This is where the process gets ugly or tedious or both.
It took some time for me to absorb the requirements of the long stay visa. I understood each item requested, but how to secure the requirement was another story. I am a logical thinker and I wanted this process to be logical. I had to let logic go. Au revoir.
My greatest tool in the process was the internet, thank goodness for Google.
An individual applies to a specific French consulate (in the US) depending on their state of residence. My visa application processed through Washington DC, so I referenced the Consulat général de France à Washington website. The following items are the key elements in an application for a long stay visa submitted in Washington DC. It is worth noting, these requirements can change depending on what geographic consulate a person aligns with in the US. (No need to comment further on the lack of logic.)
- Valid passport for a minimum period of 3 months beyond the last day of your intended stay.
- Proof of residence in the Washington DC jurisdiction.
- 2 long stay application forms.
- 2 photographs (like the ones for your passport)
- A statement explaining the purpose of your stay in France.
- A letter certifying you will not pursue work or employment in France for the duration of your stay.
- Top portion of the OFII form filled out (only available in French).
- Financial guarantee/statements of your bank accounts and investments.
- Proof of medical insurance with coverage of medical expenses up to $40,000 valid for the entirety of your stay in France.
- Rent contract for the entirety of your stay
- Processing fee
Without walking through each requirement, I will highlight the ones that made my head hurt.
Financial guarantees – I agree this makes sense, but what amount of assets/wealth is acceptable? Do the assets need to be liquid? Do assets need to be in a French bank account? The consulate site is silent on these questions and you can find conflicting answers on the web.
I handed just about everything over. It was unsettling. No one should see all that information except my financial advisor. I provided statements for the entire year up to the time of my visa appointment. At the time of my visa appointment, I had no French bank account. All assets were in US based accounts.
Proof of medical insurance – I quickly realized my current health insurance was not going to provide appropriate coverage in France. I needed to buy new insurance for the potential year abroad. An additional twist of a certified letter, signed by the insurer, guaranteeing specific elements in the policy was required.
It was possible to find the medical insurance needed for France. It was not as easy to find an affordable insurer willing to produce the required letter. I had the good fortune of reading a blog post by an American in Italy and being referred to a reputable insurance company.
Rental contract – I needed a fully executed lease in France for a specific address. Again, a one year lease for a stay in Paris, despite not knowing if I would have authorization to live in France. A considerable amount of money would be put forward and lost if the visa was not granted. I connected with an English-speaking real estate brokerage through referral and my hobby of browsing Paris real estate. They were extremely helpful.
A few items to keep in mind when leasing an apartment in Paris:
- There does not appear to be advance planning in Parisian real estate. Apartments are rented just in time. Well, the ones facilitated through brokers are handled this way. Signing the agreement and transferring the money takes a few days, but if you are looking in a particular month, the brokers assume you want to rent in that month. I would have had more of a selection if I visited in December or January for a lease starting in January. However, I would not have the rental contract to submit with my visa application in October.
- The requirement of a French bank account to lease an apartment is standard. In order to secure a bank account, several months of French utility bills are needed (in addition to other things). How can you have a utility bill if you do not have an apartment in which to live? How can you have an apartment in which to live if you do not have a bank account? I managed to avoid this cycle by dealing with a broker who helped me navigate the process. I will have to set up a French bank account, but I did not do it in advance of leasing an apartment.
With my visa requirements in order, I headed to Washington. Appointments for visa interviews are scheduled online through the consulate. I booked my appointment roughly six weeks in advance and I had a good selection of dates and times in the window that worked for my plans. Appointments at the consulate may be scheduled up to 90 days prior to planned travel. The decision on a long stay visa (from the French consulate in Washington) takes anywhere from two weeks to two months.
The “interview” was simply handing over documents, recording fingerprints, a headshot picture and paying the processing fee. The consulate professionals spoke English and were very friendly. Each visa applicant is scheduled for one hour of time; my entire process took about forty minutes.
I received my approval in a week!