EU nationals and citizens of Switzerland, Iceland and Norway need only a passport or national identity card in order to enter France and stay in the country. However, for nationals of the 10 new (in 2004) member countries, conditions for living and working in France vary from those for nationals of the original countries.
Citizens of Australia, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Israel do not need visas to visit France as tourists for up to three months; the same goes for citizens of EU candidate countries (except Turkey).
As a practical matter, if you don’t need a visa to visit France, no-one is likely to kick you out after three months. The unspoken policy seems to be that you can stay and spend your money in France as long as you don’t try to work, apply for social services or commit a crime. Being in a situation irrégulière is nonetheless illegal, and without a carte de séjour you can face real problems renting an apartment, opening a bank account and so on.
Carte de séjour
Once issued with a long-stay visa, you can apply for a carte de séjour (residence permit), and are usually required to do so within eight days of arrival in France. Make sure you have all the necessary documents before you arrive. EU passport-holders and citizens of Switzerland, Iceland and Norway do not need a carte de séjour to reside or work in France. Other foreign nationals must contact the local préfecture (prefecture) or commissariat (police station) for their permits.
Students of all nationalities must apply for a carte de séjour at the Centre des Étudiants Étrangers (13 rue Miollis, 15e, Paris; Cambronne or Ségur) in Paris. For more information see the Paris Préfecture website (www.prefecture-police-paris.interieur.gouv.fr in French).
Long-stay & student visas
This is the first step if you’d like to work or study in France, or stay for more than three months. Long-stay and student visas will allow you to enter France and apply for a carte de séjour (residency permit). Contact the French embassy or consulate nearest your residence, and begin your application well in advance as it can take months. Tourist visas cannot be changed into student visas after arrival. However, short-term visas are available for students sitting university-entrance exams in France.
Tourist (Schengen) visa
Those not exempt need a Schengen Visa, named after the agreement that abolished passport controls between Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. It allows unlimited travel throughout the entire zone within a 90-day period.
Applications are made with the consulate of the country you are entering first, or that will be your main destination. Among other things, you will need medical insurance and proof of sufficient funds to support yourself. See www.eurovisa.com for information.
If you enter France overland, it is unlikely that your visa will be checked at the border, but major problems can arise if you don’t have one later on.
Tourist visas cannot be extended except in emergencies (such as medical problems); you’ll need to leave and reapply from outside France when your visa expires.
Working holiday visa
Citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand aged between 18 and 29 years (inclusive) are eligible for a one-year, multiple-entry Working Holiday Visa, allowing combined tourism and employment in France. You have to apply to the embassy or consulate in your home country, and must prove you have a return ticket, insurance and sufficient funding to get through the start of your stay. Make sure you get in early with the application, as quotas apply.
Once you have arrived in France and have found a job, you must apply for a Temporary Work Permit (autorisation provisoire de travail), which will only be valid for the duration of the employment offered. The permit can be renewed under the same conditions up to the limit of the authorised length of stay.
The idea is to supplement your funds with unskilled work. You can also study or do training programmes, but the visa cannot be extended, nor turned into a student visa. After one year you must go home.