The visas and paperwork required when moving to France will vary by nationality and an individual expat’s needs and circumstances. France is known for its’ bureaucracy, but with the correct documents, the system can be navigated with ease.
EU and EEA citizens or Swiss nationals do not require a visa or permit of any kind to live and work in France. As the UK is currently still a member of the EU, British citizens moving to France from the UK do not require a visa, although the impact that Brexit may have on this remains unclear.Upon arriving in France, citizens of the EU may wish to apply for a French residency card (Carte de Séjour), but there is no legal obligation to do so unless they plan to stay for longer than 12 months, and the process can be undertaken at this stage too.
Non-EU Citizens should begin the process of applying for a long-term visa at the French embassy of their home country, before arriving 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 visa 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 is required.
The exception to this are 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 in France.
There is more detailed information on obtaining a visa on the France Diplomatie website (in English) as well as the Accueil des Étrangers website, literally translated as “Welcoming Foreign People” (in French only).
Residence Permit (Carte de Séjour):
The Carte de Séjour, is a renewable 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, pay slips and more. 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.
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 and your local town hall website regarding any relevant documents or paperwork.
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.
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