Just over six months ago, I fell in love with Nice, France and decided to make it my new home. Many people warned that getting a French visa is not an easy process and they were right. It’s time-consuming and incredibly stressful, but if it were easy I guess everyone would do it. So, before you decide to apply for a long-stay French visa I have one bit of advice: You’ve REALLY gotta want it!
In researching my options for relocating to France, the long-stay visitor visa seemed difficult but possible. So, I spent a few months in Nice putting the puzzle pieces together to create my visa application – which resembled a graduate-level dossier.
Here is the tale of my journey along the bumpy road to creating a life in France – the things I’ve learned and the huge mistakes I’ve made along the way.
Update April 2018: As I begin the process of re-applying for my long-stay visa, I realize EVERYTHING has changed!
A brief summary:
“To better welcome the public and reduce waiting times, the Consulate General of France in Washington will outsource the collection of visa applications to VFS Global.
This new process will gradually be put in place between April and July, with the opening of 10 visa application centers: in Washington (April 18), New Orleans and Houston (May 30), Chicago (June 5), Boston (June 6), San Francisco (June 27), Los Angeles (June 28), Miami and Atlanta (July 19) and New York (July 26). Until then, filing procedures remain unchanged. Once these centers are open, applicants will be able to apply for visas at the VFS center of their choice.”
(These requirements are directly from the Chicago consulate website. Each consulate has specific requirements, so check with the consulate in your area.)
1.) One application form filled out completely and signed by the applicant.
2.) One US passport size photo on a white background with no glasses and no hat (and please do not smile.)
I initially used a passport photo machine in Nice to complete this assignment, then realized the photos are the wrong size. I had them retaken at the local AAA Travel office in the US and my “do not smile” ended up looking like a crazed serial killer.
The questionnaire is in French and needs to be completed in French, so I met with a French translator in Nice for assistance. This form also needs to be notarized.
4.) Original passport or travel document (+ ONE PHOTOCOPY of the identity pages).
“Your passport must have been issued less than 10 years ago, be valid for at least three months after your return to the US and have at least 2 blank visa pages left.”
This is where I screwed up badly. It’s not something I’m proud of but I’m sharing this story for educational purposes.
My passport was 2 years away from expiration in 2019 but was well-used with over 75 stamps and just 2 blank pages – so I thought I was just barely within the visa requirements. On the long flight returning from Nice to the US, I decided to give myself a little “buffer” room and started picking at a loose visa sticker – specifically, the Cambodian visa that takes up an entire page. It peels out easily in one piece and opens up another visa page! (Yay!)
I arrive at the Chicago consulate the following day, confident that I have all my ducks in a row. My dossier is perfect, very professional and impressive! Suffering from massive jet lag, I really just want to get this interview over, fly back to Minneapolis and get some sleep.
Finally, my name is called and the woman immediately asks for my passport.
“You don’t have enough blank visa pages left. You’ll have to get a new passport and come back,” she says in a very business-like tone.
Slowly, reality sinks in. “This CANNOT be happening!”
When I show her the blank pages at the back, she points out that THOSE ARE NOT VISA PAGES!! They’re just pages. (I honestly had no idea!) She also examines the page where the Cambodian visa once existed and immediately determines that page is NOT usable since there is evidence remaining of a previous visa.
I had just flown in from Nice, hadn’t slept for days, and walked away in shock and disbelief.
But it gets worse…
The next day, I arrive at the passport agency in Minneapolis to get an expedited passport (in 8 business days or less) and am immediately grilled on the condition of my passport. There are unexplained staples that seem to indicate missing documents (huh?), there is a peeling Narita transit stamp, and there’s the blank page where the Cambodian visa had been. My passport is declared “mutilated” and I am now subject to passport probation – reduced to a one-year validity on my new passport.
This passport probation now makes it impossible to apply for the coveted one-year long-stay French visa, which requires a minimum 3-month passport validity at the end of the visa. (S**t!)
So, I create my Plan B: I apply for a 9-month visa. Then I’ll leave the country before my visa expires and return to Nice with 95 days on my passport to get a 3-month Schengen tourist visa. In September, I’ll return to the US to renew my passport for the full 10-year validity (and possibly repeat this whole nightmare visa process again? Ugh!)
After that day at the passport office, I googled the topic of “passport mutilation” and opinions seem divided on peeling out used visas.
“Jack” from Seattle claims, “I could start a recycling center with all the old Chinese visas I’ve picked out of my passport over the years!”
A good friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) confessed, “I’ve peeled six old Cambodian visas out of my passport over the years with no issues. I guess I got lucky!”
In the great visa debate, some travelers interpret the warning printed in the front of the passport as a legal “gray area” while others are aware of the seriousness of this crime and caution against it.
Moral of the story – if you’ve got the urge to pick at old visas in your passport, step away from your passport. Do not do it! Trust me!
5.) Status in the US – If you are not a US citizen, a copy of your green card or visa.
This one was easy. I wrote a simple statement: “I am a US citizen”. I also signed and dated it.
6.) A letter explaining what you intend on doing in France.
From the blog posts I studied in preparation, this one seems to be vitally important. I kept is simple and direct, stating that I want to learn to speak the language, study the culture, and write about my experiences. I think they want to know you’ve got a genuine interest in the country and a valid reason to be there.
7.) Letter promising not to engage in any employment in France (signature certified by a notary public)
One of the stipulations of the long-stay visa is the “no work” clause. I wrote a short paragraph promising I won’t work for any French companies and had it notarized (in Nice by a really HOT French lawyer!) The French government wants to be sure you’re not taking a job away from a French citizen, which is understandable.
8.) Letter of employment in the US stating occupation and earnings
I skipped this one since I have no earnings from the US.
9.) Proof of means of income – letter from the bank, investment certificates, pension slips, …
To prove my ability to support myself, I provided bank statements from my US and French bank accounts, pension statements, and documents from my retirement account. Some suggest you provide 3 months of bank statements but I submitted 10 months. (I’ve heard they love paperwork!)
Unfortunately, she handed back 7 months of bank statements and didn’t seem amused by the excess paperwork. I guess three months of statements are sufficient.
So, how much money is “sufficient” to support yourself in France? Some say that it’s French minimum wage (about 1500 Euros per month) but there’s no official amount published anywhere.
10.) Proof of medical insurance:
“You must bring proof of a valid overseas medical insurance with a minimum coverage of 50,000 US for emergencies and repatriation and NO deductible or co-pay. The letter provided by your insurance company MUST clearly state these conditions.”
I did a lot of research on insurance and purchased a policy through Insubuy. They provide a visa letter that details exactly what the French consulate requires. Just to be safe, I also provided a copy of the plan summary pages.
11.) Marriage certificate or family book + Birth certificates for children.
I skipped this one since it does not even remotely apply to my life.
12.) Enrollment in a school for the children.
Again, no kids so no need.
13.) Proof of accommodation in France (title deeds, lease or rental agreement.)
Proof of accommodation – the most difficult assignment of all. Most people aren’t able to spend time in France prior to applying for the visa, and it’s stressful to sign a lease BEFORE they approve the visa, but that’s just the way it is.
Luckily, I was able to spend two months apartment hunting in Nice and stumbled upon the perfect apartment in a perfect location and right within my price range. The apartment lease document is 13 pages long, so I provided a copy of the lease as well as the government required renters insurance document.
In my research, I read one post from a man who had been rejected for the long-stay visa. He had given the name and address of a hotel to show proof of accommodation. That is NOT what they want to see and was rejected. Others have submitted an email from a landlord and later were asked for additional documents – passport copy and utility bills from the landlord. If you go this route, provide tons of supporting documents up front to avoid any unnecessary delays.
14.) Long-Stay French visa processing fee.
The current fee is $116 USD and payable in cash only. Check the consulate website for updated fee information.
15.) If you intend on staying in France for more than 6 months: One residence form duly filled out (upper part only).
This form is a little confusing, so I asked the French translator for help. Basically, you just need to provide your parents’ full names and birthdates. The rest of the form is completed by the authorities in France once you’re approved.
Unfortunately, the consulate woman tossed my form in the trash, claiming that it’s not necessary for anything less that one year. So, I really don’t know!
Update: The French government requires this form only if you’re staying in France for more than one year. The Chicago consulate website has now been updated to reflect that information.
16.) A self-addressed prepaid EXPRESS MAIL envelope (please do NOT stick the mailing label on the envelope).
The Long-Stay French Visa Consulate “Interview”
I receive my new (restricted) passport in just 4 business days and immediately make another appointment with the Chicago consulate for 10:00 on a Monday morning. Sadly, my short flight from Minneapolis to Chicago on Sunday is delayed 20 hours (seriously).
So, I buy a ticket on a 5:00 am flight on Monday morning and make it to Chicago just in time.
Waiting patiently for my turn, I observe/critique the others in the waiting area. One young woman has her documents in a flimsy, well-worn folder, the kind junior high kids might use. I mock her silently as I thumb through my documents that resemble a graduate-level dossier.
Ditching the dossier
Finally, at a little past 10:00, the stern-looking Visa Woman finally calls my name. She looks at my passport and asks for my documents. As hard as I try, I can’t fit my beautiful dossier through the small slot underneath the bullet-proof glass.
She gives me an impatient look and snaps, “Take everything out. Step over to that counter if you need more time.”
So, I rip apart my dossier and stack the mound of papers in order with the “Table of Contents” right on top. I slide the pile through the small slot where my “Table of Contents” immediately lands in the trash bin. Then she begins quickly and efficiently thumbing through the stack of paperwork.
She questions my intended length of stay and I humbly request the maximum allowed on a restricted passport (early July?). I assure her I’ll be back in late June to get my passport renewed. There are no questions about my passport probation. She’s just too busy to care.
Lastly, she fingerprints and photographs me and our brief chat (“interview”) through bullet-proof glass is quickly over. I skip out of the building and up Michigan Avenue feeling such a huge sense of relief!
Now all I can do is wait. And pray. And drink wine.
Nine days later….nothing in the mail. More wine.
Ten days later….I pack my bags and stalk the mailman. And then I receive an email from the French consulate apologizing for a delay due to “technical issues”. Pour some more wine.
Finally, sixteen days after my interview, my passport arrives in the mail with a long-stay French visa valid through July 1st. Best I could hope for…all things considered!
And eight hours later, I’m on a flight into my new life!
(Check with the consulate in your area for their specific requirements for the long-stay French visa. Click here for a link to all required documents for the Chicago consulate.)
The Rest of the Story (March 2018):
A few weeks ago, I made a trip to Marseille to apply for a new 10-year passport. Since I was on “passport probation”, I was required to request my new passport in person from the Consulate General. After a brief interview, my application was processed and I received my brand new full-validity passport in about a week.
My original long-stay French visa was issued for nine months which was the maximum allowed on my restricted passport. Next month I’ll make a trip back to the US and go through the entire process again.