Whether you’re coming to France for a semester in an American program, or coming independently for a year or more, you’ll need to get a long stay visa at your local French consulate several weeks before you leave. Visa appointments at all consulates must be made online several weeks in advance, meaning you should plan ahead.

The visa requirements for France are very straightforward, especially for a student visa. In general, you must provide documents proving your acceptance to a university and show you have sufficient financial resources to live in France for a year.

To make an appointment, you must go to the website of your local French consulate and click on “Make a visa appointment.” A calendar will pop up and you will be able to make a selection from a list of available dates.

You should consider three things when making your visa appointment:

1) University admissions committees meet at the end of June.

This means that they will send out the acceptance paperwork you’ll need for your visa application in mid-July at the latest. Then, university offices close for about a month. You should receive this package sometime in late July, and you can’t get a visa before you receive it.

2) The French consulate recommends you make your appointment at least 3 weeks before you are scheduled to leave for France.

While in practice, it only takes them a few days to approve your visa and send your passport back to you, you should leave as much time as you can. Lots of students apply for visas to France during the summer for the fall semester, and there can be backups. Also, if they ask you to provide an additional document by mail or fax, this can delay your visa approval.

3) Depending on where you live, you may have to travel overnight to your French consulate.

All consulates require personal presence to issue a visa.

The requirements for a visa for France are as follows:

  • Passport with at least 2 blank pages, valid for at least 3 months beyond the end of your trip.
  • 2 passport-size photos.
  • Fee of 50€. (about $63)
  • Receipt from CampusFrance + 1 photocopy.
  • Completed OFII form + 1 photocopy
  • Acceptance letter from university with dates of attendance + 1 photocopy.
  • Financial Guarantee from your parents stating that they will provide you with at least $800 per month for the duration of your stay in France. They may ask for proof of your parents’ ability to pay, in the form of a bank statement or pay slips, so it’s a good idea to bring along some financial document. If you take out a student loan to cover your year in France, you can bring that documentation along as well. Note that this doesn’t actually require your parents to give you the money or prevent you from working while in France. The French government just wants to be sure you won’t be a ward of the French state.
  • If you’re not a US citizen, copies of your visa or green card.
  • Flight reservation + 1 photocopy.
  • Proof of accommodation for the first month + 1 photocopy.

The last two on the list are new since I last applied for a visa, and they seem a bit odd to me, especially since the consulate site reminds you elsewhere NOT to make travel arrangements until you have received your visa. In general, as long as you have all of your paperwork in order at the time of your appointment, you shouldn’t worry about getting your visa refused. I’ve made non-refundable reservations before scheduling a visa appointment, and never had any problems.

You should, however, make sure that your flight is scheduled at least 3 weeks after your visa appointment, just to be safe.

If you’re going to France with an American program, your school will usually find you housing and should be able to provide the necessary documentation.

If you’re coming to France with Paris Unraveled, we’ll make sure to provide you with acceptable proof of lodging in time for your visa application, even if we haven’t found your apartment yet.

If, however, you’re going to France completely on your own, it’s pretty near impossible to find a good, honest deal on an apartment from far away unless you have friends or family who can look for you. For the purposes of visa acquisition, the best thing is to reserve a bed in a hostel for a month online, so you have a printed receipt of your reservation. You can usually get a bed for about 10-20€ per night, which is less than what you would pay for one month’s rent in most studios.

Be sure to check the cancellation policy, to see if you can cancel the rest of your stay once you find a place to live, or whether you have to pay for the duration of your reservation regardless. Depending on the policy, you may have to pay for an extra night or two, but it will save you a lot of worrying about being homeless in France.