One of the first major steps - and brushes with French red tape - people encounter when planning to relocate to France is applying for the France visa. Find out whether you need a visa to stay in France, which one is best, and how to improve your chances of being well-received at the consulate.
If you are an American and plan to visit for 90 days or more for any reason, you need a visa. If you plan to work, even if it's just for a month, you need one. If you are a journalist on assignment in France or hold a diplomatic passport, no matter the length of your visit, you need one. If you are from a member country of the European Union, or a citizen of Andorra, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Holly See or San Marino, you do not need a visa to visit or work. If you plan to visit Monaco or one of the French territories, consult the French Embassy or your local French consulate for more details. These visas have slightly different rules.
Determine the type of visa you need at the France for Minister's site. These are the basic visa types. Click on the link or click "next" for requirements.:
Allow at least two months for the application to be processed. We received ours in a month, but I have heard of others waiting several months. It is best to apply as soon as you have the required documents, which you should start gathering the moment you even decide to apply.
Be absolutely sure you apply to the right consulate. It might not be the one closest to you. If you are in the U.S., locate your local office with the French Ambassy map of French Consulates in the U.S.
I highly recommend AGAINST using a company to apply. My husband and I used Zierer Visa Services, which had been established for many years. We thought it would be helpful to pay someone who knows the ins and outs of the system. A month after the company "applied" for us, we called the consulate to check on the status. We learned a personal appearance is always required for long-stay visas, and that our application wasn't even in the system. Had we taken the exact same documents to the consulate instead of sending them to the company, we probably already would have had our visas. Instead, we had to start from the very beginning and reapply.
If they ask for a document, always try to have more than the minimum requirements. For instance, if you need two bank statements to prove your financial position, gather four. The French government officials love it when you have too many documents, and are not happy when you have too few.
As soon as you decide you want to apply, visit your nearest consulate just as recon work. Get the applications and ask any relevant questions you have at the desk. This can be tremendously helpful. This is also useful because reaching the consulates by phone can be next to impossible. Also, pay close attention (indeed, eavesdrop) to how the consulate's clerks handle other requests. Are they repeatedly scolding people for forgetting a certain document? Do they often ask for a document not on the list? Avoid getting on their bad side by learning from other people's mistakes.
The French government is very hush-hush on the minumum requirements for establishing you can support yourself, but the word on the street is that you must at least have 1,000 euros monthly for each adult. Do everything you can to beat this threshold and you will improve your chances.
WHATEVER you do, be sure you save a copy of all documents needed for the visa. Those documents (and probably even more) will be required yet again when you arrive in France and apply for your carte de sejour, or residence card. Leave one copy of all documents with a family member or friend back home, and keep another copy on you. It is very easy to think the worst is over once you've applied for that visa. In truth, you will go through almost an identical procedure once you arrive and apply for your residence card.
The day you apply, visit early as there may be a very long line. Some consulates require an appointment, so check first. They can also have unusual hours. For instance, the Washington, D.C. consulate is open for walk-ins from morning until early afternoon. Then, it closes and accepts calls in the afternoon (if you can get through). You can't get in during the afternoon or reach a person in the morning.
The French government workers have a horrible reputation for being nasty. This couldn't be further from the truth in my experience, both with the officials in the U.S. and in France. What I have found is that they take any required documents very seriously. They are quite thorough. If you simply make the effort to follow the regulations, follow them closely and, indeed, exceed them, these bureaucrats are endlessly helpful. The worst French civil workers I have encountered are simply sticklers for the rules. The best have provided extremely helpful advice on getting approvals and spent a long time answering endless questions.