Ms Lounes, author of the Foolproof French Visas series of books, moved to Paris from America in 2009 after enjoying a year in France as part of her university course.
She taught English and enrolled on a course in a French university, realising the savings that could be made compared to $50,000/year fees at American ones.
“I wondered why more people weren’t doing it,” she said. “But the reason was one, you have to speak French, and two, it’s complicated to figure out everything you’ve got to do, for your visa, enrolment and housing etc.”
She started to blog about this, which led to her business (yourfranceformation.com) and books. She also became the main administrator of a 12,000-strong facebook group, Americans in France.
Biggest recent changes in visas are due to coronavirus and Brexit
On speaking in early 2021 Ms Lounes said coronavirus restrictions had caused the biggest recent change with regard to visas.
“A lot of the visa types are just not being processed – you can’t currently get a visitor visa to go to France.
“I talk about 22 ways to move to France in the book but less than half are open right now.”
Brexit is the other big change and she said it means Britons – other than those covered by the WA deal – will be treated the same as Americans now and will apply for the same visa types.
“What becomes more important than ever now is that you need to be clear on what your goal is and that you have an idea of what you want to do. It used to be that a British person could just show up in France – even come on vacation – and decide to rent or buy a house and just figure it out.
“You had a while to get paperwork in order so as to get into French healthcare, decide if you wanted to register as self-employed etc.
“There was no income threshold in order to stay. If you wanted to get a part-time job at the local café to pay your rent, you could do that. Now there’s going to be minimum income requirements and you can’t just move over to France for any job”.
Temporary visas - a viable option for second-home owners?
Asked whether temporary short-stay visas can be a practical solution for second-home owners wanting to stay more than 90 days, Ms Lounes said: “If they have the means, for example they already own their second home, it should just be a formality to get the visa but they will have to do this before they leave [the UK].
“They also have to realise that a temporary long-stay visa cannot be renewed or extended in France. If you’re on that you can’t just decide to stay on.” She added that slightly overstaying tends not to be treated as a “big deal” by border guards, though it may depend on the mood of the guard that day.
What is more likely is consistently overstaying could mean you being refused a visa at a later date.
Those not working need to show means to support themselves
“In terms of means they are looking to see if you have around €1,200 per month [of the planned stay],” Ms Lounes said.
It’s actually better if this is cash in the bank as opposed to income, especially if it’s income which is not guaranteed.
“The amount will be a bit higher if you’re going as a couple, but not twice as much – about €1,500. The other thing is that officials may not mind too much if you are slightly under the amounts if you own your own French home.”
Ms Lounes added: “Each individual has to have their own visa application, but family applications are linked and sometimes one person’s application is dependent on another’s (eg spouse).
“You list family members you’re travelling with.”
There is no in-depth interview
With regard to visa applications in the UK, where applicants take their paperwork to a firm to which the French consular service has outsourced this initial step, she said there is no in-depth interview.
“They just take the paperwork, they don’t know anything about what you need and can’t tell you if your application is good. They look at a checklist, but are not involved in deciding if your application will be approved.
“In case of queries, usually the consulate will email you. They might say ‘this health insurance isn’t the right kind because it doesn’t include repatriation’, or ‘can you send an extra bank statement’.”
Most visas for moving to France come under the heading of visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour (VLS-TS, which lasts a year without needing a residency card) but with different specifications, depending on eg. whether you are going to work, or will not be working and classed as a ‘visitor’.
Can you come to France to seek a job?
“People do it, but don’t really advertise the fact. You still need to go back to get the visa. And any company knows it has to go through the process of sponsoring you and it will be difficult for them to just hire you while you’re in France.”
It is important to have a plan
“There are around 15 different kinds of long-stay visa,” Ms Lounes said. You can be in any one of many categories, which determines what you can do. That’s why you need a plan as it’s hard to switch from one visa type to another. You do not want to come with a visitor visa if you intend on finding work or setting up a business.”
Asked if there is any way to get permission to work if you came on a visitor visa, she said: “You can’t, for sure, in the first year.
“You have to renew the visitor visa at least once [with a ‘visitor’ carte de séjour] and then a company that wanted to hire you would have to go through the same process as if hiring you from the UK.
“Or, say you decide that after all you want to be an auto-entrepreneur. Imagine you came in January 2020 and the visa expires in January 2021.
You make an appointment in October to renew your visitor visa at the prefecture – which, let’s say is in January 2021 and right on time. You may get the card around February or March.
You can then apply to change status, but that appointment may be in June. You go with your papers and then it takes up to three months to approve the change. So it’s a minimum of a year and a half before you could change.”
She said in terms of applying for the first carte de séjour, the key point is to apply before the visa expires.
“Generally people are asked to apply two to three months before expiry, she said, but depending on the prefecture the appointment given may actually be two to three months after the visa
has expired. They will send you a convocation document with the date and time.
“If you are a ‘visitor’ or are not planning on travelling, the convocation document is probably enough [to tide you over legally in France] for most purposes.
“But if you have to travel, your boss wants proof, or you’re on benefits at Pôle Emploi or equivalent, you can take the convocation and expiring card to the prefecture to get a récépissé extending the validity of the card to the date of the appointment. And when you go to that they give you another récépissé which will cover you for another three months or so until you can pick up the new card.”
Retirees would apply for visitor card
Retirees coming to France would usually have to renew a ‘visitor’ card annually at first. This is one of several kinds of visa/residency card that is classed as being of a ‘temporary’ nature, though it can be replaced by a 10-year ‘resident’s card’ after five years, under certain conditions.
“As long as you have your pension income coming in, there’s nothing stopping you renewing annually, though you will have to go to the prefecture every year,” Ms Lounes said.
“Generally speaking they won’t take the visitor visa rights away from someone who’s established here. I know Americans who’ve been retired here 15 years and still do that, but I know others who receive a 10-year card after the fifth year without even asking for it. It can depend on who is looking at your file.” Declaring your income and paying your taxes regularly in France will be one point they would look for, she said.
Those on visitor visas must not do any paid work, though rental income would be a possibility, she said.
There is some debate over whether it is possible to work remotely for a firm outside France, she said, however in practice this can cause complications with tax and social charge rules.
Working for yourself
Ms Lounes said many Americans come to work for themselves. “The advantage is there is no employer who has to sponsor you. You have to provide a business plan and your qualifications and show you know what you’re going to have to do to get up to the level of the Smic once you arrive.
“There are some question marks. For example until now UK qualifications would be an EU qualification but they may no longer be accepted as valid in France.”
Otherwise, especially for any ‘regulated’ professions (where an approved qualification is essential to legally undertake a role), you may need to put together a dossier about your work experience and qualifications, have it translated, and send it for approval to an appropriate professional body in France.
People seeking to come to set up a company need to go via the passeport talent route, which in this case requires a business plan and showing you have at least €30,000 to invest in it.
Firms will have to ‘jump through hoops’
“If you want to get hired by a French company the company will have to jump through some hoops,” she said.
Ms Lounes said other English-speaking nationalities are interested to see how Brexit will change the French work market. For example it used to be impossible for Americans to be ‘sponsored’ by French firms to come over to teach English because it was easier to hire a UK or Irish EU citizen, she said.
“In order to sponsor you [ie. support your bid to come to France to work for them] they have to prove that you have special skills and they couldn’t find someone who already has the right to live and work in France to do the job and they have to pay a tax to OFII [Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration] or around 55% of a month’s salary.
“For example, if a newspaper wants to hire an English-speaking journalist they would have to put an advert with Pôle Emploi and justify why they need an English-speaker and if it needs to be a native-speaker, why.
“They then have to submit to Direccte [a regional agency of the Work Ministry] all of the CVs of those who were rejected, as well as the profile of the chosen person, to justify why they have to hire them. And Direccte can reject it and say there are other suitable candidates, and can take two months to approve it.
“So you can’t just show up and get hired, it’s a longer process to get approved. Then you start the visa process.”
She said another option for employees is the ‘passeport talent’ route, a special kind of residency card. You have to have five years’ experience in your field or a masters and the [gross] annual salary must be at least €37,310, which is a high salary in France.
“That gets around having to get pre-approval from Direccte.”
She said decades ago Americans found it easier to find work with French firms eager to have native English-speakers, but once Ireland and the UK joined the EU, it was more difficult. They now wonder if the picture will change again.