Citizens of one of the EU/EEA countries (i.e. all 28 European Union member countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and Switzerland do not need a visa for France.
Non-EU/EEA citizens need a visa to enter France, unless there exists a special agreement between France and your home country. These countries include: Antigua and Barbuda, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, United States, Uruguay, Vatican and Venezuela. Citizens of these countries can stay for up to 90 days without a visa, but if they want to stay longer they have to apply for a long-term visa.
Before coming, however, check whether there are no changes. Up-to-date information on entry requirements regarding your nationality and/or residence is available on the official website of the French Foreign Ministry.
Visas are valid for the length of time stated on them, starting on the date of arrival in France. There are very big differences between visas, so make sure you know what you want (purpose and length of stay) before applying for one. It might be very difficult, or even impossible to change a visa once you are in France. For example, you cannot enter France with a short-stay visa and then apply to stay longer. Neither can you change the status of your visa (i.e. change your status from student to employee) without first returning to your country of residence and obtaining the new appropriate visa. Also, it is not possible to ask a friend at home to obtain a visa for you once you're in France. In any case, people who need to apply for a ‘Schengen’ (or short-stay) visa, have to get out of the Schengen Area in order to apply for a new type of visa, so plan accordingly.
The Schengen Area refers to the treaty which enables free circulation of residents within these countries. France is one of the 26 countries making up this area. Some of the other countries include: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Portugal, and the name itself is the place in Luxembourg, where the treaty was signed in 1985.
The main kinds of visa are:
- Short-stay visa (visa de court séjour)
Valid for a maximum of 3 months. A visa granted by one of Schengen Area countries (for example, Germany) is valid in all other member countries and authorises its holder to circulate freely within the Schengen area. This means that traveling within the Schengen Area is legally the same as traveling within France and thus you can make as many entries to France as you wish during the validity of your visa, as long as you do not leave the Schengen Area. If you intend to leave and re-entry the Schengen Area (for example visiting the U.K., which is not a signatory state to the treaty), you have to ask for a multiple-entry short term visa!
- Long-stay visa (visa de long séjour)
A long-stay visa is valid for 3 to 12 months. If you hold a long-stay visa, after arriving in France you need to apply for a temporary stay permit (Carte de séjour temporaire) which will describe your status in France: visitor (visiteur), student (étudiant), private or family purposes (vie privée et familiale), employee (salarié), etc. If you want to extend the purpose of your stay, you need to apply for a renewal of your residence permit. You have to do this at the local French administration two months before the expiry date of your visa.
- Temporary long-stay visa (Visa long séjour temporaire de six mois)
This visa is valid for stays up to 6 months, but you do not need to apply for a temporary stay permit (Carte de séjour temporaire) from your home country. You cannot remain in France past the visa validity date.
- Short-stay 'student-examination' visa (Etudiant-concours)
This visa is for students whose enrollment into an academic institution is conditional on an examination in France. If the enrollment is approved after a successful entry exam, your ‘student-examination' visa will be changed into a normal long stay-visa (Carte de séjour temporaire).
- Circulation visa (Visa de circulation)
This visa is valid from one to five years and allows stays in France up to 3 months every six months.
- Transit visa (visa de transit aéroportuaire)
Nationals of some countries passing through France from one country to another must present this kind of visa. Be aware, processing times can be long, so apply well in advance.
Formalities for visa applications
Most visas are never issued in France, so they must be applied for in your home or another country. If you are required to have a visa, do not attempt to enter France as you are likely to be refused entry. Generally, you should apply for your visa 8-12 weeks before your planned date of arrival in France - check with the issuing authorities (such as your local French Embassy or Consulate) for likely delays.
Long-stay and other specific visas are normally issued in your country of residence. A short-stay visa can be issued by any Schengen country (in principle, you should get the visa from the authorities of the main destination country).
Up-to-date information about visa requirements is available on the official website of the French Foreign Ministry. The site is well organised. Based on the country of residency, your nationality and length and purpose of stay it gives all important information, such as:
- Visas requirements, types and issuing conditions (such as valid passport, health insurance, proof of sufficient sources, proof of preliminary entry to the education institution in case of students, etc.)
- Documentation required for an application and where to apply (with address and phone numbers), which is usually the Consular section of the French Embassy in the country of residence
- Costs of the visa