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.
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 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.