How to Get a Long-Stay Visa for France Through French Lessons

While it would be nice if Americans were able to live in Europe visa-free, it’s not the case (one can dream that it will be someday, right?). If you’re from the US and want to live in a country like France for more than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for a long-stay visa (known as the VLS-TS) first.

If you don’t have family or a French spouse, there are (to really simplify things) two ways you can live in France legally as a non-European: through work or school. 

I’ve already touched on how to obtain a student visa for France, but this “hack” is for those of you who are more interested in improving your French skills rather than going to a university.

What Kind of French Classes Get You a Long-Stay Visa for France?

If you’re like me, you cringe at the thought of going back to school. Maybe you finished your undergraduate degree and thought to yourself “Never again!” Or, maybe you’ve gotten as far as your master’s or doctorate and there isn’t much university-level schooling out there for you. Or, hey, maybe after high school you decided to go straight to work.

As someone who never thought she would ever go back to school after my undergrad, I eventually did get my master’s degree here in France. But, that’s another story for another day. In between being an au pair and enrolling in my master’s program, I did one year of intensive French classes. And, those classes enabled me to get a long-stay visa for France.

For a bit of background, once I did ultimately decide to go for my master’s degree, I knew I needed to improve my French for a few different reasons. First of all, I wanted to be able to intelligently engage in a conversation with a French person. I also knew that in whatever master’s program I enrolled in, I would be required to understand, speak, and write at least basic French (a level I had not yet reached after living here as a nanny). Plus, if you want to go to a public French university as a foreigner, you need to prove that you have at least “B2” level French. 

B2 refers to a level in the “Common European Framework of Reference” (CEFR) scale for languages. It is used to assess people’s language levels and ranges from A1-C2. Here is a breakdown of the different levels for French:

  • A1: Beginner
  • A2: Elementary 
  • B1: Intermediate
  • B2: Fluent
  • C1: Advanced
  • C2: Bilingual

To be honest, whether or not you want to continue on to a master’s or doctorate program if you plan on living in France for an extended period of time, you should try to obtain at least a B2 level. 

The good news is, an intensive French language program will get you that student visa you’re after whatever level you’re at! Here is what is required:

Once you’ve found your dream program, you’ll have to go through the steps of applying for a student visa for French. I’ve mapped out everything you need to know here.

If you’re in Paris, I did the FETE program at Université Nanterre (yup, that Nanterre. Any other 20th-century history buffs out there?). It’s located just outside of the city to the west. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in improving their French. The classes are a mix of speaking and writing as well as cultural classes. Fieldtrips include visits to Parisian museums and landmarks, how cool is that? There is also a similar option at La Sorbonne

If you’re not in Paris, simply take a look at the list of FLE-accredited schools I linked above!

Some Things to Remember if You Want to Renew

If you plan on spending just one year in France and know that you won’t need to renew your visa, you can skip the next section.

If you already know that you’ll want to extend your time in France after one year, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You need to pass the school year in order to renew. That means you’ll have to take school seriously. Attend all of your classes and study for your tests. Stay on good terms with your professors as well.
  • Make sure you have a plan for what you want to do next. Do you want to continue with intensive French courses until you’ve achieved C2? Do you want to enroll in university? Remember, for the latter, you’ll need at least a B2 level.
  • Start gathering the paperwork you need to renew 4-5 months before the end of the school year. You’ll need to schedule your renewal appointment at least 3 months before your visa expires.
  • As a general note concerning all French visas: keep everything. That means bank statements, cell phone bills, copies of your lease, or a letter from the person who is housing you saying that they are housing you. You’ll need all of this plus proof that you passed the school year. 

Disclaimer: I’m not giving you permission to slack off or stop going to school if you don’t plan to renew your visa. My advice? Take advantage of the fact that you’re in France learning French. It’s the best way to learn a new language, and you’ll have the opportunity to speak French with actual French people. Don’t throw away an opportunity like that.

Molli offers private consultation services which range from help with visas and adjusting to life abroad to Paris travel itineraries. Fill out the contact form to learn more.

Photo by Faisal Waheed on Unsplash

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15 thoughts on “How to Get a Long-Stay Visa for France Through French Lessons

  1. Bonjour Molli,

    This August it’ll be my first time to re-apply (some say you cannot just renew) my Long Stay Visitor Visa. A French woman once mentioned that it’s not an easy thing to do, is it true??

    Does that mean by going to a French class will make the re-application for my visa easier??

    I’m working on getting into a French class via “Cours d’Adultes” by Mairie de Paris, I missed the registration deadline for last semester in 2021, this semester starts this week on Feb. 10 and I don’t know if I’m officially accepted yet. (I didn’t know that class until coming to France, and hence missed the deadline. People say refugees have the first place, and there are so many of them every year)
    In case if I only take a semester (4-month-long, 2 semesters per year) of French class, or even none for my first year staying in France, will it make it difficult for me to re-apply for my visa??

    Merci beaucoup! =)

    • Thanks for reading! My first question would be, how did you get your Long Stay Visa the first time around? Was it for school, work, to be with a family member?

      If you choose not to take any sort of classes it wouldn’t make renewing your visa more difficult (unless you’re here on a student visa), but if you do, it’s just one more piece of evidence to show at the prefecture that you’re trying to integrate into French culture, which is always a good thing!

      • Bonjour Molli,

        When I first applied, I told them my goal was to immigrate to France; but in the first 2-3 years I’ll focus on learning French. They said long stay visitor visa is the only one I could apply for.

        I registered the French class of Cours d’Adultes by Mairie de Paris and went for the interview this week. Somehow the teacher only took in my application without interview or taking notes as he did for others, and he alone decides who may attend the class! Another teacher there once told me refugees & those who need to work are their top priority. I was treated obviously unfairly on interview; but no staff at that public school (Alésia) spoke English and my guess is no need to file a complaint for that to the school, or to Mairie de Paris!

        In the article you recommend 2 schools to learn French outside the ring of Paris, are they expensive???? 4 months of Cours d’Adultes by Mairie de Paris is €300, and it’s a bargain to me….

        • I understand, but that still doesn’t answer my question 🙂 You can’t be approved for a visa simply because your goal is to immigrate to France! Are you working here? Are you in university? Is a family member here for either of those things and you’re here on a VPF visa?

          When you renew your visa, you’ll have to provide proof that you have been doing what you originally came to France to do: proof that you’ve worked, gone to school, or lived with a family member – it all depends on what you were originally approved to do here.

          As far as the price of the schools I reference, you’ll have to visit their websites to find out more about their prices. 300 euros for 4 months of classes is a steal – you’re right!

          • Bonjour Molli,

            No, it was all what I told them upon my application….I wish to immigrate to France and learn about the beautiful French culture! The only restriction I was told was I would not be able to work in France.

            Without a study, work or family in France, does it mean it will be more difficult for me to re-apply for long stay visitor visa??

            Also, everyone needs to leave France to re-apply for visa of all kinds, right!?
            I came from the States, no more have a home in the States, what is the nearest country for me to go to for re-applying my visa?

            Merci beaucoup!

          • I see – I missed the “visitor” in your question. Sorry about that! No, you shouldn’t run into any difficulties renewing your visitor vias as long as you can prove that you can financially support yourself. You can renew in France, as long as you do so before your current visa expires. If your visa expires you need to leave France ASAP and return to your home country (where you hold citizenship). Even if you don’t have a physical address in the US anymore if you are a US citizen you would have to return to the States to reapply. If you are a citizen elsewhere, you would need to return there. Hope this helps!

  2. Bonjour Molli,

    Merci for the info! “You can renew in France, as long as you do so before your current visa expires.” sounds too good to be true to me. Just one more question……

    How much of “fairness” do public services in France practice with??
    It was obviously a discrimination against my interview for my French class application! I sent inquiries (translated in French) either in person or in email to La Poste, Société Générale, BNP Parisba, Office Depot France….none of them bothered to reply! So, I guess there is no need for me to file a complaint to Mairie de Paris about being discriminated on my interview??

    Merci beaucoup!

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  6. I realize I am a little late to this party but I was wondering what the best way to obtain a long term French visa is. I am a 33 year old secondary school teacher who has a Master’s in education from an American University. My American dad has recently retired to France (Montpelier) with a retiree visa. And perhaps most important is my girlfriend lives in Rueil-Malmaison. I am thinking that I should try to get into a French intensive language program but they will not be accepting applications for sometime. Any suggestions you could give me on these topics would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Christopher, I would suggest that you wait it out and enroll in an intensive French language program. You could try to apply to a French university if you’re keen to go for another master’s degree or even your Ph.D., but you do need to have a B2 French level in order to be accepted into a public university as a foreigner. You could also try to do this through a public university without any language requirements, but it is a lot more expensive. That said in both of these situations you’ll have to wait to be able to enroll for the fall semester as well, or perhaps you could find a summer program. This may not be the answer you were hoping for but I hope this helps!

  7. Hello:
    Bit of a problem, we sold our US house, and applied for long stay visa, but will not have an official US address, but a forwarding address to our property in France. Can I use my French address as the applicants address?

    • Thanks for reading, Sten. Using a French address as your current address on your visa application will likely pose a problem as the government will assume you currently live there. I would suggest asking a trusted friend or family member if you can use their address for visa purposes. I hope this helps!

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