How to move to France long term: visa requirements
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If you are thinking about moving to France on a long term basis, to live for 3 months or more, then there are a number of steps that you will need to take. You will need to apply for a long stay visa for France, you will need to organise your accommodation and to arrange your health insurance coverage. Here we explain exactly what you need to do to make you move to France stress-free and easy.
People moving to France
During 2022, France issued over 300,000 residency permits to foreign nationals. This is a dramatic increase in immigration to the country, increasing by more than 50% since 2012. Whilst citizens from the former French colonies of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, make up the largest group of immigrants to France; people from other European countries also represented sizeable groups of incomers (8% from Portugual, 5% from the UK, 5% from Spain, 4% from Italy, 4% from Germany, 3% from Romania and 3% from Belgium
Foreign-born immigrants now make up 10.3% of the French population (7 million people). The Paris region host one of the largest concentrations of immigrants in Europe, with over 45% of people (6 million) either an immigrant (25%) or born to at least one immigrant parent (20%).
There are currently over 150,000 British Nationals permanently living in France, representing 0.2% of the French population. It is estimated that over 90,000 Canadians live in France and each year over 29,000 American citizens arrive in France on long stay visas (and the American ex-Pat community numbers nearly 200,000 people). Other significant groups include around 30-40,000 Swedish nationals residing in France, 5,500 Australians, 1,400 Kiwis and nearly 6,000 South Africans.
Before we dive into the key information for your move to France, we do need to clarify the whole issue of visas for France (because unfortunately, I don't think that this is common knowledge).
Do I need a visa to move to France in 2024?
This very much depends on how long you plan to spend in France and which country you will be travelling from. If you simply want to visit France for a holiday or stay for a couple of months, then you do not need a visa for doing so.
France has an agreement with around 50 or so countries which provides for visa-free travel for visits of up to 90 days. These countries include Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, the UK, Israel, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and many Latin American countries. If you are a passport holder of one of these countries, you are permitted to travel to France without a visa for 90 days within any 180 day period. So basically, after your 90 days is up, you cannot return for the next 3 months.
France is a member of the Schengen zone (along with 25 other European countries like Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, etc.). This 90 day visa-free travel applies to all of the countries simultaneously. So if you spend 90 days in France, you cannot enter any of the other 25 Schengen zone countries for the next 90 days. However, if you only spend 80 days in France, then you will still have 10 days left of your visa-free travel limit. However, it should also be noted that 90 days is the maximum limit for your visit. If you stay for 91 days or more, then your passport will be stamped as an 'over-stayer' and this could present you with problems when you next travel to Europe.
However, if you are looking to move to France for more than 3 months, then unless you are a citizen of an EU country, you will need to apply for a long stay visa for France.
Long Stay Visas for France
If you want to stay longer than 90 days at a time, then you will need to apply for a French long stay visa. The process is quite simple and only costs €99. There are 2 visa options:
- a temporary long stay visa if you plan to stay in France for between 3 to 6 months in a year;
- a long stay visitor visa which allows individuals to live in France. The visa is usually issued for a period of 12 months, but longer periods can be agreed;
The benefit of the temporary long stay visa is that you will not be classed as resident in France (and thus not obliged to complete a French tax return documenting your worldwide income). Normally the visa holder is not allowed to perform paid employment, although voluntary work and university placements are permitted. The one downside of this temporary visa however, is that it is not renewable at the end of the 6 month period. If you wish to extend your stay, then you will need to exit France and return to your home country and then apply for a 12 month long stay visa. I have been told that there is a potential option of applying for a long stay visa during your initial 6 month stay in France, but I have not been able to find any specific information about this route. I always advise our customers to go for the 12 month long stay visa option - mainly because the application process is the same and it provides you with much more flexibility.
To apply for a 12 month long stay visa for France you need to complete a simple online registration process (which you can find here: France visas) and provide 4 pieces of information:
- Provide a copy of a valid passport
- Show proof that you have long term accommodation in France
- Provide evidence that you have acceptable health insurance coverage in France for the duration of your stay
- Show proof that you have sufficient financial resources to live in France
Your visa application must be made between 30-90 days prior to your travel to France (it is not possible to apply for a long stay visa earlier than 3 months before your travel). The standard visa is a non-working visa. If you are looking to work or run a business in France, then there are special work visas available (although the application process is not straighforward). I always advise our customers who are looking to move to France, to firstly apply for a non-working visa and then apply for a residency permit (carte de sejour) once they have arrived in France. There are different categories of residency permits which allow you to work or run a business.
In our experience, once you have your information organised, the online application process is quite straightforward (usually it takes 5 minutes to fill in the online application). In some situations, you will be asked to attend an interview at your local French Consulate. The purpose of this meeting is to validate the information you have provided and to check that you will not be undertaking paid employment in France.
Below, I explain in more detail each of these 4 information requirements and then the visa application process.
1. A valid passport
Before you start applying for your long stay visa for France, you need to ensure that your passport is valid for at least 18 months (so a duration of 12 months to cover the visa + a further 6 months afterwards).
So the first step of moving to France is to check the expiry date of your passport. If your passport expires in the next 2 years, then you are probably best advised to apply for a new passport. If you are a family moving to France, then you need to make sure that all members of your family have sufficient time left on their passports before the expiry date.
Also, if you are in the fortunate position whereby you can qualify for a passport from another European country (for example, if you were born in Northen Ireland or if you have an Irish parent or Grandparent), then you would be strongly advised to pursue this option. The reason is that a European passport will exempt you from the visa requirements for France, as well as some of the health insurance regulations. You will also be able to take advantage of the 'freedom of movement' benefits which will enable you to work and set up a company in France.
2. Find your accommodation in France
The process of applying for a long stay visa for France is a bit back-to-front. To obtain a long stay visa for France, you need to sort out your accommodation before you submit your application. Yes, it is bit ridiculous to arrange your accommodation before you even know that your visa will be granted. But unfortunately, those are the rules.
There is some logic behind this bizarre process. So it could be argued that a visa applicant who has already lined up their rental accommodation in France is clearly showing that they are committed to moving to France (rather than it being a frivolous application). Furthermore, by having an address in France on the visa application, the French state will then log this property as the address that they can contact you at (should they need to).
Finally, in this day and age of people smugglers, modern slavery, health tourists and other dodgy goings-on, it basically means that France is accepting the right sort of visitors into the country.
Catch 22: renting a property in France
Personally, I think that it is a good thing that people rent in France before they take the leap and buy a property. It gives you time to look at different areas of France. You get to see France in the good weather months, as well as over the winter period (which may then cause you to re-think your preferred location). You also get to discover if France is really for you. It is one thing spending great family holidays in France, it is another thing living in France all year around, away from your family and the familiarity of your home country. In fact I have written a whole article about some of the issues I have seen when people make mistakes with buying in France (Checklist: pitfalls to avoid when buying a house in France). I would say that if you buy a house in France within 6 months of your arrival, you are either very brave or taking a huge risk. Just take your time. There will always be good properties available to buy in France. You will always find a bargain. You just need to be patient and pinpoint exactly where you want to live in France.
But be prepared, it is not as easy as you think to rent a property in France. That is why we have a business arranging long term rentals for international clients in France (I explain some of the issues with renting in France here: Renting property in France). But to cut a long story short, we can help you find a property to rent in France and provide a bilingual rental contract that will meet the requirements of your French long stay visa application. We also enable you to cancel the rental contract and have your reservation deposit returned, should your visa application not be accepted.
Our rental process is also very simple - all you need to provide is copies of your passport and some form of proof that you can afford the rent each month. You will see our full range of long term rental properties here: French long term lets and you will also be able to drill down into particular areas of France, type of properties, location and amenities, etc. If you need some particular help finding the right property for you, you can contact me directly: Iain Laverock.
I would however give you some pointers that will help you make it easier to find the right rental property in France:
- Arrive in France after the summer - a lot of the rental houses make their real money during the summer season. They are not going to be interested in you paying €800 per month if they can charge €1500 per week in July and August. If you want to rent for a full 12 months, then I would plan to start the rental in the Autumn (because the following summer will then be in the back of the mind of the Owner).
- Don't start your search too far in advance - it is very difficult for us to get Property Owners to commit to rentals more than 3-4 months in advance. Also, you cannot apply for your long stay visa for France until you are within 3 months of your intended arrival date. So whilst it is good to plan ahead - in this instance it doesn't actually help you (see Step 5 below).
- Limited choice - you are dealing with a very small niche market, especially if you are looking for a property that will rent for a full 12 months.
- Move quickly - if you find something you like, then take it. Yes we would all like to come and visit the property before we decide to rent it. But by the time you have arranged your trip, someone else could have rented the property. It is a very competitive rental market now in France.
- Must haves/Nice to haves - be very specific on what the rental property must provide and be prepared to be flexible on the nice to have elements. So for example, we all want to rent a property with a pool, but when you consider you will only be able to use it for 3 months of the year, you will end up paying a premium for it during the other 9 months. You also have to realise that a house with a pool in France can earn a minimum of €1800 per week for 10 weeks during the summer. So for the Owner, the starting point for negotiations on the annual rental amount will be €18,000
- Be prepared to pay more for the summer - you should expect to pay a premium for the months of June to September (possibly up to 50% more than the off season price).
- You are renting, not buying - I see this happen a lot. Basically, the rental property is just a temporary home. As long as it is comfortable, it doesn't really matter if the interior decor is not up to your personal taste. For your initial move to France, my advice is that the location is far more important than the house or apartment. The location will drive whether you have a good time or not. The house is really secondary. You could rent a beautiful house halfway up a mountain, but you will need to drive miles to find a decent restaurant or even a local shop. Or you could rent a modest apartment in a town surrounded by a bit of life, restaurants, markets, festivals, etc. The choice is obviously yours, but you don't want to start your first experience of living in France, by being in an isolated state. It just makes it that bit harder to fully integrate.
In terms of which areas of France are the best locations for you to live, you will find a lot more information in these articles: Best Places to Live in France, Retiring to France from the UK and Where to rent long term in France.
3. Set up your healthcare in France
If you are planning on moving to France (and to live here for more than 3 months at a time), then it is a legal requirement for you to have health insurance in place. Basically, France does not want to be stuck paying for the emergency hospital treatment of a foreign national. They want to know if the UK government will pick up the bill or a private insurer will pay for it.
You need to set up your health insurance coverage before you apply for your long stay visa. There are 4 different ways to arrange healthcare coverage in France:
- Private health insurance - you can arrange comprehensive private medical insurance to cover your stay in France. This could either be as part of your existing UK private health plan or you could take out a French private healthcare plan.
- Reciprocal healthcare - if you are in receipt of a state pension from the United Kingdom; then you can apply for an S1 certificate (or S2 certificate) from the HM Revenue and Customs in Newcastle. This will provide reciprocal health care coverage in France, based on the standard reimbursement rates set by the French State.
- Private-State health insurance - you can buy-in to the French state insurance scheme under the PUMa scheme
- State health insurance - you apply to join the French universal health care system and receive your Carte Vitale medical card
To understand each health insurance option and which one will suit your particular circumstances, you can read our comprehensive guide to Health Care in France. This also explains the process for applying for French healthcare insurance (Carte Vitale) and PUMa buy-in scheme.
The French health care system is widely regarded as the best in the World - and trust me, as someone who has had to use the system recently, it really is first class. I refer to it as a 'fully joined-up' system. You go to a Doctor with a specific complaint and they will test you for a full range of related conditions (to try and catch ailments before they progress). France spends 11.5% of its GBP on healthcare, it has one of the highest Doctor-to-Population ratios in the world and a high life expectancy rate of 79.5 years for males, 85.4 years for females. In France there is a universal health insurance scheme reimbursing 70% of medical costs for its citizens and long term residents.
In addition to the basic coverage that you need for the long stay visa application, you will find that most French people also take out an additional health insurance (called a Mutuelle) which covers them for the other 30% of your healthcare costs. You don't need to set this up before you arrive, but it is probably something to add to your admin list when you arrive in france (see Step 7 below).
4. Sufficient financial resources: income and/or savings
One thing that you do need to be aware of, is that as part of your long stay visa application process, you will need to show that you have sufficient and stable income. In France this is defined as being of a level which matches the French Minimum Wage (which as of 1 August 2022 is currently €1678.95 per month (gross), which equates to around €1329.05 per month (Net), after income tax and social contributions). This represents and annual gross income of €20,147. Please note that this applies to each individual, so a couple would need to show a combined net income of around €2,658 per month and for a family with 3 children, you will need to show a combined annual salary of around €60,441 per year.
The term 'income' is quite a broad category. So it covers both employment income and business income (if you are self-employed). It also includes retirment pension income and income from Trust funds. However, savings and investments are not technically classed as income.
The other consideration, is that the income not only needs to be sufficient, but you also need to prove that it is stable and consistent. So an Employment contract will show that the income is sufficient. Likewise, producing 2 years business accounts will also show a level of stability (especially if business revenues fluctuate). But what happens if you are moving to France and giving up your employment? What happens if your business is not portable?
In situations where an applicant is unable to demonstrate both sufficient and or stable income, applicants can use savings as a substitue for income. No figures are provided by the French Consulate service of what level of savings can be taken into account, but it is likely to be at least 5 times the annual minimum income requirement (so €1,329 per month net x 12 months x 5 years = €79,740). It should also be noted that the savings will need to be fairly liquid - so money in a bank account or investment account will qualify, but stocks and shares or property holidings may not be considered.
5. Apply for your French residency visa
A lot of the French visa application process has been transferred online, although in certain circumstances you will need to visit your local French Consulate in person.
It takes about 5 minutes to complete the visa application process (although assembling the supporting documentation may take longer).
- You need to access the visa application portal France- Visas
- You will need to complete the visa application form. This will need to be printed out and signed & date. The application form will ask you for your details (name, date and place of birth, etc) and also your reasons for travelling to France. You will also have to sign a declaration promising not to exercise any professional work activity in France (although you can continue to work in the UK). The original of the application form will need to be sent to the French Consulate (or their outsourced administrator), together with the application receipt number issued by France-Visas..
- You will need to provide a number of supporting documents;
- a scan of your passport. The passport needs to have been issued less than 10 years ago and contain at least two blank pages. The passport should be valid for the length of the long stay visa plus a period of 3 months beyond the date that you will leave France.
- 3 passport-sized photograph (see photo requirements Schengen visa)
- If you are not a national of your country of residence: proof that you are legally resident in that country (e.g. residence permit).
- 3 months of bank statements showing your full name and address, and proving that you have enough funds for the whole duration of the trip. If you are financially supported by your spouse/partner you will also need to provide a copy of your marriage certificate and the bank statements of your spouse/partner.
- Proof of accommodation in France (a rental agreement or an attestation d'herbergement signed by the Landlord) or if you own a property in France a copy of the Title Deeds of the house.
- a copy of your health insurance policy (which must cover all expenses for medical, hospital treatment and repatriation costs for medical reasons).
Your visa application must be made between 30-90 days prior to your travel to France (it is not possible to apply for a long stay visa earlier than 3 months before your travel). Once you have submitted your application via France-Visas, you will have a personal client area where you can follow the progress of the visa authorisation.
One thing that I really must advise you about, is if you are called for an interview at the French Consulate prior to getting your visa, then only tell them the essential information. Don't start going into the ins and outs of why you are moving to France. Just explain that you are 'going for an experience' or 'taking a Year out'. What your really, really must not do, is tell them that you will be working remotely in France or setting up a business in France. The reason for this is because the 12 month visa you are applying for is a non-working visa. If they get a sniff that you will be working remotely for your foreign-based company whilst in France, then that could open up a whole discussion around your Company having to pay French Social Charges for the working time you spend in France (as well as a whole raft of other unpleasant French bureaucracy).
Simply state that you will be returning to the UK from time to time to work or to run your business activities in the UK. I recently had a client who was a journalist and unfortunately she said too much and her visa application was denied on the grounds that she was a remote worker.
I hope that this has given you a good sense that it is still possible to make the switch to living in France. Most of the people I know here in France cannot believe their good fortune to be living in France. You will have bumps along the way, but the country is beautiful, the roads are amazing, the food is really good, the wine plentiful and the French just get investing in their sports, culture and heritage.
If you need assistance with planning your move to France and getting set up when you arrive, we are happy to recommend the services of French Expat Assistance (FEPA), a relocation agency run by Sarah MacGilchrist. Sarah has lived in France for nearly 40 years and has an in-depth knowledge of French administration. Her company is based in Brittany, France and she works with a network of partners who can help you with everything from applying for visas, setting up a business in France, opening bank accounts, arranging health insurance and completing your French tax return.
Sarah can be contacted by email at: