it's likely that your lawyer will know people who work at the préfecture, so sometimes personal connections can help, but lawyers don't have access to any kind of different system. 

READ ALSO What to do if you can't get an appointment at the préfecture

If your application for a renewal is rejected it can be a good idea to consult a lawyer to fully understand the reasons for rejection, and what your options are. 

If your application has been rejected, or you are stuck in an admin loop and cannot get any help from the préfecture, one option before paying for a lawyer is the Défenseur des Droits - this is a body that offers free help and advice to anyone in France whose legal rights are not being respected. Find more info here



If you've been in France for some time then you may want to apply for citizenship and this involves a lengthy process and a massive file of paperwork.

READ ALSO The ultimate guide to getting French citizenship

The application process is now done online, and the government website also has a handy web tool that allows you to input your personal circumstances and then creates a bespoke list of all the documents you will need (usually between 15 and 25 different documents including a criminal records check, old tax declarations and full birth certificates). 

You will need to get all these papers together yourself, even if you do end up instructing a lawyer.

For most people the most daunting part of the process is the in-person interview (in French, naturally) where you are required to prove your knowledge of France, your adherence to its values and your genuine desire to become France.

READ ALSO What might you be asked in the French citizenship interview?

Obviously, you cannot have a lawyer do the interview, since the whole point is to prove yourself as a potential model citizen of the republic. 


When is a lawyer a good idea? If your application is rejected you have the right to appeal - however the process is complicated so it can be a good idea to consult a lawyer to ensure you fully understand the reason for the refusal, and what your next options are. It is possible to appeal without a lawyer, however. 

The process for getting citizenship is a long one - between 18 months and two years is average but many people wait much longer. Applications are handled by préfectures, so there are wide variations between different areas. Some lawyers claim that they can speed up this process, but the jury's out on whether this is really possible. 

Complicated applications - the French immigration system - like most immigration systems around the world - expects people to fall into certain categories eg student, employee, self-employed, retired, spouse. Visas and residency cards are generally issued based on these statuses.

However, not everybody fits into a neat category and if you have complicated personal circumstances it's a good idea to consult a lawyer who can get a complete picture of your life and what you want to do in France and advise you on the type of visa/residency card that suits you best.

Bear in mind that certain residency decisions can also have a knock-on effect on your tax situation, so if your situation is complicated it's also a good idea to consult an accountant with specialist knowledge of both the French tax system and the tax system in your home country, to make sure that you are fully tax compliant. 


The issue of living in/visiting France and working remotely for a company back home can also be a complicated one, largely because most immigration rules were written before remote working became widespread, so it can be hard to find information. 

READ ALSO What are the rules on working remotely from France?

Irregular situation - if you end up in any kind of trouble with the immigration service or in an irregular situation where you don't have the correct paperwork to be in France, then it's always a good idea to consult a specialist immigration lawyer as soon as possible.

Find an expert 

If you do decide that you need help, be careful who you instruct. There are a lot of people out there advertising their services to expats as 'visa experts' - but these people don't necessarily have any qualifications and anyone can set themselves up as an online expert.

If you are paying money for a service you want to ensure that the person you're paying knows what they are doing - in the case of visas/residency cards that means a qualified lawyer who specialises in immigration matters. If your situation is complicated you really need someone who is an expert in both French immigration law and the laws of your home country - plenty of specialist immigration lawyers are certified in both France and the UK/US/Australia. 

READ ALSO How to find English-speaking lawyers in France

Recommendations from friends are always good, but make sure that it's someone in a similar situation to you - if you're American it's no use instructing a British expert just because they did a great job for your British friend, as they may know nothing about US law. 


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
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Ganesh Natrajan 2023/10/12 16:29
It would be useful to mention here that French lawyers are very expensive. So make sure you really need one and whether hiring a lawyer will actually help. Signing up for a protection juridique (available at most banks and insurance companies) is very recommended. Also, visa applications have to be made in the country of origin, so a French lawyer cannot help you there.

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