French Long Stay Visa Application Process

Preparing your visa de long séjour application

Cafes and restaurant in Petite-France in Strasbourg, Traditional colorful houses in La Petite France, Strasbourg, Alsace, France
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If you're a United States citizen and want to live in France for an extended period of time, you will need a visa de long séjour (long-stay visa) before you go—France will not let you into the country without it. You will also need a carte de sejour, a residence permit which you complete after you arrive in France.

The following is a general overview of the process required by United States citizens to obtain long term residence in France. This information is derived from the exceptional amount of detail in English on the France-Visas website. Processes change and it is essential that you be au courant with the appropriate method, so plan to become familiar with France-Visas. The process is conducted in part online but it is a long one and can take weeks or months, and you may not be accepted the first time out. No matter what, France will not let you into the country without a proper visa, so don't buy your ticket until you have completed all the paperwork and have your visa in hand.

Process and Function

Basically, the long-stay visa is operationally equivalent to a Schengen visa—the visa used by residents of the 26 European states and members of the European Union that have officially abolished all passport and other border controls at their mutual borders. That means that with the visa you will be able to visit the 26 Schengen countries. There are some restrictions and some exceptions, depending in part on the purpose and length of your stay. 

The visa and residence permit application process can vary not only due to different family and work situations but also based on where you apply. Beware of scams and unofficial websites: the official secure France-Visas portal is:

The official list of U.S. VFS Global Centre locations—a third party service provider where you will have to go to submit your visa application—is:

Do You Need a Long-Stay Visa? 

In general, an American holding an ordinary passport who wishes to stay in France for a period between 90 days to a year will need a Visa de Long Séjour acquired in advance. Exceptions include if you (or, if you are a minor, your parent) already hold a French residence permit or are a citizen of a European Union Member State.

All visa requests must be entered online at the secure France Visas website—since you will be inputting personal information, be absolutely sure you are at the right website. The French government has created a Visa wizard so that if you have any doubts about whether you need one or not, use that. 

Will You Also Need a Residence Permit?

There are two types of long term visas: the visa de long sejour (VLS) and the visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour (VLS-TS). The VLS requires that you submit a request for a carte de séjour (residence permit) within two months of your arrival in France; the VLS-TS is a combined visa and residence permit, which you must validate within three months of your arrival. They are both long term visas but they have administrative differences which are assigned to you by the French consulate.

Either way, if you wish to stay beyond the one year limit, you must apply for a residence permit at your local prefecture in France.

Categories of Long Stay Visas (VLS)

There are four categories of long-stay visas, based on your purpose for going. The categories determine what supporting documentation you will require in advance, at the border, and in France, and any restrictions you'll need to adhere to—such as whether you can work for pay while you are in the country. 

The categories of purposes of a long-term stay are: 

  • Tourism / private stay / hospital care: all of these purposes restrict you from working for pay. 
  • Professional purpose: If you will be in France to work, you will need a professional visa regardless of whether you are an employee of a company, or self-employed. You'll have to describe the type of business you will conduct and, if you are in a profession that requires credentials such as doctors and teachers, you will need to prove that you meet French criteria to conduct that work. 
  • Studies training: This category includes if you will be taking an advanced degree; if you want to learn French while working as a family assistant or an au pair; or if you want your minor child to study in a French school. You or your child may need to be officially enrolled before you go. 
  • Family purpose: You'll need to provide the address, names, and nationality of your relatives in France, what your relationship to them is, and the reason for your stay. 

Starting the Visa Process

Once you have determined that you do need a visa, you can prepare your application online at the France-Visas portal, regardless of where you live in the United States. The online application form and you will be guided through the whole process by on-screen explanations.

In order to save your form and print it out, you'll have to create a personal account that includes your email address. Once you have finished, you will receive the list of required supporting documents required to the type of visa you have requested, and have the opportunity to book your appointment.

All visas for France are ultimately reviewed by the French counsel in Washington DC, but first, you'll have to appear in person at the VFS Global Centre for your region to get it submitted to DC. There are ten Global Centres in the United States—you'll need to request an appointment through the France-Visas portal. 

Submission Requirements 

The specific documents you need will depend on your specific circumstances, but you will need a current passport, two recent identification photos in the specific International Civil Aviation Organization (ISO/IECI) format, and whatever other documents (originals and a copy) are required because of your situation. 

As of June 1, 2019, the legal requirements to successfully submit a visa are: 

  • Your passport must be clean and in good condition, issued no more than 10 years ago, valid three months beyond your intended departure date from the Schengen Area, and with at least two blank pages
  • The purpose and conditions of your stay
  • Documents and visas (if any) required by international conventions, which will depend on the circumstances of your visit
  • Proof of accommodation: either a hotel reservation or a form filled out by your host
  • Evidence of your financial ability to live in France: you must have proof that you can spend €65–120€ per day depending on where you will be housed and no less than €32.50 per day if you're staying with family
  • Approved insurance for medical and hospital expenses
  • Guarantees of repatriation
  • Documents (if required) for the exercise of a professional activity
  • 2 recent photographs according to strict ISO/IECI specifics
  • Your return ticket or the financial means to acquire one at the end of your stay
  • Non-refundable application fee which is typically €99

ISO IEC restrictions on photographs which are acceptable for identification are quite specific. The photos must have been taken within the last six months, they must be about 1.5 inches (35-40 mm) in width. The image must be a closeup of your head and top of your shoulders, not too dark or light, your face must take up 70–80% of the photograph. It must be in sharp focus without shadows, you must be standing in front of a plain background, and the picture must not include another person. Don't wear heavy framed glasses, don't wear a hat—if you wear religious headgear your face must be clearly visible. Look at the camera and you can smile, but your mouth must be closed. You will need several copies during the process.

Submitting Your Application

After you have filled out your form, you will be given an opportunity to set up an appointment at the VFS Global Centre for your region--but you can also do it later. Request your appointment through the France-Visas portal. Bring all of your original documents to the appointment, as well as at least one photocopy of each. The service provider at VFS will receive you, review your application, collect the visa fee, and capture your biometric data (a photo scanned or taken during your appointment, and ten individually-taken fingerprints). She or he will retain your passport and the copies of all your supporting documents in order to forward them to the consulate.

You can track the progress of your application online at the France-Visas site; you will be notified when your documents are ready at the VFS Global Centre you applied at.

On Arrival

To enter France, you will need to offer the following documentation (at least) to the Border police:

  • valid passport and visa
  • proof of accommodation
  • proof of sufficient financial means
  • your return ticket or financial means to acquire one
  • any document providing details on your profession

Unless you obtained a VLS-TS, the visa de long séjour does not give you permission to live in France—it gives you permission to apply for the carte de séjour. If your visa has the words "carte de séjour à solliciter,” you do need to get a residence permit. Start that process within two months of your arrival, at the prefecture of your place of residence within two months of your arrival.

  • If you live in Paris, you must report your presence to police headquarters
  • if you live in another department, you must report to the prefecture or subprefecture of your department 

Validate Your Residence Permit (VLS-TS)

If you received a VLS-TS visa, you won't need a carte de séjour, but you must validate it within three months of your arrival. While the process is completely online, you will need to provide the information on your long term stay visa, the date you arrived in France, your residential address in France, and your credit card to pay the required issuance fee or electronic stamp.