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MOVING TO FRANCE

How non-EU citizens can move to France (and stay here)

From visas to residency cards, taxes to health insurance - here's what you need to know about moving to France, and ensuring that you can stay here.

How non-EU citizens can move to France (and stay here)
The first step is getting a visa. Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP

Moving to France is undeniably easier if you are covered by EU freedom of movement, for non-EU citizens it’s still very possible, but requires more paperwork.

First things first, unless you are fortunate enough to have dual nationality with an EU country (eg Ireland) you will need a visa in order to come and live in France.

It’s important to note that your visa has to be sorted before you leave your home country. Depending on your nationality you may be able to travel to France visa-free for up to 90 days at a time, but you cannot ‘convert’ your status from tourist to resident while you are in France.

Almost all visas charge processing fees and you need to be prepared to create a big bundle of supporting documents, but the first thing to do is work out the type of visa that you need.

Here’s an overview of the most common types:

Spouse Visa

Contrary to popular belief, being married to a French person doesn’t exempt you from the visa process, but does make things a little easier if you decide to go for a spouse visa – 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, proof of your spouse’s nationality, and a residence form. More info here.

Work Visa

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.

Employee visa – 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 apply for a work permit and 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.  

Entrepreneur – this applies for people who want to set up their own business (eg run a gîte or B&B) or work in an self-employed capacity including as a freelancer or contractor. 

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 or freelance career never takes off.

Here 2021 arrival Joseph Keen takes us through the entrepreneur visa: ‘Not too complicated but quite expensive’ – what it’s like getting a French work visa

Visitor Visa

This is for those who want to live in France 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, an undertaking not to work in France (not even working remotely for an employer back in your home country or setting up a gîte or B&B business in France), proof that you can support yourself in France, proof of financial means, proof of medical insurance, proof of accommodation in France, among other things. More info here

Student visa

The good news is that the fee is around half that of the other long stay visas, at €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 and proof of enrolment at a French establishment of higher education. 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

Talent Passport

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.

Besides these options, there is always a scientist visa, an internship visa, and a diplomatic visa.

Next steps

Once you have decided which visa you need, you apply online, submitting all the required documents and a fee (usually around €80-€100). You will then need to make an in-person visit to the French consulate in your home country – which will often mean travelling quite some distance from your home to the nearest consulate.

EXPLAINED: How to get a French visa 

Processing times for visas vary, but you should allow at least six weeks.

What else?

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. If this is the case you will need to buy a private health insurance (not travel insurance) policy that covers the entire duration of your visa. Depending on your age and state of health these policies can be expensive, so you should factor this in to your financial calculations.

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, so it’s a good idea to have health cover for these early months even if it’s not a requirement of your visa.

Driving licence – licences issued by most countries can be used in France for an initial period, but you will need to exchange this for a French licence, usually within one year of arrival.

Whether this is a simple swap for a French licence or involves taking a French driving test depends on whether the country that issued your licence has a reciprocal agreement in place with France.

By country: How hard is it to swap your driving licence for a French one? 

Bank account – for everyday life in France you will likely need a French bank account, but many French banks require proof of an address, while landlords often won’t rent to you without a French bank account, creating something of a Catch 22. 

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about opening a French bank account

Taxes – this is something that often catches people out – if you live in France you need to file an annual tax declaration, even if you have no income in France (eg you are living on a pension from your home country). More details here.

If you still have financial activity in your home country – such as a property rental – you will usually also need to file a tax return there, but while you have all the fun of doing two tax declarations every year, most countries have dual-taxation agreements with France, which means you won’t have to pay tax twice on the same income. 

And how to stay in France

But once you’re in France, you might want to stay here. 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 and 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 take the next steps.

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 (carte de séjour) 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 find more details in our Moving to France section.

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For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

Overstaying, working without a permit and polygamy – what can get you deported from France?

From committing a crime to overstaying your 90-day limit and even having multiple wives - here is a look at all the things that can get foreigners deported from France, and how likely this is in reality.

Overstaying, working without a permit and polygamy - what can get you deported from France?

If you’re living in France and you’re not a French citizen, there are certain scenarios in which you can be expelled from the country, and although this isn’t an everyday occurrence there are quite a wide range of offences that can see you kicked out of France. 

Process

In France, there are a few different deportation procedures for foreigners.

Expulsion – The first, which you may have heard about before, is “expulsion”, which means you must leave the country immediately.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin recently made headlines after calling for the expulsion of an Imam for making anti-Semitic, homophobic and sexist comments, as well as speeches that were “contrary to the values of the Republic.” 

For the average person, being expelled from France is very unlikely.

Under president Nicolas Sarkozy, a 2003 law was passed allowing for three possibilities to expel foreigners who are already “integrated” into France – if they have engaged in “behaviours likely to undermine the fundamental interests of the State; that are linked to activities of a terrorist nature; or constitute acts of incitement toward discrimination, hatred or violence because of the origin or religion of persons.”  

In most cases though, “expulsion” only occurs if a person is living in France illegally (ie without a residency permit or visa) and they represent a “serious threat to public order.” 

Notice to quit – The more likely scenario for the deportation of a foreigner living in France is an OQTF (Obligation de quitter le territoire français) – an obligation to leave France.

The decision is made by your préfecture. You will be formally notified, in a document which outlines which country you are to return to, as well as the time limit for when you must leave France. 

This can occur following a prison sentence, or if your residency permit has been withdrawn (again, the most common scenario is following a criminal conviction) or if your application to renew a residency permit has been denied.

You can challenge an OQTF. In most cases, the administrative court responsible for handling appeals should offer a response within six weeks.

Barred from returning – if you have committed an immigration offence such as overstaying your visa or overstaying your 90-day limit, this is often only flagged up at the border as you leave France. In this circumstance, you are liable to a fine and can also be banned from returning to France. Bans depend on your circumstance and how long you have overstayed, but can range from 90 days to 10 years.

In practice, being barred from returning is the most common scenario for people who have overstayed their visa or 90-day limit, but have not been working or claiming benefits in France.  

You can be ordered to leave France within 30 days if you are in one of the following situations:

  • You entered France (or the Schengen area) illegally and you do not have a residency permit or visa. You can be immediately ordered to leave France under specific scenarios such as representing a threat to public order or being a “risk of fleeing.”
  • You have entered France legally, but you have overstayed your visa or overstayed your 90-day limit. If you stay more than 90 days in every 180 in the Schengen area without a valid residency permit, then you can receive an OQTF, although in practice this is not the most common response.

READ MORE: What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in France?

  • Your residency permit application or your temporary residence permit has not been renewed or has been withdrawn.
  • Your residence permit has been withdrawn, refused or not renewed or you no longer have the right to stay in France (more on this below). 
  • You failed to apply to renew your residency permit, and stayed after the expiration of your previous permit. Keep in mind that once your permit expires, you can stay an additional 90 days in France if your home-country does not require a 90-day visa. However, in order to do this you must exit the Schengen zone and come back in to re-start the clock. 
  • You are working without a work permit and have resided in France for less than 3 months. A scenario where this might apply would be coming to France for under 90-days as a tourist (ie without a visa) and take a seasonal job. If you are found to have done this, you can receive an OQTF.
  • Other scenarios include being an asylum seeker whose application for protection was definitively rejected, or being categorised as a threat to public order (for those who have resided in France for less than 3 months).

Why might my residency permit be withdrawn or refused?

For those with a valid temporary or multi-annual residency permit, you might have your titre de séjour withdrawn in any of the following scenarios: 

If you no longer meet one of the necessary conditions for obtaining the permit in the first place. Keep in mind that if you have a salarié residency permit or a passeport talent, these cannot be withdrawn if you become “involuntarily unemployed” (meaning – you do not need to worry about potentially being deported if you lose your job). The best advice for this would be to request a change of status as needed rather than staying on a permit that no longer applies to you.

If you did not fulfil all the criteria for renewing your permit – this could involve failing to appear for an appointment you have been summoned to by the préfecture. 

If your permit was issued on the basis of family reunification, you could lose your titre if you have broken off your relationship with your spouse during the 3 years following the issuance of the permit. This does not apply in the case of death or spousal abuse, and there are exceptions for couples who have children settled in France. 

Other reasons might include:

  • Living in a state of polygamy in France
  • Serious criminal conviction (drug trafficking, slavery, human trafficking, murder etc.)
  • Illegally employing a foreign worker
  • Having been deported or banned from French territory previously
  • Being a threat to public order (usually terrorism related)

If you have a residency card, you can also lose your right to residency if you are out of France for a period of between 10 months and two years – depending on the type of card you have.

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