Which Long Term Visa to Pursue: Visitor or Profession Libérale?

Often when people schedule a consultation with me about the profession libérale visa, they do so convinced that this is the right path for them, but on more than one occasion, after asking the right questions, I’ve helped them understand that what they should probably do is obtain (or renew) a visitor visa instead.  This original misapprehension is due in part to an unclear understanding of immigration and the visa process in general, and other times it’s due to a lack of clarity as to the why and how of the client’s projected time and future in France.  So this article is a hopeful corrective to the confusion about which visa to get.

In brief, I characterize “visitor” status as easy, option-oriented, but repetitive, and “profession libérale” status as all-in, with a path to citizenship, but challenging, as it involves starting an actual business.

Visitor

People consider it a “hassle” to show up once a year with a predictable and easy list of paperwork so that you can continue to legally live in a country in which you have no citizenship.  But it’s not a hassle.  It’s pretty easy once you get used to it, and it becomes something seasonal, like putting up Christmas decorations.  It’s a chore, but you’re so happy when it’s done.

Visitor status does not provide a path to citizenship.

Visitor status requires you to file taxes, even though your visa status ensures you won’t be paying taxes.

Visitor status gives you access to the EU, as you are a French resident.  Technically you should be in France the majority of the calendar year, but the French have no real way to verify this, and don’t really care, as long as you fulfill your legal requirements.  I know of someone who lives in Malta most of the year, but for some reason has chosen to have French visitor status and flies in for his prefecture appointments.

Visitor status allows you, after the first renewal, to switch to another visa, at any time.  You’re not stuck with this status forever.  If at any point you want to wind things up, simply leave France.  No additional paperwork required: you’ll just expire out of the system.

Profession Libérale

Profession Libérale status (not to be confused with “auto-entrepreneur,” which is a tax classification, not an immigration status and hereafter PL) was a dream fit for me for a number of reasons: I’m a veteran business owner, I want French citizenship, and I wanted the possibility of a multi-year card.

People get very interested in this visa status because of the citizenship path but ignore or downplay that you have to start and validate a business.  This means you will enroll in a number of French agencies that will continue to bill you forever. This includes your social charges, health care charges, and your pension, to say nothing of taxes.  Visitor status is just about obtaining the right to live in France, whereas PL is about living AND working, and the paperwork is correspondingly more onerous, both in application, verification, and renewal.

If at any point you decide this (by “this” I mean France or running a business) isn’t for you, you’ll need to close your business, close down your bank account, and de-register at all the agencies you are registered at, which otherwise will continue to bill or charge you indefinitely.  It also means that your visa will expire at the end of your current term.  In that sense, it’s not as traumatic as a traditional work visa, in which you lose your residency rights within 60 days of losing your job, but it does mean that unlike a Visitor visa, a PL visa is connected with something other than your simple will and desire to live in France: it relies on your ability to maintain and keep a business, which is an entirely different set of skills from obtaining a basic visa or having a “regular job.”

Now, if you already have a successful or growing business/freelance career, you would simply start billing your clients through your French entity and such pressures are obviated.  Otherwise, if you are starting a business from scratch, you add the pressure of business startup to an immigration visa.

Whatever visa you decide to pursue, remember to banish panic and fear and replace it with knowledge and calm.  This process is only as scary as you let it be.

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51 thoughts on “Which Long Term Visa to Pursue: Visitor or Profession Libérale?

  1. Hi Stephen, always good to read your posts. Following your advice, my daughter has opted for moving to the UK instead of France, for the english education it offers with resultant wider global options. Thank you again for meeting with us in 2016, she made the move in 2017. God bless, always good to hear from you.

  2. Hey Stephen,

    Great post as always. I’ve been curious – if you’re on a profesional liberale visa can you enrol in university? I assume there is no restriction.

    • Yes. Usually the student visa gives someone legal residence so they can be here long enough to go to school, but if you already have legal residence, you’re free to enroll and don’t need to bother about that visa.

  3. Pingback: How to get the Profession Liberale Visa (the basics) | The American in Paris

  4. Hi Stephen! Great post. I’m curious as to why you did not mention the « passeport talent » visa? It seems like a nice medium between PL and Visitor, but I could be totally wrong as there is not much info online. Do you have any good references to read more about the « passeport talent » visa when applying as an American?

    -Julia

    • Julia – I don’t mention that visa because it’s nonrenewable and it’s wonky. You need to put together a compelling dossier and only two of the people I’ve ever worked with actually were interested in and obtained it. It’s a “I’m here in France for three years and then I’m leaving” visa and since this blog has always been concerned with making a life in France, I consider it in the au pair and student categories: temporary situations.

      • Hey Stephen! Thanks for the quick response. Interesting, the wording is really tricky then because the Service-Public website says: “Elle est valable 4 ans maximum et renouvelable.”

        -Julia

  5. Bonjour Stephen!
    This is great information, thank you. I do have one clarification question. You say that you are not stuck in the Visitors visa and you can change at any time. As a 15 year business owner here in the US, i’m planning on starting a new business in France with my partner who is a French Citizen. We are not quite ready to form the company yet but will be in about 6- 8 months. I’m planning on relocating in May/June of this year. Would you recommend a Visitors Visa first and then transition to the PL?
    Merci!

  6. Hi Stephen –

    Super helpful blog. Thanks for doing this. I can vouch for a lot of what you’re saying as I currently have the Profession Liberale visa and just got approved for the Carte de Sejour. I’ve been in France for a year now and I’m also newly PACS’d with my partner. I came across info regarding the Carte de Sejour “Vie Privéee et Familiale”. Do you have any experience with transferring onto this Carte de Sejour (challenges and/or differences with the Profession Liberale one?).

    Thanks in advance for any info!

  7. I have been on a cdj visiteur for the past 2 years and I am moving into my 3rd year . I can get a 10 year card after 5 years and apply for citizenship immediately afterwards right?

    • Not at all Ariya. You need 5 years of paying taxes as one of the conditions of applying for citizenship. Visitor status is not a citizenship path. It’s just a resident path. You can get a ten year card, sure, but you can’t apply for citizenship without paying taxes here, which means you need to change your visa status to one where you pay taxes.

      • I own an apartment and apart from tax fonciere and d’habitation . And I am planning on declaring my taxes in France from this year onwards. So, despite the fact that I can’t work here , I am planning on visiting a fiscalist who can help me declare my tax forms so I have proof of that. I am residing in Nice . As you know in Nice , the conditions are not as strict as Paris. They accept 3 years of tax payment as well . By paying taxes, you are referring to income tax only right?The declaration of tax forms of the last 3 years prior to citizenship application wouldn’t suffice?
        Thanks for your blog in advance

        • You are required to file taxes regardless of whether you plan to apply for citizenship. I repeat, visitor status is not a path to citizenship, otherwise I would not have gone through the trouble to change visas. Visitor status is one of the easiest to get and maintain.

          • So you mean even by possessing a permanent residence and filling out the CID forms , they will reject your file because your title was labelled as “ visiteur”? Is there any other way of paying taxes whilst possessing this status? Subletting your apartment or …? Because both My mother and my sister and I possess this status and I don’t think it would be plausible to change the status of the three of us together, right? There has to be a way around this ! I don’t know how I can propose a business plan to persuade the prefecture to grant us profession liberale .

  8. So just to be clear , after getting your resident card and filling out CIR forms and filing for citizenship, they will reject your file based on not having had an income in France and therefore no income taxes to be paid right?

          • Stephen, I understand that there is an exception here if you enter France as an already retired person on a CDS temporaire (visitor) and then renew the CDS at the Prefect in one year installments for 4 additional years, the person can then qualify for the 10-year residency and is also eligible for naturalization path to French citizenship.
            As a US citizen with retirement income sourced exclusively from the US (pension, SS, 401s) you file for and pay US income taxes but under the US-France tax treaty you are generally exempt from paying French income tax to avoid double-taxation on your US-based retirement income. However, you still need to fill out the necessary French tax paperwork to declare your US-based retirement income and claim the exemption.

          • David – the assertion is made in this article about retirees getting citizenship, but I simply don’t see any proof of that in the article. I’m not saying it’s not possible; I’ve just not met a single retiree in France who’s done that, and I’ve met dozens. Many of them don’t even have a ten year card, because they can’t pass the A2 language exam necessary to gain that card.

  9. Hi Stephen! Really amazing information here, thank you so much for your generous posts. Clear, concise and easy to follow, for the most part.

    Question please, I am hoping to move to France by next year. I have an existing small business as a global coach (which I plan on bringing with me) but also want to study the language full time And enroll in a school. So this may be obvious, but would I shoot for the “Profession Liberale” visa? Even if the income could be quite low? (It is a changing business so I don’t really know)

    As if I were to try for a student visa I am not able to work…? Is my understanding.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanking you in advance and I look forward to reading more!

    Alicia

    • Alicia actually a student visa allows you to work up to 20 hours a week.

      As long as the business can bring in at least 15-20k a year you’ll successfully renew. If you don’t think you can get it up to that in time, why not just get a student visa and keep your coaching business as a US based entity?

  10. Great advice Stephen, thank you! Only thing is I can’t be a student forever…

    So you are saying that if the business can bring in 15-20k, annually on consistent basis, should be no problem with applying for PL visa? (Self employed). And is it still considered a US based business, registered in the US?

    I need both! Let’s say I apply as student for over 6 months to a year. Working 20 hours a week…am I able to apply for a PL visa while still in France After that time period? Or will I need to return to the US to apply since it’s a different visa..? ( side bar, have alternative income not related to my coaching business does not count? Or could help? Showing sufficient funds??)

    Thank you again!

    • Alicia

      Your US based business has nothing to do with the French. They have no power to stop you from earning money in other parts of the world, legally or morally.

      The question for Profession Liberale is regarding a FRENCH business. You will have to make 15-20k (in euros) per year in order to keep a Profession Liberale visa.

      You can change status while a student to different visa classifications, including Profession Liberale.

      As far as the “alternative income” – the French don’t care how you have access to funds to sustain yourself as your Profession Liberale business gets off the ground, just that you have funds. I sent you an email on this.

  11. Hi Stephen!
    I’m interested in becoming a freelance English teacher in France and not sure what visa to apply for since I would technically be self employed. I’m currently teaching (and a resident) in Germany and was also wondering if it’s even possible to apply for a visa from here.
    Thank you!

  12. Pingback: How to Get a Long-Stay Visa for France Through French Lessons | The American in Paris

  13. Hello! Thank you for this guide. I’m a freelance graphic designer, I work remotely – but am paid by a production payroll company. Which route would you recommend I take ? I’d be interested in citizenship but almost want to go the visitor route to make sure I want to commit fully to the country. Being that I don’t have my own business per se, but also can work as a graphic designer via Freelance and Fiver. Just unclear as to how to approach this, please advise.

          • What taxes? Because I can’t and haven’t worked in France so I don’t pay taxes. Do you mean tax foncier and tax d’habitation?

          • Ariya

            France, like the United States, requires its fiscal residents to FILE taxes every year, even if you don’t OWE taxes. I think there is an amnesty in which you can file for multiple back years with the French (the US only require the last three, I think, when you try to get back on track with them…ask an accountant to be sure) but you have absolutely ZERO chance of getting a carte de resident until you’re holding five years of tax returns in your hands.

            If you read the articles on this site I frequently explain the need to file taxes and how valuable those tax returns are as administrative documents.

            Again, owing taxes is not relevant here. It is filing them that matters.

  14. Thank you so much for this information, I’ve learned so much from reading your responses to the other questions! I have an art business that I operate with my partner. If he is a part of the business do we need to earn double the annual requirement or does he need a separate visa all together? Thanks again! Katherine

    • There’s no “five year,” I’m guessing you mean the ten year card. But a ten year card isn’t a path to citizenship. You need to be a tax-paying citizen and as a visitor you’re only a tax-filing citizen. I’m happy to be proven wrong but I don’t know anyone who has obtained citizenship on a visitor visa.

  15. Hi Stephen, all reading this.

    Does anyone have any suggestions of bonafide european health insurance companies which offer affordable cover to meet minimum visitor visa requirements of 30,000 euros? I’ve come across various fake sites and all the real ones seem to cover up to 1000,000’s and charge a fortune!? Any suggestions very welcome! THanks

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