Visas let you visit France, while residency permits let you stay in France. If you’re dreaming of moving to France permanently, you’ll need to start off with both visas and residence permits. The visa you’ll need to enter France depends on your nationality, age, length of stay and purpose in France. Most visas allow you to stay for 90 days with a 180-day period. After 90 days you’ll need to a Carte de Séjour (residence permit) to live, work, study or retire in France. Rules are continually changing for UK citizens after Brexit. All information below is from the French government as of December 2021.
Do I need a visa to enter France?
Here’s an overview of the visas you need to visit France as a tourist.
EU citizen (or Switzerland)
You do not need a visa to visit France, nor is it a requirement to register within three months at your local mairie (town hall) or even apply for a residence permit.
You do not need a visa to visit France, and may stay up to 90 days with a 180-day period. Note: counting begins as soon as you enter any of the 26 Schengen countries, including neighbouring Belgium, Spain, Germany and Italy. You do not need a temporary work permit if travelling for a sporting, cultural or scientific event, a seminar or trade show, the production and broadcast of cinematographic and audiovisual works, modelling, IT or asset management/ insurance/ finance/ design/ engineering audit or expertise assignments. If you’re staying for more than 90 days you’ll need a long stay visa, whether you’re working or own a second home in France but aren’t a resident. Long stay visas can last no more than one year and allow you to apply for French residency (Carte de Séjour) sometimes within two months (see below). You can use the wizard on the French government’s website to figure out what your visa requirements are.
You do not need a visa to visit France, and may stay up to 90 days with a 180-day period. Note: counting begins as soon as you enter any of the 26 Schengen countries, including neighbouring Belgium, Spain, Germany and Italy. If you’re staying for more than 90 days you’ll need a long stay visa. Long stay visas can last no more than one year and allow you to apply for French residency (Carte de Séjour). You can use the wizard on the French government’s website to figure out what your visa requirements are.
Citizen of other nation (non-EEA)
You will need to apply for a Schengen visa which allows to visit and stay in any of the 26 Schengen countries for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. If you’re staying for more than 90 days you’ll need a long stay visa. Long stay visas can last no more than one year and can function as a temporary residence permit. You can use the wizard on the French government’s website to figure out what your visa requirements are.
What kind of long stay visas are there for France?
The most common type of long-stay visa is the “visa long séjour” (VLS). Different categories of VLS include “salarié” for those who are employed, “visa long séjour visiteur” for those who plan to stay in France on a long term holiday or as a retiree, “étudiant” for students or “vie privée et familiale” for those joining a relative or family. Newly arrived international residents from non EU countries with a VLS should obtain a Carte de Séjour in person from their local authority (préfecture) within two months of arriving in France. The visa itself will usually have the words ‘carte de séjour à soliciter’ to indicate that this French residence permit is required.
The exception to this is those with visa-type known as the visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour (or VLS-TS for short!). This type of visa acts as a temporary residence permit valid for up to one year. Those with a VLS-TS should make an appointment to register with the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) within the first three months of arriving. A routine medical examination, basic French language test and a criminal background check may also be required upon arrival as conditions of your France visa application.
There is more detailed information on obtaining visas in France on the France Diplomatie website (in English) as well as the Accueil des Étrangers website, literally translated as “Welcoming Foreign People” (in French only).
How do I get a French residency permit?
If you’re thinking of moving to France to live, work, study or retire then you’re going to stay beyond 90 days. If you’re not an EU citizen, then you’re going to need to get your Carte de Séjour within or upon a year of living in France. The temporary VLS-TS visa is an exception that lets you stay in France up to you, providing you validate it with the OFII within three months of arrival.
The Carte de Séjour is a renewable French residence permit issued by a local Préfecture Administratif (see a map divided by Préfectures here). Expats moving to Paris should apply directly to their Préfecture de Police instead. The permit is renewable each year for three years. Residents are then eligible to apply for a permanent Carte de Resident (valid for 10 years). There are exceptions to this such as the Carte Compétences et Talents, which is valid for three years. Children are covered by their parents’ permit until the age of 13. Some expats seeking retirement can also get their Carte de Resident immediately, as well parents of a French-born child or spouses of French citizens.
Each Préfecture has a specific set of requirements for each type of Carte de Séjour, and usually require:
- Passport with long stay visa stamped in it
- Birth certificate
- Proof of residence (utility bill)
- Proof of income if employed, self-employed or retired
- Health insurance
Applicants should make sure to bring originals and photocopies of every document on the list. All foreign documents should be translated into French prior to submitting the application, and each town hall (Mairie) will have a list of official translators for this purpose. The Service-Public.fr site has further detailed information about applying for Cartes de Séjour (in French).