Which Long Term Visa to pursue: Visitor or Profession Liberale?

Often when people schedule a consultation with me about the profession liberale 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 its 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 liberale” 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 Liberale

Profession Liberale status (not to be confused with “autoentrepreneur,” which is a tax classification, not an immigration status) 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 Profession Liberale 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 Profession Liberale 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.

Three Years On, Part I: Penseés for those planning to move to France

Next month I begin my fourth year in Paris.  I wanted to use the milestone to share some reflections on how I have changed and ongoing tips on how to make the move yourself.  This is the first in a series of four.

I’ve successfully obtained two different classes of visa, long-term visitor (part one and two, and renewal) and independant, also known as profession liberale (part one and two).  It’s been really gratifying to get mail from readers who simply printed out those articles, followed them to the letter,  and got visas. Indeed, I spent so much time researching and documenting the process that I now offer paid consulting services (in person and via skype) to those seeking these visas, and refer those seeking other types of visas to professionals I have grown to know and trust.  Today I want to share, in broad strokes, just a few of the points I touch on when speaking to readers who use my consulting services.

What is a scouting trip?

This is the chance for you to take off your tourist hat and visit Paris as a possible resident.  You go to visit apartments that are in your price range to rent, even if you aren’t going to be in town for a while.  You meet with people who work in your industry (if you have a job) or meet with business owners in your field (if you’re an entrepreneur).  You go to Meetups and Coworking spaces to build a network and get to know the city a bit.  If you need a bit of assistance here, use Shapr.  And yeah, take a daytrip and/or a trip to a nearby country to remind yourself of what’s at your doorstep when you live in this gem of a city.

What is the number one mistake made by those coming to Paris for the first time?

Not having your housing situation locked down.  In fact a friend of an acquaintance showed up and was living in hostels and airbnbs, and was completely clueless as to just how tight this market was (and is), and after 45 days of searching and applying to over 2 dozen places, gave up and went back to her country.  To be fair, I think she came for a job, not for the city, so she wasn’t committed to persevering, financially or emotionally, but I’m shocked to see even graduate students not take a very serious stance on this.  I recently coached a friend through this process who is enrolled in a 2-year graduate program but only had arranged for a 4-month airbnb stay with no backup plan.  Paris Expat found her a great place but witnessing her anxiety reminded me of my heady early days when I was in an airbnb for 90 days before moving to my first apartment in Paris, a little shoebox in the sky, on the 8th floor of a centuries-old building in the 17th.

What is one ongoing nuisance?

Bank accounts.  I’ve written about it here and here and it seems at the moment that unless you are a fiscal resident of France, US citizens are being granted French bank accounts only with a lot of difficulty and documentation.  (Two readers of this blog who are not fiscal residents did manage to get an account at Credit Agricole, after being turned down at Societe Generale and BNP Paribas, among other places.)

There are a few workarounds.  You could, like my friend Patty, use your American credit card to pay for everything (maybe even earning points and miles), and then settle that bill every month from your American bank account, withdrawing petty cash as needed from that account.

Alternatively, if your only major French-focused transaction each month is your rent payment, Transferwise will also allow you to pay a French bank account directly from your US bank account, with a bare minimum of fees, which is a lot more fun that withdrawing hundreds of euros from an ATM and then handing that to your landlord.

If you want a complement to the Transferwise solution you can use Revolut, which issues you a chip and pin card which you can load up in the currency of your choice from the bank account of your choice, all manageable from an app.  Did I mention it’s all totally free? 🙂

What is one thing you cannot do too much of before arriving?

Conversational French.  You can take all the classes you want and know 6 different tenses and a lot of vocabulary, but if you haven’t practiced speaking French, you will be in for a rude awakening when you arrive.  In a way, I parse it as the difference between “studying” French and “learning” it.  You can “study” all you want, but your “learning” will commence when you arrive and get to speak this lovely language every day, and hear the pace, cadence, and the distinct Parisian pronunciation.  Get a private tutor, join a local meetup language group, use an app, and maybe, as a last resort, take classes (they are time consuming and move only as quickly as the slowest person in the class).  As I post this article I am spending a month in the States and to keep my French up I’m attending the local French conversational meetup.

What did you fail to do adequately?

Budget.  There’s always “one more expense” I could not have foreseen.  If I could go back and do it again I would have taken my planned-down-to-the-centime budget and multiplied it by 1.25, thereby giving myself just an extra bit of fat.  As it turned out, the squeeze on my budget in the 11th month of my stay caused me to start another small business to generate more cash flow.  So, in my case the squeeze created a great new thing, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have benefited from the “1.25” strategy myself.

Last thing…

Find and develop French friends.  Severely limit your reliance and/or attendance at “expat” bars or events, which ironically use English as the linguafranca.  I’ve found there is no faster way to the heart, stomach, and soul of France than my French friends.  They will help you with your French, ask for help with their English, and give you genuine local reaction to news, politics, and new places you want to try.

The photo was taken by my friend Domo on a recent visit to the Rodin Museum.  On almost every first Sunday when many museums are free, a group of us go out for brunch and a museum visit.  To date we have seen 22 museums together.

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