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From Schengen to Settling Down: Getting the Right French Visa

With beautiful countryside and cosmopolitan cities, it’s easy to see why many people choose to visit or move to France each year. If you’re thinking of taking a trip or even making l’Hexagone your home, read on to find out whether you’ll need a visa and which one is right for you.

At a Glance:

  • Nationals of an EU member state, the European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland don’t need to apply for a visa before arriving in France, but will need to register with the local préfecture.
  • If you don’t fall into one of the above groups and are visiting France for less than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for and have received a short-stay Schengen visa before entering France.
  • There are four types of long-stay visas based on your reason for being in France: vacation, employment, student, and family life.
  • Work visas are the hardest to get: your future employer will need to get approval from two government departments before sending the application to your local French consulate for processing.
  • Some long-stay visas and carte de séjour temporaire will require you to pass a French language exam, undergo civic training, and sign the le contrat d’accueil et d’intégration promising to integrate into French society and uphold its core values.


Whether you need a visa depends on your nationality, how long you intend to stay in France, and sometimes your onward destination. There are both short- and long-stay visas, as well as different sub-categories.

Who Needs a Visa?

Nationals of an EU member state, the European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland don’t need to apply for a visa before arriving in France. However, once you arrive you’ll need to register with the local préfecture to let them know your address.

Family members or spouses of those that don’t need visas also enjoy the same entry rights, but will need to apply for a carte de séjour within two months of arriving in France. For more information about the carte de séjour, take a look at our article on residence permits.

From Singapore to Paraguay, many other nationalities are also exempt from short-stay visa requirements — you can find a full list of all exempt nationalities on this government website. However, if you’re planning on staying more than 90 days, read on to learn more about the different types of visa you may need.

Types of Visa

Passing Through

Whether you need a transit visa depends on your nationality, your onward destination, and which area of the airport you’ll be in.

If your end destination is in the Schengen Area, your short-stay Schengen visa will also be valid for border controls at the transit airport.

If you’re traveling to somewhere outside the Schengen Area but need to leave the international zone of the airport (e.g. to change to a different airport), then you will need to apply for a Schengen short-stay visa.

If you are traveling through France to a destination outside of the Schengen Area and will remain in the international area of the French airport, you will most likely not need a transit visa. The French government website provides a list of nationalities that do require a transit visa.

Short-Stay Schengen Visa

If you’re not a national of an EU member state, the European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland and are taking a trip of up to 90 days, you’ll need to apply for a short-stay “Schengen” visa. This is valid for all 26 states in the Schengen Area and allows you to travel freely between different member states.

If you’re planning to visit other EU countries too, you’ll need to submit your Schengen visa application to the country in which you’ll be spending the majority of your time — your “main destination”. Make sure you’ve applied for and received your visa before entering the Schengen Area.

To apply for a Schengen visa, you’ll need at least two blank pages in your passport for the visa and stamps and your passport must be valid for at least three months after the visa expiry date. You’re not allowed to work on this visa and cannot renew it from within the Schengen Area.

Long-Stay Visas

Settling in France? If you’re not a national from an EU member state, the EEA, or Switzerland, you’ll need to apply for and have received a long-stay visa before making the move. There are four types of long-stay visa depending on the purpose of your visit:

  1. séjour visiteur (vacation)
  2. salerié (employment)
  3. étudiant (student)
  4. vie privée et familiale (family life)

To apply for a long-stay visa, you’ll need to make sure that your passport is valid for at least as long as the visa you’re applying for. It will also need to have at least two blank pages for the visa and relevant customs stamps.

All long-stay visa holders will need to register as a resident with the local préfecture. Depending on your nationality and the type of visa issued, you may also need to apply for a residence permit — the carte de séjour. You can find out more about who needs to apply for a residence permit in this article.

Extra Information for Work Visas

If you’re not from an EU member state and want to take up work in France, there are a few more hoops to jump through to get your salerié visa.

The first step is to find a French employer. Your future company will then need to get in touch with the foreign labor division of the Directions regionals des entreprises, de la concurrence, de la consummation, du travail et de l’emploi, or DIRECCTE as they’re better known.

Once approved by DIRECCTE, your application will be passed to L’office Français de l’immigration et de l’intégration (OFII). The bureaucracy isn’t over yet — OFII will then forward your application to your local French consulate to process the visa application.

The CAI and Civic Training  

Long-stay visa and carte de séjour temporaire holders may be summoned by OFII. Appointments include a basic medical exam, an interview to evaluate your French language capabilities and knowledge about France, and a short training session about your new home.

You’ll also be asked to sign the CAI — le contrat d’accueil et d’intégration. This document states that by living in France, you agree to integrate into French society and adopt its values. Some préfectures provide an additional day of civic training about France’s core values and citizens’ rights.

Getting Your Paperwork in Order

For all visa applications, you’ll need to provide a series of documents that show the reason for your stay in the form of a letter of motivation, your travel arrangements including flight tickets and other bookings, and how you plan to finance your time in France. You’ll also need to show that you have a valid and comprehensive travel insurance policy.

Proving that you’re able to support yourself for the duration of your trip and your return journey is an important part of your application. Though this is part of the Schengen Borders Code and a requirement across the Schengen Area, the amount deemed “sufficient” varies by country. For France, it’s 120 EUR per day if you haven’t got prepaid accommodation or 65 EUR per day for days where you have already paid for accommodation. Proof could include hotel invoices as bank statements or pay slips.

You’ll need to complete the application form for the relevant visa and include two recent ID photos, as well as the originals and copies of the above documents.   


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