France is a Schengen member state, which means that citizens from several countries can enter for short stays without having to apply for a visa. When it comes to long-term or permanent stays, securing a long-stay visa and residency permit (carte de séjour) is considerably more of an uphill battle for non-EU and non-EEA nationals.
Tourist visa for France
France falls within the Schengen Area. As such, nationals of appointed countries do not need to apply for a tourist visa before arrival if planning to stay in the country for less than 90 days. This includes citizens of European Union countries, the European Economic Area, Switzerland, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others.
Nationals of countries not listed will need to apply for a Schengen visa before arrival to be granted entry to France.
Schengen visa for France
Schengen visas entitle their holders up to 90 days of travel within a six-month period to any country within the Schengen Area. If travelling to multiple destinations, expats should submit the Schengen visa application to the consulate of the country in which they will spend the most time.
It is necessary to apply for and secure a Schengen visa prior to arrival in France. This process requires the submission of a completed visa application and appointed documents to the French consulate or embassy in one's home country. Processing times can vary, so applications should be submitted well before the date of departure. Expats should be aware that the date of the application submission cannot be more than three months prior to the date of departure.
Long-stay visa for France
Expats planning on living in France for more than 90 days will need to apply for a long-stay visa. This visa is primarily granted to those going to France to work, study or reunite with family. The application requires a number of supporting documents, the specifics of which vary according to one's reason for moving to France. EU citizens don't need to apply for long-stay visas to live in France for more than 90 days.
Certain long-stay visas act as residence permits and allow expats to live in France for a 12-month period. If granted one of these visas, expats must register with the Office Français d’Immigration et d’Intégration within the first three months of arrival.
Expats planning on living in France for more than a year must usually apply for a formal residence permit (carte de séjour) in addition to the long-stay visa.
Residence permit (carte de séjour) for France
A residency permit is required of all expats in France, except EU citizens, who are planning to live in the country for more than a year. Expats have two months from their initial entry to apply for this card. It's best to start the process no later than one month after arrival.
To get a residence permit, expats must have entered France on a long-stay visa. They can apply for their residence permit at the Service des Étrangers section of their local préfecture. Foreigners have reported that the required documents for application vary depending on the préfecture, as do the appointment policies. Some allow scheduling online, while others require scheduling via telephone or in person, if at all. Expats are advised to make an appointment as early as possible to avoid complications.
Once all documents have been submitted, expats will be given a récipissé de demande and a date for the required French medical check-up, which includes an x-ray. Applicants must take the medical confirmation certificate back to the préfecture to complete the final step of the application process.
Applicants will be notified when their residency permit is ready for collection. Some expats report receiving their permit within days, while others have had to wait several months. Expats shouldn't be afraid to contact their local préfecture to check on the status of the permit application.
The carte de séjour is valid for one year, and the renewal process can be started two months prior to expiration.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats are advised to contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.