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Visas and Permits for France

For many expats, moving to France conjures up images of excellent cuisine and wine. But of course, that’s only half the truth! The InterNations expat guide on moving to France provides you with useful info beyond this stereotype: on the French language, popular expat destinations, and more.
Will you be staying in France for less than three months? Apply for a Schengen visa.

Visa Regulations

EU and EEA nationals (including Switzerland) do not require a visa to enter France, be it for long- or short-term stays. Everyone else needs to apply for a visa, though there are exceptions for nationals of selected countries who'd like to stay in France for fewer than 90 days. The visa exemptions include, for example, citizens of Argentina, Canada, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Taiwan.

Please enquire at the nearest French mission if you are exempt from the visa requirement for short-term stays. A detailed list of countries with French diplomatic or consular representations abroad can be found here.

Schengen Visas

People staying in France for fewer than 90 days should apply for a Schengen visa. This type of visa is valid for all Schengen-area member states, i.e. most EU member states plus Iceland and Norway. Detailed, country-specific information on obtaining a Schengen visa is available on local French diplomatic websites.

In general, applicants need a valid passport for the intended period of their stay. They should also be able to prove their intention and ability to return to their home country after their visa expires. This proof should include:

  • documentation describing the purpose of their stay
  • the means to support themselves financially
  • a return ticket or sufficient means to purchase one
  • repatriation insurance, e.g. for emergencies
  • specific documents for any accompanying children under the age of 18

Work Visas for Short-Term Stays

If you are going to France on a brief work assignment, your employer should provide you with a contract approved by the relevant Direction Départementale du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Formation Professionnelle.

The website of the Ministère des Affaires Étrangères et Européennes (Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs) provides a guide on completing a Schengen visa application form. A Schengen visa application is processed within about two months and costs 60 EUR.

Long-Term Visas

If your intended period of stay exceeds 90 days, you need a long-stay visa. This visa de long séjour will be adapted to your specific reasons and duration of stay. Mostly, these visas are issued for academic, professional, or family reasons. If you come to France for work, your employer needs to apply for a separate work and residence permit (carte de séjour) on your behalf.

Your visa will be issued on the basis of this work permit. The visa available to family members also depends on your work permit. A routine medical examination and a police clearance may be required upon arrival in France. (To learn more about different work permits, please consult our article on working in France). Please remember that the fees for a long-term visa are higher than those for a Schengen visa.

Residence Permits

Until recently, every foreigner residing in France needed a carte de séjour from the local prefecture. These ID-like passes are no longer required for most EU and Swiss citizens during their first five years in France or for holders of long-stay visas for a period of up to one year.

Visas issued for a period of 3 to 12 months now represent a formal residence permit (titre de séjour), thus replacing the old carte de séjour. Expats who are not EU nationals and will be staying in France on a valid visa for over 12 months may still need a carte de séjour. Keep in mind that all long-term visa holders have to register at the French Office of Immigration and Integration within the first two months of their stay.

Carte de Séjour

In general, the carte de séjour reflects the purpose of your stay, giving details on your specific work permit. As it needs to be collected from the prefecture of the city where you live, there is no need to worry about this before arrival.

The carte de séjour needs renewing every year. This is, however, not the case if you have a special carte compétences et talents, which is valid for three years and acts as a combined visa, work and residence permit. Expats who have been legally living in France for at least five consecutive years can apply for a carte de resident (valid for 10 years).

CAI — Contrat d’Accueil et d’Intégration

As of 2007, most non-European persons entering France with the intention to stay are required to sign a Contrat d’Accueil et d’Intégration (CAI). This is a mutual contract to ensure the best-possible integration of foreigners in French society. It requires the migrants to attend a couple of information sessions and to undergo an assessment of their French language skills.

If these are considered insufficient, the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration will offer compulsory language lessons after the assessment. Failure to comply with the CAI rules can result in the revocation of one's residence permit.

For more information on residence permits and the CAI, please consult the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration.


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