The paperwork required for visas in France and the French residence permit will vary by nationality and an individual expat’s needs and circumstances. France is known for its’ bureaucracy, which can be complex (particularly with new rules around travel to France after Brexit) but with the correct documents, applying for a French visa can be navigated with ease.
EU and EEA citizens or Swiss nationals do not require visas in France or permit of any kind to live and work there. As the UK is no longer a member of the EU, British citizens moving to France from the UK face new entry requirements for France, although the full impact of Brexit on this remains unclear. Upon arriving in France, citizens of the EU may wish to apply for a French residence permit (Carte de Séjour), but there is no legal obligation to do so unless they plan to stay for longer than 12 months, and applying for French residency can be undertaken at this stage too.
Non-EU Citizens should begin the process of applying for long-term visas in France at their nearest French embassy, prior to arrival in France. The application process may take up to 6 months and once approved, applicants will be given a 3-month window in which to travel to France. The government have created a useful online “Visa Wizard” tool (available in several languages) to help individuals determine whether they will require a France visa application and if so, what type.
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).
The Carte de Séjour, is a renewable French residence permit issued by the local Préfecture Administratif (see a map divided by Préfectures here) . Those living in Paris should apply directly to their Préfecture de Police instead. The permit is renewable each year for five years. Residents are then eligible to apply for a permanent carte de séjour or “carte de resident” (valid for ten 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.
Each Préfecture has a specific set of requirements for each type of CdS, which generally include ID, proof of employment and a French address, health insurance, payslips and more for each person applying for French residency. It is not necessary for EU citizens to speak French in order to qualify (although as the application process is in French, speaking the language is immensely helpful), whereas non-EU nationals will need to demonstrate that they speak a good level of French (comparable to the Uk A-Level standard). Applicants should make sure to bring originals and photocopies of every document on the list. In general, all foreign documents should be officially 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).
Driving licenses from EU/EEA member nations (and Switzerland) can be used indefinitely in France. All non-EU/EEA driving licences become invalid one year after the holder’s date of arrival and should be exchanged for a French license within this first 12 month period. France currently has agreements in place with a number of countries, allowing for a straight exchange. However, nationals of countries without a reciprocal arrangement must resit both the theory and practical driving tests in France to obtain a new, valid license after an initial 12 months. It is worth noting that the legal driving age in France is 18 (even if a foreign driver’s home nation allows them to drive from a younger age).
There are many exceptions to the above depending on an individual’s nationality and personal situation. Always refer to the latest information from your own government or embassy regarding visas in France and your local town hall website regarding any relevant documents or paperwork when applying for a French visa, a french residence permit, driving license or any other official paperwork in France.
For more useful information on finding somewhere to live in France, the cost of living, healthcare and more, visit our comprehensive Moving to France guide.