Visas & Work Permits in France
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The Guide to Visa Types and Work Permit Requirements
Visas and work permits will be necessary to live and work in France for anyone who is not an EU/EEA/Swiss citizen. This process may seem complicated at first, but we will equip you with the necessary information to figure out which type of documentation you need to live in France and how to get it.
Some expats moving to France don’t need to apply for a visa – this depends on your nationality and how long you intend to stay. EU citizens or EEA/Swiss nationals will be able to live and work in France visa-free but will need to register their address after they arrive.
There are four types of long-term visas, the employment visa being the most difficult to receive so it is crucial that you are well informed about the application process. An additional work permit or residence card may also be required depending on your purpose of stay.
Applying for a French visa can be a daunting process, but this guide will help lead you through it and make sure you have everything you need to meet France’s visa requirements.
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Permanent Residence Visa
At a Glance:
- Those moving within the EU don’t require a visa or residence permit. If you’re moving from outside the EU or want to stay longer, you’ll need to apply for a carte de séjour.
- All non-French nationals will have to register their new address with the local préfecture. This is also where residence permit applications are processed if needed.
- If you need a residence permit, the carte de séjour is the most common one for expats. There are several different types and all are renewable. Costs vary from 79 EUR for students to 269 EUR for employed adults.
- There is also a carte de résidentwhich is for spouses of French citizens, parents of a French-born child, expats retiring in France, or those who have renewed their carte de séjour for more than three consecutive years.
- Expect to provide a lot of paperwork: as well as your ID and birth certificate, you’ll need proof of income, proof of address in France, and marriage/birth certificates if you have a spouse and/or children.
For those moving within the EU, there’s no need to worry about visas or residence permits. However, if you’re moving to France from outside the EU or are staying for a longer period of time, you’ll need to apply for a carte de séjour (CDS) — the official residence card.
Registration or Residence Permit?
Many expats in France don’t need to apply for a carte de séjour (CDS). As well as people from the EU, long-stay visa holders are also not required to get a CDS for the duration of their visa. Those on a short-stay visa will not have enough time in the country to complete the application process. You can find out more about the different visa types available in this InterNations article.
Check your visa to figure out whether you need to apply for residency: long-stay visas marked with “carte de séjour à solliciter” need to visit the local authorities and apply for a CDS within two months of their arrival; long-stay visas with “CESEDA R.311-3”, need to contact the Office Francais de l’Immigration et de l’Integration (OFII) as soon as they arrive.
All long-term visa holders from outside the European Economic Area as well as Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, Andorra, Vatican, and Algeria that plan on staying in France for more than six months will need to register with the OFII within three months of arriving.
Types of Residency Permit
The carte de séjour
If you need a residence permit, the carte de séjour is the most common one issued to expats. There are two different types:
- carte de séjour temporaire: valid for up to a year, this is inserted into your passport. Some prefectures will require you to take a language test. You’ll need to renew the CDS on a yearly basis, but you can request the ten-year carte de résident after three years.
- carte de séjour compétences et talents: awarded based on your special skills and talents, this card is valid for up to three years and is renewable.
The carte de résident
For spouses of French citizens, parents of a French-born child, expats retiring in France, or those who have renewed their carte de séjour for more than three consecutive years, there is also a carte de résident. There are also two types of carte de résident — the regular carte de resident and the carte de resident rétraité for those who have retired in France. Both are valid for ten years and are renewable.
Navigating the Préfecture and Application Process
From applying to receiving your CDS can take up to three months depending on your préfecture and the time of year — make sure to apply several months before your long-stay visa expires.
To apply, you’ll need to visit your local préfecture or Sous-préfecture. If there isn’t one in your area, pay a visit to the local town hall who will be able to help, though the process may take a bit longer. Costs vary from 79 EUR for students to 269 EUR for employed adults. You can find a full breakdown of costs per applicant and card type on service-public.fr (website in French).
After submitting your application, you’ll be given a récépissé which proves you’re allowed to stay in France while it’s being processed. If it’s your first CDS, you’re not allowed to leave the country while you only have a récépissé. Some jobs will also require you to have received your CDS before you can start.
If you leave France for three or more consecutive years, your residence permit will expire and you’ll have to begin the application process again.
Getting Your Paperwork Together
We’ve pulled together a checklist of the documents you’re most likely to need when applying for a carte de , but be sure to check with your local préfecture if they have any additional requirements. For documents that are not in French, you’ll need to provide official translations. Your local consulate or préfecture should be able to recommend a court-certified translator.
For your CDS application, take the originals and two copies of the following items:
- long-stay visa (usually in your passport)
- birth certificate
- proof of address in France, e.g. a signed lease or electricity bill
- three recent ID photos
- proof of income, e.g. pay slips or copies of your accounts if self-employed
If you’re married or have children, you will also need to provide your marriage certificate and birth certificate(s) for your kids. In some cases, officials may ask about your parents or mother’s maiden name, so it’s a good idea to take this information with you.
Visas and Permits for France
EU and EEA nationals (including Swiss) 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. You can find a comprehensive list of the nationality-dependent visa exemptions here, but it is also worth checking with your nearest French embassy or consulate. Please note that the following information refers to mainland France and that different rules may apply for its overseas territories.
If you require a visa but you are staying in France for fewer than 90 days, apply for a Schengen visa. This type of visa is valid for all Schengen-area member states, i.e. the majority of EU member states, plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Detailed, country-specific information on obtaining a Schengen visa is available on local French diplomatic websites or on the official European Commission website.
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
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. It is processed within about two months and costs 60 EUR.
Work Visas for Short-Term Stays
If you are going to France on a brief work assignment and are not originally from the EU/EEA or Switzerland, then you will still require a Schengen visa. Your employer first needs to get your contract approved by the relevant Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration. Only once your work permit has been granted and sent to your respective embassy or consulate can you go ahead with your visa application.
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. It is recommended that you contact your local French consulate for a list of required documents appropriate to your situation. 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. A 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.
Known as the carte de séjour, a residence permit reflects the purpose of your stay and gives details on your specific work permit. If you have a visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour (VLS-TS), this already includes a residence permit valid for up to one year. Remember to register at the French Office of Immigration and Integration within the first three months of your stay, though.
Holders of other types of long-term visas will need to apply for their residence permit within the first two months of their stay. As this needs to be done at the prefecture of the city where you live, there is no need to worry about this before arrival. Residence permits need renewing every year, unless you have a special carte compétences et talents, which is valid for three years and acts as a combined visa, work and residence permit.
After you have been legally living in France for five consecutive years (or less for spouses of French citizens), you are eligible to apply for a carte de resident (valid for ten years).
CIR — Contrat d’intégration républicaine
From July 2016, any non-Europeans wishing to settle in France must sign the CIR, or Contrat d’Intégration Républicaine. This is a mutual contract to ensure the best-possible integration of foreigners into French society. During an interview, their professional, social, and language needs are assessed to see if any assistance is required. Knowledge of French up to the A1 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is desired, and language lessons can be given if this standard if not met. Newcomers must also attend two information sessions about France and French culture and history.
Failure to comply with this compulsory contract can result in the revocation of one’s residence permit.
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Work Permit Visa
Who Needs a Visa?
If you are an EU or an EEA national (including Swiss), you don’t need a visa to live or work in France even if it’s for the long-term. Otherwise, you will have to apply for a visa if you want to stay in France for longer than three months. The type of visa you receive will depend upon what you’re doing in France, and you can see some examples below.
In general, however, if you are staying between 4 and 12 months, you will need a visa de long séjour (long-stay visa), which will be adapted for the duration of your stay and for your reasons (e.g. family, professional, academic). 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. The visa available to family members also depends on the type of your own permit. Contact your local French consular or embassy to find out the specific documents required for your application. You may require a routine medical examination and a criminal record clearance upon your arrival in France.
Known as a carte de séjour, a residence permit reflects the purpose of your stay and gives details on your specific work permit. If you are not an EU/EEA national or from Switzerland, and will be staying in France from one to four years, you need a visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour (VLS-TS), which is “a long-stay visa valid as a residence permit”. Remember that all VLS-TS visa holders do have to register at the French Office of Immigration and Integration within the first three months of their stay, though.
Other long-stay visas require the application for a residence permit once arrived in France. This needs to be done within the first two months and at the respective prefecture.
Residence permits need renewing every year, unless you have a special carte compétences et talents, which is valid for up to four years and acts as a combined visa, work and residence permit.
The “Skills and Talents” Work Permit
The “Skills and Talents” Card (carte compétences et talents) is intended for non-EU nationals who would like to carry out a specific project. Their aim should be to further the economic development of France and/or their country of origin. It acts as a combined visa, work and residence permit. It is valid for an initial period of up to four years, and accompanying family members automatically receive a “private and family life” permit allowing them to reside and work in France.
You need to submit your application together with a briefing paper presenting the project to the French Consulate in your country, or to the nearest Préfecture if you are already in France at the time of application.
Temporary Work and Residence Permits
This category comprises two groups: the “salaried” temporary residence permit is for foreign employees coming to France on an employment contract lasting one year or longer. The “temporary worker” residence permit is for those whose contract lasts less than a year.
In both cases, the prospective French employer is responsible for carrying out the formalities. They have to contact the French authorities and prove that they have tried and failed to recruit a French candidate for the job. Moreover, they have to show that working conditions, salaries, company accommodation, etc. are equal to those of local employees.
Every administrative region in France has its own liste de 30 métiers, i.e. 30 occupations which are open to foreign (third-country) nationals, provided they have the relevant qualifications and experience to carry out the job in question. For instance, in the Île-de-France around Paris, this list includes real estate agents and computer software engineers.
The “Employee on Assignment” Work Permit
The “employee on assignment” permit is the traditional work permit for expats, targeting managers, well-paid professionals, and skilled workers or employees.
Your employer can apply on your behalf if you have been with the company for at least three months and if your gross monthly salary is at least 1.8 times the minimum wage in France (as of 2017, this would equal around 2,664 EUR per month).
The permit allows you to work for one of the company’s branches in France or another company within the same group for an initial period of three years. Furthermore, your family will be allowed to join you on a “private and family life” permit.
For highly qualified candidates hoping to work in France or another EU member, there is the European Blue Card. Employees who are at least on a one-year contract and earning 53,836 EUR per year or more (as of 2017) can apply for this special permit and immediately bring along their family.
The Permit for “Seasonal Workers” and Academics
The “seasonal worker” permit is valid for three years, but it only allows the holder to work for a minimum of three and a maximum of six months over a period of 12 consecutive months. The main residence must remain outside France at all times, and family members are not allowed to join. Again, the recruiting party is responsible for all the paperwork.
The “scientific” permit is for academics with at least a Master’s degree wishing to participate in research or teaching activities in France. In order to apply, you need to have a convention d’accueil (hosting agreement) from an accredited French research institute or an educational institution endorsed by the French Consulate in your country of origin. It may also be necessary to get a VLS-TS if your stay will last longer than a year.
Academic residents aren’t allowed to take up paid employment outside their research or teaching assignment. However, their family members are allowed to join them in France.