Back in 2017 when Donald Trump was elected, France’s president Emmanuel Macron issued an invitation to any Americans disappointed with the election result to move to France. The political situation has changed since then, but Americans are generally still pretty welcome – although that doesn’t mean that France’s notorious bureaucracy has got any easier.
Those wanting just a taste of France won’t need a visa if the trip is for less than 90 days (unless you’re a diplomat or a journalist).
All you need is a passport that’s valid for at least three months.
But for any stays longer than three months it gets complicated.
READ ALSO What are the biggest challenges for Americans in France?
If you’re lucky enough to have dual nationality with an EU country then the experience will be a lot more straightforward, everyone else should prepare for a truckload of paperwork, and the first thing you need is a visa.
All visas charge processing fees and you need to be prepared to create a massive bundle of supporting documents.
First things first, find your closest French consulate here. And be prepared to travel, the consulates are few and far between, with one generally serving several states (see image below).
When you’ve found your consulate, you’ll need to decide what sort of visa to aim for before making an appointment, and there are many on offer – from spouse visas to scientist visas.
For a full guide on getting a visa click HERE.
It’s important to note that your visa has to be sorted before you leave the USA, so there’s no point coming over here as a tourist and then hoping to figure it out from France – they’ll just send you back.
Here’s an overview of the most common types of visa;
If you’ve already got a Frenchie on your arm then congratulations, things just got a little easier.
You’ll be able to get a 12-month visa and you’ll have to register at the Immigration Office (OFFI) within three months of arrival. This will count as your residence card (more info on how to get residency later).
The good news is that the application is free but you’ll need a heap of documents including application forms, proof of marriage (in French as well), proof of your spouse’s nationality, and a residence form. More info here.
If you intend to work in France then you have two options; get a work visa as a salaried employee or get an entrepreneur visa if you intend to set up your own business or work self-employed as a freelancer or contractor.
The toughest part of the employee visa is that you need to find a job first, rather than coming to France and then job-hunting.
Once you find a job, you then need to have your work contract approved by the authorities at the French Labour Ministry (then again at the OFFI offices) and depending on the sector you work in your employer may have to justify why they’re hiring you and not a European.
If you’re bringing family on this visa, get the employer to start a file for them at the same time. You’ll need to fill in application forms, residence forms, and you’ll need to pay a processing fee of around $100.
If you intend to be self-employed the entrepreneur visa has different requirements, including a detailed business plan and proof of financial means – essentially you need to be able to demonstrate that you can support yourself even if your business idea never takes off.
This is for those who want to stay for more than three months but don’t have a job, a French spouse, or plans to study – it’s most commonly used by retired people and it brings with it the requirement to have a certain level of assets.
READ ALSO How much money do I need to get a French visa?
You’ll need: filled-in questionnaires and application forms, a letter of explanation as to what you intend to do in France, letters promising that you won’t work in France (not even working remotely for an employer back in the US), proof that you can support yourself in France, proof of earnings, proof of medical insurance, proof of accommodation in France, among other things. More info here.
The good news is that the fee is around half that of the other long stay visas, at about $50 and is usually shorter to process, but the bad news is that it’s no walk in the park.
You’ll need a series of documents from Campus France, financial guarantees, enrolment proof, a bunch of forms, and even airline reservation proof. More info here.
Au Pair visa
If you’re between the ages of 17 and 30, don’t mind a few household chores and quite like children, then this year-long visa could be right up your alley.
You’ll need all the usual forms, but also an “au pair contract” approved by the French ministry of labour, an invitation from your host family, and you’ll have to sign up to language courses for while you’re here. Read more about becoming an au pair here, and find out more on the visa info here.
If you qualify for it, there’s also the ‘talent passport’ which is really the best type of visa because it lasts for four years before you need to renew and you can bring family members on it.
It offers a four-year work visa to people who can demonstrate certain business, creative or academic skills, or who have a provable reputation in their field – for example, scientific, literary, artistic, intellectual, educational, or sporting. The categories were recently expanded and cover quite a wide variety of fields. More info here.
Once you have secured your visa you’re more or less ready to travel, but there are some other things to check.
Health insurance – some visa types, especially those for people who will not be working, require proof of health insurance. Others don’t, but you should still have insurance that will cover your first months in France.
Once you have been living in France for three months, you’re entitled to register in the public health system and get a carte vitale, but the process of getting the card can be quite lengthy.
Americans in France: What’s the deal with health insurance?
Driving licence – you can drive on your US licence initially in France, but once you have been here for a year you need to swap to a French licence, and here the State that your licence was issued in is crucial – some States have an agreement for a simple licence swap, others don’t and in that case you will need to take a French driving test.
By State: How hard is it to swap your driving licence for a French one?
Bank account – for reasons connected to US legislation, Americans can have a hard time opening a bank account in France. We have some tips here.
Taxes – the IRS virtually never lets people go, so you will likely still be filing tax returns in the US, but after you have been here for a year you will also need to file a tax return in France – even if all your income comes from the US. More details here.
And how to stay in France
Think that getting your visa represents the end of your French paperwork? Dream on!
Depending on the type of visa you have you may be required to visit OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et Intégration) on arrival to register where you may be required to undergo a medical examination or to take French classes if your language skills are a little basic.
Other types of visa require you to validate them at your local préfecture within a certain time period.
These ‘in country’ steps are important, so in between popping Champagne when your visa arrives, take the time to read carefully the accompanying documents and note down when you need to do things.
Your visa will also need renewing, most initial visas last for one year, but there are exceptions.
The exact steps vary depending on your visa type, but the most common route is to apply for a residency permit (residence permit) so that you can stay longer than just 12 months – you usually apply for this two months before your visa runs out.
We look in more detail at the next steps HERE.
French administration is in the process of moving its immigration system online, but we’re now at the halfway stage where you can apply for some types of cartes de séjour online, but others require a visit to your local préfecture.
Once you’ve been here for five (continuous) years, you’re eligible for long-term residency, which does away with the annual paperwork.
And if you have been here for five continuous years (or three years if you completed higher education in France) and speak good French, then you can apply for French citizenship – if you’re game for a whole lot more paperwork.
READ ALSO Am I eligible for French citizenship?
You can also find lots more information tailored to US nationals in our Americans in France section.
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