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Americans in France For Members

Is there really a 1949 treaty that allows Americans an extra three months in France?

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
Is there really a 1949 treaty that allows Americans an extra three months in France?
An automated border passport control at Orly airport, near Paris. Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

You might have heard rumours about an old but never-repealed treaty between France and the USA that allows Americans an extra three-month stay in France without requiring a visa. But is it still valid?

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It sounds almost too good to be true - an obscure treaty that would potentially allow Americans to stay up to six months in Europe without needing a visa . . .

The agreement exists, it was one of several bilateral travel agreements that France made in 1949.

It states: "From April 1st 1949, citizens of the US can enter the following countries on the simple presentation of a valid passport, without a visa, and stay between one day and three months; France, Andorra, Algeria, Morocco, Gaudeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana and Réunion (or Tunisia for two months)."

First things first, we would strongly advise against turning up at the border of Algeria, Tunisia or Morocco and claiming your right to free entry based on an agreement that France made for them back in the days when they were colonised. Awkward.

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The Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, the Indian ocean island of La Réunion and the South-American territory of French Guiana remain French. For administrative purposes they are part of France, but they are not part of the Schengen zone so have slightly different travel rules. Andorra is different again.

Schengen rules

These days France is part of the EU's Schengen zone and that has its own rules for travel.

Americans are one of several nationalities covered by the '90-day rule' - this allows for stays of up to 90 days in every 180 in the Schengen zone, without the requirement for a visa. In total over a year you can spend 180 days visa free, but they cannot be consecutive - within any 180-day period you must not stay for more than 90 days.

READ ALSO How does the 90-day rule work?

The 90-day limit covers time spent in any of the Schengen zone countries - so for example if you are travelling around France, Italy, Spain and Austria you get 90 days total, not 90 days in each country.

The 1949 agreement allows three months visa-free in France, while the Schengen zone agreement allows 90-days visa free in France - basically the same amount.

However where the 1949 agreement could potentially be an advantage is for Americans who want to travel around Europe for several months - essentially giving them three months in France plus 90 days in the rest of the Schengen zone countries, allowing for a six-month visa-free stay in Europe.

Neither rule allows for more than 90 days in France without getting a visa - if you want to stay longer than that in France, you will need a visa (unless you have dual nationality with an EU country).

Schengen rules versus pre-existing bilateral agreements

But is the 1949 agreement still valid? It's true that the agreement was never specifically cancelled, but since then something big has happened - the creation of the Schengen free travel area which came into force in 1990.

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The Schengen agreement creates a free travel zone (expanded several times since 1990 and now encompassing 29 countries and about 420 million people).

Countries that are part of the Schengen area;

  • do not carry out checks at their internal borders, except in cases of specific threats
  • carry out harmonised controls at their external borders, based on clearly defined criteria

The rules are covered by the Schengen Borders Code, which involves countries adopting a common visas policy - in brief this means that countries are free to set their own visa policy (eg types of visa offered, visa costs/duration) but must agree on who needs a visa and who does not.

The European Council explains: "An EU common visa policy is necessary for the effective functioning of the border-free Schengen area as it facilitates the entry of visitors into the EU, while strengthening internal security.

"The EU has established a visa policy for: intended short stays in or transit through the territory of a Schengen state; transit through the international transit areas of airports of the Schengen states; short stays are stays of no more than 90 days within any 180-day period."

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So the EU is clear that it operates a common visas policy - limiting visa-free stays to no more than 90 days in every 180.

French policy 

Part of the confusion over this historic agreement seems to be that over the years several French consulates have provided contradictory or confusing advice suggesting that the 1949 agreement is still in force.

You may be lucky and find a border guard who agrees with their interpretation - but if you find someone who interprets the Schengen rules as superseding the 1949 treaty, they will be able to provide a lot of more up-to-date and clearer statements of the rules specifying that non-EU citizens such as Americans are limited to 90 days in every 180 within the Schengen zone.

If you lose your argument at the border, you are liable to end up with an 'over-stayer' stamp in your passport which may make it difficult for you to re-enter any EU country, or to get a visa for any EU country.

Is it really worth taking that risk?

EES

Starting later in 2024 - probably October although it could be delayed again - is the EU's new Entry & Exit System.

You can find a full explanation of it here, but it basically automates the counting of the 90-day allowance - passports will be scanned on entry and exit of the Schengen zone and dates automatically tallied.

There are exemptions for people who have residency permits or visas, but there is no provision built into the system to show old treaties at the border.

French citizens

The 1949 agreement is a bilateral one, so it also includes a provision for French people wanting to go the USA.

It states: "French citizens wishing to travel to the United States for stays not exceeding three consecutive months may, if they wish, receive free visas valid for two years and for an unlimited number of trips during that period."

Sadly, this is no longer valid either - the US does not allow visa-free travel and French citizens wishing to go even for a short holiday will need to complete the ESTA visa-waiver online before travelling. Anyone who has failed to complete this form (which is not free) will be denied boarding by their airline.

Once completed, the ESTA visa waiver covers multiple trips for two years (unless your passport is renewed in that time, in which case you have to do it again).

The ESTA visa allows trips of up to 90 days per visit, French people wishing to stay for longer will need to apply for a visa.

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