This is my experience applying for a visa to live in France as the spouse of a French citizen.
I realize this is a very “niche” topic, but for that reason I wasn’t able to find much information online to help me out when I was applying for my visa.
Each French embassy/consulate abroad and each “département” in France is a bit different in the way they manage these visas for spouses of French citizens, but I hope my experience will help shed some light on the process.
For reference, I applied at the French consulate in Montreal and lived in the Hérault department in France.
If you are married to a French citizen (or EU citizen), can you live and work in France?
Yes, but you need to apply for a visa before you arrive. The visa is called “visa long séjour valant titre de séjour” (meaning, “long-stay visa worth residence permit”), often abbreviated as VLS-TS. If you are getting married in France, that’s a different visa.
Can you apply for a VLS-TS French visa while you are already traveling? (or, Can you apply for a French visa from outside your home country?).
No. Definitely not. At least for a long-term stay visa for the spouse of an EU citizen, (VLS-TS) you can only apply for this visa from your home country or a country where you have residence.
You can’t apply from a country you are visiting, even if you are allowed to be there.
For example, we were already in Europe when we decided I would need a visa. It would have made sense to me that I could go to any French embassy (or at least any embassy outside the Schengen zone) and just apply there.
As long as I’m in that country legally, why would they care? It doesn’t change my situation or who I’m married to.
Unfortunately, the folks at the French embassy do not agree! I phoned the embassy in Belgrade to quadruple-check and was very thoroughly shut down by a polite but firm employee there.
You need to be in your country of residence to apply. So, I needed to go back to Canada to apply for my French visa.
Can you apply for a French visa while you are already in France?
No. Definitely not. See above. The exception would be if you are getting married in France, but in that case you need a special visa before you arrive.
You can’t enter on a tourist visa (or visa exemption) and apply for residence once you’re here (unless you’re a refugee or something… I know nothing about that, it’s definitely what we’re covering here).
If I am married to an EU citizen or a French citizen and want to live in France, what type of visa do I need?
You need a “Visa long séjour valant titre de séjour pour conjoint de français”, often abbreviated as “VLS-TS”.
This visa will allow you to live and work in France for a total of one year:
The initial visa is valid 3 months.
During those 3 months, you must attend an orientation session with the local OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration; French office of Immigration and Integration). Once you attend this session, they will add a sticker to the visa (“vignette”) that turns it into your residence card for the balance of the first year of residence in France.
What happens if I want to stay longer than one year?
After the first year, if you want to stay longer, you can apply to renew your residence. You should submit your application 2-3 months before your first visa (VLS-TS) expires.
At that point you’ll get a residence card (an actual card), for either 1, 2, 4 or 10 years.
The length of the validity of this card will depend on how your département manages things, how well you speak French, how long you have been married, and as far as I can tell, how much the agent assigned to your case likes you.
If you’re lucky, speak perfect French, and have been married for over 3 years, you could possibly get the 10-year card… but more likely you’ll get a one-year or 2-year card when you renew. More on this in a future post.
How do I apply for a VLS-TS for France?
At your local French embassy or consulate in your country of residence. The process and documents required can vary slightly, but usually:
You will be required to book an appointment via an automated system on the French consulate or Embassy’s website. I needed to visit the site several times before finding an available slot, and it was a 3-week wait between the day I booked and the first available appointment.
Their website will have a list of documents to bring. Sample and translation in part 3 of this series.
Show up at your appointment with all the documents on the list. BE VERY THOROUGH. I can’t emphasize this enough. The French administration LOVES paperwork and takes it very seriously.
I once had a form refused because I had filled it out with blue ink instead of black ink. They will not be flexible or understanding, and if you’re missing anything significant you’ll need to make a new appointment.
So, prepare everything, triple-check it, and you can even bring extra documents if you think they will help.
A few notes on the documents required for your VLS-TS application:
Your passport really does need to be valid for 15 months from the date you apply. This is because the visa (valid for one year) is glued in your passport, and your passport must be valid for the visa to be valid. They won’t let you have the visa in an expired passport while using a new passport for ID or travel.
If you have any questions, do email the consulate/embassy and ask. I was surprised at how quickly they responded. On the list of required documents, my consulate said that my spouse’s nationality needed to be proven by a certificate of nationality. I emailed them to ask if we could use his passport instead (since you can’t have a French passport without being a citizen, seems silly that this wasn’t an option on their list) and they said yes.
If the consulate tells you to print your appointment confirmation… they’re not kidding. Print it and bring it with you (yes, on actual paper) or you won’t get in. Do not pass Go, do not collect, book a new appointment.
Why does it say they need a birth certificate “of less than 3 months?”
French birth certificates are only valid for 3 months. I know, this seems insane to me. Your birth info doesn’t change, right? Anyway, while most countries just give you one birth certificate on special paper and it’s valid forever (I think), France has a different system.
Every time you need a proof of your birth for something (or your French spouse’s birth), you need to request a birth certificate, which is mailed to you. It’s a plain sheet of white paper with plain text (looks like it came out of a typewriter) with a stamp at the bottom. Somehow this is considered more secure?? (insert eyeroll here. Have you seen the French driver’s licenses??).
Anyway, keep this in mind when you are preparing your application: you’ll need to order a new birth certificate for your spouse, within the 3 months before your appointment.
They are pretty quick about mailing these; in France and in Canada, ours usually arrived within 2 weeks.
What happened at my French visa VLS-TS application appointment?
- Waited in line for a while outside the consulate, along with all the poor French citizens trying to vote. Great timing!
- Just before my time slot, they called everyone with that time slot and asked us to come in.
- They took the (printed) appointment confirmation.
- They didn’t allow bags in the consulate. They kept my backpack at the security desk and let me go in with just my papers.
- You go through a metal detector.
- Wait in a room until your number is called
- When you number is called, go up to the booth
- The agent went through the list of required documents one by one. In some cases you needed to bring the original + photocopy, so for those she looked at the original, kept the photocopy, and handed the original back to me. I had brought a few extra pieces (extra proof of our marriage or address something) but she handed those back to me too.
- They give you a receipt.
- There is not fee, surprisingly! But don’t marvel over their generosity just yet, they’ll get you later!
- Once the visa is ready, they will call you and give you a time slot to come pick up your passport.
- Processing time was pretty quick for me- they had said up to 10 business days I think, but after just 3 business days they called and said it was ready
What happens when you are called to pick up your visa?
When I came to pick up my visa, the process was similar:
- Go through security
- Once they call your number, go to the booth.
- Interestingly, the photo that goes on your visa is not the photo you submitted with your application! They take a surprise photo while you’re sitting at the booth and that is what is printed on your visa, glued in your passport forever and ever. So make sure your hair looks nice!
Once you have your visa glued in your passport, you can go to France!
What happens when you arrive in France with a Visa Long Séjour?
When you arrive in France, make sure the agent stamps your passport. This is your only job. I’m mature and responsible and organized, so of course I forgot to do this and didn’t get stamped.
Luckily the people at the OFII that day decided it wasn’t a big deal… but it could have been. So please just pay attention and make sure that they stamp your passport. You’ll need this stamp to prove the date of entry in France.
Once you arrive in France, chill! Enjoy the food. Learn to walk around the dog poop on the sidewalk. Oh, and also: don’t forget to submit your OFII (pronounced in French as oh-FEE) paperwork.
What, more paperwork? I thought I already had the visa!
Oh yes! You’ve only done half the work. Now that you’ve arrived in France you need to show that you’re a good little immigrant and let them “integrate” you.
Remember your visa application form? The last 2 pages are a short form and a list of OFII offices in France.
Fill in the form, then spend 20 minutes squinting at the list and finding the office nearest you (or, find the nearest OFII office here http://www.ofii.fr/ofii-en-france ). Then mail the form to that office. If you want to drop it off in person that should be fine too.
A note on the OFII: being a government agency, I had low expectations for the OFII (long lines, rude staff, bureaucracy, etc)… but was pleasantly surprised.
In my experience, the staff at the OFII were actually very pleasant and helpful, same for the préfecture. Same for the staff at the embassy actually. Your mileage may vary, as each office is different. But there’s hope!
Once you have mailed your form to the OFII, they will mail you a letter with an appointment time sometime within your first 3 months in France. What happens then? Read part 2 of this series to find out.