Getting a French visa for dummies
With a plain ol’ US passport, you can only travel in the Schengen area for 90 days out of 180 days and in the UK for 6 months. This was one of our first hurdles while planning, since we knew we wanted to travel for at least 6 months.
We first looked into getting a French long-stay visa and said - hell no. But then we had a change of heart. Given the finicky world that we live in with politics being politics, we decided it wouldn’t hurt to try and get a visa in case everyone decides Americans are the worst and shouldn't be allowed to travel.
Most of the below will only be interesting if you are trying to apply for a long-stay French visa, but if you want to be impressed by all of our documentation work, please continue reading. And/or, listen to our debrief of our visa appointment here.
We originally thought we’d have to go to the French Consulate in Chicago, but there’s one in Atlanta, so that was nice. You can book your appointment 3 months prior to when you’re going to leave. We booked ours on May 11 and the earliest appointment available was July 18. We were cutting it pretty close, because they say to leave up to 21 days to process your application and our flight was August 15. It’s easy for me to type this now that we have our visas and are in France, but I was getting anxious as we neared our departure date and hadn’t heard anything.
The requirements seem to vary based on which consulate you’re going to. The below details what we did based on the Atlanta Consulate requirements.
This blog helped us out a lot, so we’re hoping we can pay it forward. If you’re trying to apply and have specific questions, please leave us a comment. I’ve blocked out a lot of the process because it was not fun but am happy to help my fellow Americans in their travel endeavors.
You will need:
- A copy of your driver’s license - we didn’t catch this until the day of our appointment.
- Airline reservation - we forgot about this until the morning of our appointment. On the site it says you can’t book your ticket until after your visa has been approved, but we assumed/hoped that was outdated because airlines don’t really let you reserve a flight. We had already booked ours with miles months prior to our appointment so that was our reality. We brought our Delta itinerary to the Consulate and didn’t run into any issues. We also only had a one-way ticket which they didn’t seem to care about.
- A note stating how long you plan to stay in France and what you are going to be doing, very simply (we hand-wrote ours at the Consulate because we didn’t know about it). I was thinking that we’d say: “We’re taking a six-month sabbatical to travel around France.” Chris included that we’d be touring the French countryside or something along those lines, and the Type A in me was not okay with that, but whatever.
- One application form filled out completely and signed.
- We left things blank that didn’t apply to us. It’s pretty straightforward stuff from your passport. We don’t have a sponsor, scholarship, host, anything, so we left that blank and said “personal savings” was our funding. We did not translate this.
For the below, you need a French translation of every document and are required to include the originals plus 1 photocopy of each document submitted with the application (including the translations). You're also required to provide the documents in the following order: original + 1 copy, translation + 1 copy, original + 1 copy, etc.
- Two (2) recent ID pictures
- Get extras and keep copies to travel with in case you lose your passport and need to get a new one.
- Original passport or travel document (+ one copy of the identity pages).
- Keep in mind that they take your actual passport so they can add your visa if approved.
- Status in the US - If you are not a US citizen, copy of your green card or visa.
- We didn’t include this since we had our passports and are US citizens.
- Letter promising not to engage in any employment in France (signature certified by a public notary).
- We straight up wrote “I, Caroline/Chris Koch, promise not to engage in any employment in France.”
- Letter of employment in the US stating occupation and earnings.
- We were quitting our jobs a couple weeks after we submitted this application, so we wrote a letter stating we would not have jobs as of x date and could therefore not provide a letter of employment.
- Proof of means of income - letter from the bank, investment certificates, pension slips, etc.
- We included copies of 3 months worth of bank statements from 2 savings accounts to show that we had enough available funds to live in France. They don’t specify what they consider “enough.” We’ve read different sources but would guess that to them, $1500-$2000/month would cover living expenses. Don’t quote me on that.
- Proof of medical insurance.
- We used this company for insurance. They will want to know that you have at least $30-40K in coverage. I’d recommend checking if there are updates to this total; we increased that # to be safe.
- Marriage certificate or family register + birth certificates for children.
- We’re married, no kids, so we used our marriage certificate.
- Proof of accommodation in France
- We had one month booked at an AirBnb in France, so we included the recipet/itinerary that showed the location and confirmation. You can also change the language on AirBnb and get a French version of this very easily. Kudos to Chris for figuring that out.
- Processing fee: Cash or money-order only.
- One residence form duly filled out (upper part only).
- A self-addressed prepaid express mail envelope with a tracking number. You can use one envelope per family.
- They show you an example on their site, and we got an envelope but then when we got there, they said we could just come pick up our passports/visas, so we opted for that. Multiple people did not have envelopes and lived outside of the city/state. They were allowed to go get an envelope at a nearby UPS, but don’t be that person. Assume you’ll need one and have it with you.
A lot of people showed up missing stuff, and that’s just dumb. Do your homework, and you’ll feel better about it. Did it hurt when she tossed our “necessary” copies to the side and then crammed them back at us since she really only needed one copy of everything + the translation? Yes, but that’s part of the fun! We felt accomplished and anxiously optimistic leaving the consulate (side note: you need to book 1 appointment per person, but we went up together and she put all our info together so we actual had quadruple the amount of copies that we needed), and afterwards we had a sushi lunch buffet like gluttonous Americans.
We still haven’t figured out if the “up to 21 days” time they list on their site is business days or not, but we (mostly me) were stressing out about this. You can’t call to find out about the status of your visa, and I had to assume that even though they knew when our flight date was, they didn’t care, so the week before we were supposed to leave, I was pretty stressed. We finally got a call from the Consulate that our visas were ready. This was on Thursday August 10 and they told us we could pick up our visas on August 14. Our flight was August 15. Yes, you read that correctly - we did not have our passports and visas until THE DAY BEFORE OUR FLIGHT. So that was fun. Best of luck to anyone doing this.
P.S. We used this translation site and got our docs within a couple days, total cost was under $200. Could it have been done for cheaper? Perhaps or maybe we could have done it ourselves if we were good at French, but we didn’t have everything 100% organized and ready to translate until the week before our appointment, so that’s what we did.