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 reach 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, adjusting to life abroad, to Paris travel itineraries. Click here to learn more.

Photo by Faisal Waheed on Unsplash

Why Study Abroad in Paris?

My first visit to France was with my family when I was thirteen. We were the classic sweaty tourists in late-July Paris, dragging ourselves from monument to museum. But I loved old buildings, narrow streets, and outdoor cafés — everything we walked by was tinged with foreign magic. And when we met French friends of my father who had a daughter my age, I knew I would be back.

I kept studying French and visited over a few high school summers, but I was waiting for study abroad so I could live in the city. It would be my chance to speak French until my accent didn’t mar my words. My chance to drink wine in cafés, take the métro to non-touristy neighborhoods, and meet real Parisians.

While I had a few specific reasons why I wanted to study in Paris, it was less of a rational choice and more of an emotional one. I’d been in love with the city for so long, that the thought of spending time there was a dream come true. Here are some of the more (and less) concrete reasons why I chose Paris:

To Speak French

The easiest way to get better at a language is to speak it, hear it, and live it. I already knew this from the time I’d spent with our French friends, and I also knew I needed more practice before I could be anywhere close to fluent. Since I’d started studying French in middle school, speaking it was a comfortable challenge — something I’d already made progress in and knew I wanted to keep working on. Of course, there are other study abroad programs in other French cities, so my other reasons for choosing Paris are specific to it.

To Spend Time in a Beautiful City

If I ever make a list of stunning cities, Paris will be near the top. The historic buildings, tree-lined boulevards, myriad gardens, the Seine cutting through the city and forming two surprise islands — it’s hard to argue against these aesthetics. What’s more, because it was built before cars were invented, Paris is highly walkable (assuming you’re measuring within the bounds of the périphérique). Even better, as you make your way through the city, each neighborhood has a distinct character.

To Learn More About French Culture

American media has a tendency to idealized French culture — carelessly beautiful women, artists in cafés with their endless cigarettes, fine wine, renowned food. It all adds up to a half-glamorous, half-bohemian lifestyle that had me entirely enthralled.

While the rational part of me knew French life couldn’t be this dreamy, I’d fallen for it years ago. What was most fulfilling about my study abroad experience was deepening my relationship — I took a course on architecture in which we toured the city and visited specific buildings. And another on theater where we read French plays before seeing them performed in a variety of venues. Rather than being on the outside of the city looking in, I was immersed in its offerings.

You Never Know What Will Happen

No, this isn’t the part where I say I fell in love with a Frenchman who is now my husband. My study abroad program had us take a single course at a French university while the rest of our school time was with the American cohort. This meant that we glommed together and spent most of our time wandering Paris and speaking English in a sort of extended tourist outing.

I was lucky in that I already had a two French friends, and I was able to tag-along to their truly “French” life. While I did spend a good amount of time exploring the city, I only lived in Paris for one semester — from September to mid-December. In order to have truly felt like I was committing to this adventure, I would’ve needed to stay longer. This is one of the reasons why I decided to move back in 2018 and have another go.

When I think back on my study abroad experience, it’s a distant blur. But I’m grateful for the way my French improved and all I learned about the city. And instead of worrying that I didn’t make the most of my time, I see my experience as a stepping stone to my current Paris life.

If you’re thinking about studying abroad in Paris, it might be helpful to make a list of reasons why you’re attracted to the city. Is it to speak French? To have access to its museums and rich cultural history? Or simply to go on an adventure? What’s your why for studying abroad in Paris?

Photo is from a French classroom which will be dramatically different from a US university setting. 🙂

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