Patience and forward planning are needed by those seeking French visas for long stays in France, a French-based visa consultant told The Connexion.
You may also have to resort to some technical workarounds to book, if errors crop up.
In view of many recent reader reports of difficulties in the UK – in particular with booking appointments at the TLScontact centres which people are required to take paperwork to – we asked for tips from visa expert Ilya Zlokazov who helps non-EU citizens to move to France.
We have so far not had any response to our queries from TLScontact in the UK, the French consulate or Foreign Affairs Ministry as to recent difficulties.
Emails received this week refer to struggles with the “creaking website” and “execrable IT system”, however readers have described staff at the centres as “helpful” during appointments when they were obtained.
Booking to visit one of the three TLScontact centres in the UK is the second step of a visa application for UK residents who do not have EU nationality, the first being an online application at france-visas.gouv.fr. Post Brexit, Britons use them either when moving to France or to stay at second homes for more than three months.
Problems reported around the world
Mr Zlokazov, of Zlokazov & Company, said people around the world often report problems with the IT systems used by TLScontact. He said TLS and VFS (used in the US, for example) are the main two companies used by the French government, with VFS also “not great”, but better, perhaps because it is a bigger company.
TLScontact in the UK is used by several European countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, but prior to Brexit it only processed applications from non-EU, non-British nationals.
Mr Zlokazov said: “I guess that the underlying issue is that the French consulate in London [which processes visa applications from the UK after paperwork has been taken to TLS] has only a certain set capacity of people who can process visas and I think they give the visa centres a quota so they can accept only so many appointments per month.
“So, in my opinion, this is not the fault of TLS since they are guided by the consulate. But their website is not perfect and this is their fault.
“It is very uncomfortable to use and to make an appointment we may have to try several times.”
It can also be difficult to get hold of someone who can help, he said, with response to emails by TLS varying from “immediately” to “three months”, and calls being taken by call centre staff who can give general information but not “take responsibility”.
He added that it is likely that demand in the UK has increased “dramatically” since Brexit and the consulate has probably increased staffing slightly but insufficiently. He also understands that the TLS visa centres reduced staffing during the pandemic and they are not yet back to full previous capacity.
Apply in plenty of time
Visa applications can only be submitted online no more than three months before your planned departure date to France, however Mr Zlokazov advises starting the process before this – up to six months before departure – to avoid last-minute technical issues or a lack of appointments.
You can do this, he said, by starting a visa application on the official France-Visas site so as to obtain an application number, but then saving this application and not finishing it immediately. You can then use this application number to check for appointment dates on the site of TLScontact to look out for the best date for you and book one at your convenience.
You would have to time this process, however, so that if you book one of the appointments it will not fall before you have finished off and filed the online application on the France-Visas site.
He added: “There are fluctuations in visa requests. Normally, starting from May to early September, it's the high season and it’s often very difficult and even impossible to get an appointment by then.
Mr Zlokazov said those willing to travel to Edinburgh often find that this centre has the most availability, even in high season. London is usually the busiest.
“I know it can be very annoying, but you have to check the sites every day to see if an appointment has become available.”
Top tips for getting an appointment
His other tips for visa applicants are as follows:
- Sometimes the TLScontact website requires you to use a new email address compared to one used for a previous application and to create a new account. If so, create one in whatever way is convenient (Google’s Gmail, for example, is a popular choice).
- There have been cases where it will not accept your passport number, especially if you recently tried to book on a previous occasion but something went wrong, or if you recently were turned down for a visa and are reapplying with extra paperwork. In this case he said TLS told him to try changing a figure in the passport number so the system accepts it.
- If you experience problems with your access to the site being blocked this may be just a temporary issue, but if it persists it may be possible to solve it by using a different source of internet connection, or a different device that is connected to the internet via a different source.
Mr Zlokatov said: “In my case, I have two internet routers from different providers. Rebooting one does not always help, but using the other one can give me access to the website.
“In some countries, it can be difficult to secure appointments, and certain agencies resort to using bots. I'm not sure if this is the case in the UK, but it could be a reason why some people are blocked.”