Bonjour friends! The French visa process is here! Many of you have reached out to me asking me how we were able to obtain a visa. Today I plan on sharing all the details from choosing which visa to apply for to landing in Paris many months later. Are you ready? And we even have the vlog version for those of you who are not up for reading this Friday morning.
And watch the video until the end, you don’t want to miss the really good stuff.
Now you all know we are not beginners when it comes to this visa thing. In Costa Rica we had it easy since we were able to hop over the border to a neighboring country and our visa would reset for another 90 days. In Ecuador we got those first 90 days seamlessly and then we had to apply for an extension. Do you remember what a pain that was? As a result we were prepared for the French visa process to be a nightmare as well. And guess what? It was pretty uneventful! Woo hoo! However, don’t confuse that with quick.
It was a lot of work to gather everything they wanted, not hard, but time-consuming. I will take time-consuming over disorganized and complicated any day. I guess my experience in Ecuador has scarred me a bit. Do you remember how many times we had to go back to the immigration office? Well, I do, 16! I had visions of this happening with the French Embassy in Boston and I knew we did not have the luxury of being able to return 16 times since we had a flight on the 28th of August to Paris.
I am happy to report that we arrived on August 2nd for our 9:00am appointment with the French Consulate and we had everything they needed (and some extras). They asked for nothing additional. Can you believe it?
Unfortunately we did make one big mistake before we even left Ecuador. We (well, actually I) neglected to check the accuracy of something I read on FB. A mistake that cost me (us) $1,000. Ugh. I was under the impression one could apply for their visa for France in any US state and that is not the case. You need to apply for your visa at the consulate in the state you are a resident of. We had hoped to apply for ours while in Miami to ensure we would have enough time to get it approved before we were scheduled to leave the states. When we found out we could not do that we then had to change all of our flights around in order to give us more time in Boston for processing. In the end it all worked out, but it was an expensive mistake.
WHICH VISA DID WE CHOOSE AND WHY:
We had to choose the long-stay visa for visitors option because we were planning on staying more than 90 days. Of the options (listed below) the long stay visa for visitors was the only option for us. I thought maybe we could work with the “to get married to a French citizen” but Will did not seem to be onboard for another man in the family.
- Long stay visa to work in France
- Long stay visa for visitors
- Long stay visa for students applying through Campus France
- Long stay visa for studies: minors – under 18 years old
- Long stay visa for “au pair”
- Long stay visa for internship
- Long stay visa for scientists, researchers or university teachers
- Long stay visa for “lecteurs” and “assistants”
- Long stay visa to get married to a French citizen and reside in France
- Temporary long stay visa and long stay visa for Monaco
- Long stay visas for diplomatic or official passport holders
- The “competences and talents” card
As most of you know we both work online, as a result we would not be seeking employment in France which is one of the stipulations with this long stay visa for visitors. As far as they are concerned we are “guests” for a year on a 365 day vacation. If only that were true, but one can dream. Basically we can dump money into the economy, but we cannot take from it as employees which is ok with us since we derive our income from the US.
VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR THE LONG STAY VISA FOR VISITORS (according to the French consulate in Boston):
First and most importantly… I cannot stress enough to do your homework. Information and regulations can change so don’t base anything solely on what I am saying here. I am not an expert. I don’t work for the consulate, nor have I done this before. Each state is different regarding their requirements so make sure you get as much information as possible from the individuals who do this for a living.
- One application form filled out completely and signed by the applicant.
Each applicant has to fill out their own application in its entirety. This was not complicated, just time-consuming.
- Two ID pictures (white background, full face, no glasses, no hat, closed mouth).
Again, not complicated, just a pain. We printed out this list and took it with us to get the photos. The directions are definitely specific and we did not want to be held up because of some photos.
- Original passport or travel document (+ ONE COPY 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 visas pages left.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to follow the specific instructions above. I have known numerous people declined at first because they did not have three months left or two blank pages. In fact, we did not learn about the two blank pages situation until we went to have our visa extension in Ecuador put in our passport. Will was down to only a one page and they would not do it. As a result, he had to fly back to the US to get an expedited passport since we were on the cusp of another trip.
- Status in the US – If you are not a US citizen, copy of your green card or visa.
- A criminal record.
We were told that it would be best to submit criminal records from Massachusetts (our last state of residence) and Maine (the state we now file taxes in). It was not complicated. There were links online for each state. We just filled out an online form and they arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later.
- Letter promising not to engage in any employment in France (signature certified by a notary public).
We went to the US Embassy (only place we found to notarize documents in Quito) to have ours notarized. I literally typed one sentence, the date and our name on individual sheets and then we had them notarized. This does not need to be a lengthy letter, just something official, hence the notarization.
- Letter of employment in the US stating occupation and earnings.
Ok, so this is where it gets a little gray. There are no specifics regarding how much you need to make in order to be approved. Even when I emailed them they would not give me specifics. We were pretty confident Will’s income would be sufficient so we did not include mine. Since I was self-employed at the time we would have shown our tax return if necessary. We submitted a letter from his biggest client stating his earnings to date and anticipated earnings.
- Proof of means of income – savings, investment certificates, pension slips, etc
Another very, very gray area. I can tell you what we submitted and hopefully this can help you. Again, I emailed the consulate and asked for more specifics and they told me to just bring everything we had. We brought 401K, savings and information about our real estate holdings. We did not show the kids 529s. I don’t think it would have been acceptable, but I really do not know. We don’t have pensions so that was not an option as well. In regards to our real estate I was not sure how to show it as income and that we had equity we could access in an emergency. In the end what I did (and it was a lot of work) was print out a zillow sheet to give an idea of the value. I also included a copy of the lease for each property, our mortgage statement and a final sheet showing our profit each month and equity. It was a pain to do and in the end they only ended up taking one of the packages. I was like, “no please take them all. I worked so hard.” Ha! He told me if he needed the others he would be in touch. We don’t have any debt on credit cards or loans outside of our mortgages so I am not sure how that plays into the whole scenario. I am guessing they do not check your credit so maybe it never comes into play.
- Proof of medical insurance. Your insurance letter must include : “Medical evacuation” et “Repatriation”.
We already had insurance for our travel life so this was not complicated for us. We renew our policy ever January and we pay in full at that time. Since our visa in France would run out half way through our policy they required us to pay in advance. Unfortunately our insurance would not let us renew until November. They provided a letter to the consulate stating their policy and the consulate was fine with it.
- Marriage certificate or family book + Birth certificates for children.
Pretty straight forward. They did not require that they be apostatized. I know in Ecuador this was a requirement. As as result, we needed to overnight mail our marriage license to the US for apostalization. When we went to our appointment at the consulate they took copies of these documents and handed the originals back to us within minutes.
- Proof of accommodation in France (title deeds, lease or rental agreement).
Ok, this can be a tough one. I honestly don’t know if there is any flexibility here. Since we have been switching countries every year for several years now it was not an issue for us to negotiate and sign a lease sight unseen. If you want to read about our process and how we find homes before we move you can read here. Unfortunately it is not in our budget to fly ahead of time to each location and secure an apartment. Luckily our friend Julie (thank you lady) lives in Hyères and she kindly volunteered to go take a look at it. In addition, we had many lengthy conversations with the owners, Will met with them in person in Hong Kong and we viewed handfuls of pictures. Overall we don’t get too worked up over the accommodations and in the end it all ends up working out. We did hand in a signed lease with our application.
- Processing fee.
It cost us $110 per person. There is no discount for kids.
- One residence form duly filled out (upper part only).
There is a form that you must fill out and mail in once you arrive in France. Each person has to have their own form.
- If you cannot pick up your visa by yourself, you can send to the French Consulate, a self-addressed prepaid EXPRESS MAIL envelope from all Postal Services.
We picked ours up in person since we did not want to mess around with anything getting lost in the mail.
- I also included the following even though they were not on the list: A copy of our flights that we had already purchased. I did this to let them know we were serious, but more importantly under a deadline. Also, a copy of the kid’s school registration. He did not want to see them or include them in the application package. This is great news for those of you who are home/world/unschoolers and are worried it might be an issue.
OTHER TIDBITS CONCERNING THE FRENCH VISA PROCESS:
- The Boston consulate actually had a working email so I was able to ask questions about some of the above before we arrived. I found this incredibly helpful. If you can find an email for your consulate start emailing questions as early as possible.
- Read the fine print. If I had done this I would have seen that I needed to apply in our state of residence.
- Start early, you may run into unforeseen issues and you don’t want that to hold you up.
- Never once were we given a dollar amount regarding how much we needed to make, have in savings, have in our 401k, etc. This can be very frustrating. I wish I could offer more advice in this area, but I have nothing.
- When we submitted the application they told us to check back in two weeks to see if it had been approved. They are a busy office and they do not contact you once it is approved. I emailed the address on the website two weeks (10 business days) after our initial meeting and within a day I received an email saying we had been approved and we could come in to retrieve our visas.
- You do need to leave your passports with them when you apply for the visa so plan accordingly. However if you need to retrieve it for a day they will allow it, but you will hold up your processing time.
- You must make an appointment to go in and submit your application. It is very easy to do online.
- For security reasons, all applicants, except children under the age of 6, have to appear personally at the Consulate General of France in Boston.
- The Boston consulate states on their website that it can take up to a month. Again, each state is different, be sure to check your local consulate page. We were lucky to have in turned around in two weeks.
- You can submit your application up to three months in advance. If you are local and can do this then I highly recommend doing it to reduce stress and increase planning time.
I am sure someone is going to ask what happens if we want to stay an additional year. I have no idea and I cannot even begin to think that far ahead right now. I have heard that it is possible to renew. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get close and I will give another update at that time. Right now we have been here only a couple of weeks and my visa mind needs a rest.
If you have experience applying for long-stay visas in Europe please reach out to me and I will include a post from your experience. Here is one from An Epic Education and another from Wagoners Abroad that I think are very helpful for Spain.
So folks, this is how we did it. I walked into that office with an organized grey binder ready to take on whatever they threw at me. I am so happy to report that it was a seamless experience with no drama. However, it took some time to gather all the necessary items in order to present them. Good Luck!
If you have questions I have not answered feel free to post them in the comments or PM me. I want more people out there traveling and I will help you in any way I can.
Have a fabulous weekend.