What should you know about getting your French long-stay visa?

Though some people cringe at the thought of going through the French visa application process, the experience need not be stressful. With some basic internet searches and a little common-sense preparation, you will be ready to do business with the folks at your “local” French Embassy, whatever your purpose for traveling to France may be.

I recently visited the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. to apply for my long-stay work visa. I had never gone through the visa application process before. My one-month study abroad in Montpellier, France during the summer of 2011 was through my home institution, the College of William and Mary, and I didn’t require a student visa. Here is a list of a few useful things to have in mind before leaving for your visa appointment:

  1. Don’t bother arriving at the consulate more than a half-hour early.

I arrived on foot more than an hour early for my 9:45 a.m. appointment and was instructed to wait just inside the gate until 9:15, at which point the guard checked my driver’s license and allowed me to pass through. I suppose the consulate’s rationale for this procedure is so that the waiting room doesn’t fill up too quickly. When I got to the waiting room, there were only a few people there; however, by 9:45 the room was packed and there were still people waiting who had arrived for their 9:00 a.m. appointment. I had expected to wait awhile for my appointment, so I was slightly surprised to leave as early as 11:15. If I had to do it again, I would book my appointment for 8:45 or 9:00– the earlier in the day, the quicker your application will be processed.

  1. Bring the OFII form.

Even if your consulate’s website doesn’t mention that you need to bring this form, the visa officer WILL ask you for it during your visa appointment. Make sure you fill out the top portion only, since the bottom portion is for you to mail in to the Office français de l’immigration et l’intégration during the first three months of your stay in France. Once in France, the office will request that you appear for an interview and medical exam. Also, print ALL the pages of the document, even though the last two don’t have any blanks for you to fill in. The visa officer will ask you for those as well.

  1. Make 2-3 copies of every document before you come to your appointment.

You need copies. However, if you forget them or need more once you’ve arrived at the consulate, there is a photocopier in the waiting room (at least this is the case at the D.C. consulate). Also, if you forget a document, the visa officers may be lenient about letting you have documents emailed or faxed to them that day. This was the case for one person in the waiting room with me, who was applying for a student visa. She called her institution abroad and asked them to email documents directly to the consulate so that she wouldn’t have to reschedule her appointment.

  1. Follow all directions on your consulate’s website.

This is the easiest way to make sure you’re not forgetting anything. Double-check instructions before you go to your appointment. The consulate has different procedures for each visa type. The teaching assistant visa seems to be the least complicated type, in terms of the number of documents required for the application.

For more information on how to schedule your visa appointment and what documents to bring, visit the French Consulate’s website: http://www.consulfrance-washington.org/spip.php?rubrique83

If you are a teaching assistant, you’ll find the 2013-2014 Assistant’s Handbook helpful, as well as the TAPIF Facebook page.

After you successfully complete your visa appointment, sit back and wait for your visa to be mailed back to you! This is the consulate’s preferred option; it’s less of a hassle than going to pick up your passport and attached visa in person. The consulate’s website says the visa processing time is normally 2-3 weeks, but my visa arrived in the mail six days after I applied for it at the consulate. Time for me to buy that plane ticket . . .