(Editor’s note: This post about getting a long-stay visa for France through French lessons originally appeared on The American in Paris website. It’s reposted here with permission.)
While it would be nice if Americans were able to live in Europe visa-free, it’s not the case (one can dream that it will be someday, right?). If you’re from the United States and want to live in a country like France for more than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for a long-stay visa (known as the VLS-TS) first.
If you don’t have family or a French spouse, there are (to really simplify things) two ways you can live in France legally as a non-European – through work, or through school.
I’ve already touched on how to obtain a student visa for France, but this “hack” is for those of you who are more interested in improving your French skills rather than going to a university.
What type of French classes get you a Long-Stay Visa for France?
If you’re like me, you cringe at the thought of going back to school. Maybe you finished your undergraduate degree and thought to yourself “Never again!” Or, maybe you’ve gotten as far as your master’s or doctorate and there isn’t much university-level schooling out there for you. Or, hey, maybe after high school you decided to go straight to work.
As someone who never thought she would ever go back to school after my undergrad, I eventually did get my master’s degree here in France. But, that’s another story for another day. In between being an au pair and enrolling in my master’s program, I did one year of intensive French classes. And, those classes enabled me to get a long-stay visa for France.
For a bit of background, once I did ultimately decide to go for my master’s degree, I knew I needed to improve my French for a few different reasons. First of all, I wanted to be able to intelligently engage in a conversation with a French person. I also knew that in whatever master’s program I enrolled in, I would be required to understand, speak, and write at least basic French (a level I had not yet reached after living here as a nanny). Plus, if you want to go to a public French university as a foreigner, you need to prove that you have at least “B2” level French.
B2 refers to a level in the “Common European Framework of Reference” (CEFR) scale for languages. It is used to assess people’s language levels and ranges from A1-C2.
Here is a breakdown of the different levels for French:
- A1: Beginner
- A2: Elementary
- B1: Intermediate
- B2: Fluent
- C1: Advanced
- C2: Bilingual
To be honest, whether or not you want to continue on to a master’s or doctorate program, you should try to obtain at least a B2 level if you plan on living in France for an extended period of time.
The good news is, an intensive French language program will get you that student visa you’re after whatever level you’re at! Here is what is required:
- 18-20 hours per week (or more)
- The program has to be FLE accredited
Once you’ve found your dream program, you’ll have to go through the steps of applying for a student visa for French.
If you’re in Paris, I did the FETE program at Université Nanterre (yup, that Nanterre. Any other 20th century history buffs out there?). It’s located just outside of the city to the west. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in improving their French. The classes are a mix of speaking and writing as well as cultural classes. Field trips include visits to Parisian museums and landmarks, how cool is that? There is also a similar option at La Sorbonne.
If you’re not in Paris, simply take a look at the list of FLE accredited schools I linked above!
Some things to remember if you want to renew
If you plan on spending just one year in France and know that you won’t need to renew your visa, you can skip the next section.
If you already know that you’ll want to extend your time in France after one year, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- You need to pass the school year in order to renew. That means you’ll have to take school seriously. Attend all of your classes and study for your tests. Stay on good terms with your professors, as well.
- Make sure you have a plan for what you want to do next. Do you want to continue with intensive French courses until you’ve achieved C2? Do you want to enroll in university? Remember, for the latter, you’ll need at least a B2 level.
- Start gathering the paperwork you need to renew 4-5 months before the end of the school year. You’ll need to schedule your renewal appointment at least 3 months before your visa expires.
- As a general note concerning all French visas: keep everything. That means bank statements, cell phone bills, copies of your lease, or a letter from the person who is housing you saying that they are housing you. You’ll need all of this plus proof that you passed the school year.
Disclaimer: I’m not giving you permission to slack off or stop going to school if you don’t plan to renew your visa. My advice? Take advantage of the fact that you’re in France learning French. It’s the best way to learn a new language, and you’ll have the opportunity to speak French with actual French people. Don’t throw away an opportunity like that.
Molli offers private consultation services which range from help with visas, adjusting to life abroad, to Paris travel itineraries. Click here to learn more.
About the author:
Molli Sébrier has lived in Paris since 2014 when she decided to leave her American life behind and pursue her dream of becoming a writer. Since living abroad, Molli has earned her master’s degree in English Studies with a concentration in literature and is now working towards making that becoming a writer thing happen.
If you’re interested in following your own dreams of moving to France, she also offers consulting.
You can follow her journey on Instagram @mollim, and if you like to read, Molli runs a female-focused book review website called The Mistress of Books. You can also follow her website on Instagram @themistressofbooks.
See more from Dispatches’ France archive here.