This post is for you brave souls who are looking to move abroad for longer than 90 days, applying for a long stay tourist visa in the European Union. It’s a complicated, frustrating, expensive, stressful and exhausting endeavor but I believe it’s totally worth it.
I began researching how to apply for a visa close to three years ago. It has always been my dream that our family could actually immerse ourselves in the French culture and travel throughout Europe. I was curious of what it would take to live abroad for a year. I found the French embassy website and printed a list of the paperwork. Then I created an Excel spreadsheet of we needed to complete and put together a timeline and a budget. If you live in Southern California, Arizona, Colorado, Southern Nevada, and New Mexico you and all family members (six years old and older) must be present at the General Consulate in Los Angeles, California.
Here’s where it gets tricky, when applying for a long stay tourist visa, you can’t schedule your appointment any earlier than three months before your departure date. So it leaves a tight window to purchase airline tickets, show proof of income, proof of where you will reside in France and work out all the logistics of moving. Our window kept getting moved due to issues with his company. Initially they wanted him to apply for a work visa (called an Intra-Company Transfer/ICT) so that added additional paperwork and we had to work with an advisor from his company office in Paris. However, if you are self employed, you just would need to state that you will work remotely from home, you need to show a business plan and a letter from clients that will continue working with you while you are abroad. Sounds easy, right?
I am hyper-organized and tend to over-plan for things but even with all my preparation and knowledge of what is needed to apply for a long stay visa, I still paid professionals to assist us during the process. This is something I couldn’t leave to chance. Like in my early twenties, I used to file my own taxes. Back then we were renting, had the simplest W-2s and barely got a $600 refund every year. Now we are homeowners with an actual financial portfolio and a kid, I pay a CPA and leave it in her capable hands.
I found our visa consultant Stephen on his blog An American in Paris and hit him up with all the questions. He gave me a list of recommendations and encouraged me to secure housing before making our visa appointment. Little did I know how difficult finding an apartment in Paris would be. Stephen gave me a list of things to complete that gave me the sweats.
Lizzie Tip: Be sure to make copies of everything a minimum of two for each document!
Official copies of birth certificates/also need to be translated in French (obviously make several copies)
I already had our birth certificates but mine looked different since I was born in Santa Monica, it didn’t have the official Los Angeles county raised seal. That meant I had to go to the registrar recorder office to order a new one and wait and wait and wait. It was no fun standing in line for an hour and a half but luckily, while I was paying for my birth certificate, I mentioned to the clerk that I was applying for a visa and I showed her my marriage license just to check if the one I had was the proper version. Turns out it wasn’t and she printed the correct one for me. It was a victorious day! I listened to my homegirl Edith Piaf on my headphones and daydreamed being in Paris while waiting in that hellish long line.
Official copy of Marriage license/translated into French
If you want to drive abroad you will need an International drivers license. I got mine from AAA for $20. One of the easiest items to get.
Passports (no less than a year before expiration, at least two blank pages and in good shape)
Visa photos (at least 6 each) Olivia and I needed to re-take our photos because our hair was covering our ears. Bummer, I liked our first ones better!
Proof of medical insurance coverage (No deductible, minimum of 50,000 euros of coverage, must indicate “valid outside of the USA or “valid worldwide” and show coverage dates for one year) We bought our policy through our current medical United Healthcare Global Plan. They email you a letter to bring to the appointment. Antz company benefits aren’t valid in France past 90 days.
Proof of financial means (Three months of bank statements, pay stubs and tax returns) Or a big sack of cash!
Statement of Purpose (an official statement of what you plan to do while in Paris). In our case, we are not allowed to apply for work while abroad so we stated we were there for our daughter to attend school and immerse ourselves in the French culture (and eat pastries). Fingers crossed that is enough. Most people apply for studying so they show their university admission letter.
Letter of intention not to work while in Paris (also translated into French). This is strange because Antz will be working while in Paris but he is considered a US remote worker, so he is allowed to work but not conduct any business in Paris. This emoji best sums up what I just wrote.
Submit the completed visa application online. What I found frustrating is there is no way to edit existing online applications so I had to re-submit a new application every time I needed to make a change or correction. This meant that I filled out 3 applications, printed them, signed them and scanned them to send to our advisor in France EIGHT SEPARATE TIMES!! That’s 72 pieces of paper. LAME! The online application is in English but it will print in French so make sure you check for corrections before you finish.
A few years ago I attempted to fill out the visa application and I ended up with so many blank spaces because I didn’t have most of the info and I didn’t have approval from his company yet. I totally broke down and cried with frustration. They ask you to show proof of financial means for the year. To me that translates to “You better be fucking rich.” I have discovered they have a minimum of 13,000 euros per person for the year. They also ask for the address of where you will be staying in Paris on the application, so you have to secure an apartment BEFORE you get your visa. How can you do this to people?
In our case, we don’t have a lease for a rental yet so we got an attestation d’hébergement (a letter stating someone will be hosting you during your stay) from the woman I was planning to exchange with last year. She also had to give us a copy of her passport. This was a total pain because I had to find an English sample of what to write for the attestation and then translate it into French for her. Also, the first copy of her passport she sent me was too dark to use so I had to bug her again for a better quality upload. She’s super cool about everything and quickly got back to me but make sure all your documents are pristine. It’s super tedious and frustrating but every time I checked something off my things to do list, I felt amazing! Although the find a place to live box is still unchecked.
So what if I had no idea how to fill out the French OFII Residency form? Big deal that I had to white-out all of our birth dates on all SIX forms (three originals, three copies) because the French write their dates with the Day/Month/Year. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like not having enough money or a solid plan get in the way of my dream! You will become really good friends with Google Translate.
Our final step was sort of ridiculous, getting our police clearance reports. I’m sure the French consulate wants to be sure no one with a criminal record isn’t planning to set up shop in France. We went to the police department in downtown LA and as soon as we found parking, I realized I forgot our passports at home. We tried again later that evening because the hours were 8:00 am – 8:00 pm. Lucky us, we get there at 7:00 pm and the guy at the desk said the commanding office had already left for the day and they needed to sign our reports. We could either have it mailed to us or pick it up the next day. Since we were a week from our visa appointment, I didn’t want to risk mailing it, so we said we would come back the next day. Then they guy was like, Oh! we are closed on Fridays. So we had to return on Monday morning. This time I called to be sure it wouldn’t be any drama and they said the best time to come would be 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. I guess third time’s a charm because we finally got them! Why is everything a hoop to jump through?
We were ecstatic to finally get our clearance reports. The woman who took this photo asked if we were tourists.
You need to show confirmation of your plane tickets. Yep, buy your plane tickets before you get your visas!
We also had to get an official letter from Antz company’s legal department. (which is required if you are working remotely)
Our visa appointment is tomorrow freaking morning! I just finished putting together our folder this afternoon. It took me over a year to complete everything.
I must admit, I feel pretty confident we will get our visas tomorrow. I have an lucky charm named Olivia who happens to speak French and is too adorable for words.
In the beginning of this process I got comfortable reaching out to people who have lived abroad. I emailed Jordan from Oh Happy Day (she has a great guide to moving to Paris ) with a long list of questions which she kindly answered and gave me excellent advice; dress up for the visa appointment, it’s cheaper to pay for extra luggage on the airplane than ship boxes and get a letter from your employer saying you will be employed during the time you will spend abroad. It is important to reach out to other expats because I needed info but also, I needed to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing that it’s possible without corporate sponsorship, or being a millionaire made it more realistic. This has become a full-time job for me. Prepare yourself to be on the phone during the middle of the night talking to France. Seriously, our visa advisor requested Antz high school diploma. It was at his sister’s house and he hadn’t seen it for 25 YEARS!! Then we had to get it translated into French only to end up no longer needing it for our appointment. We had to reschedule our visa appointment FOUR times. I could make a killing turning this into a business but the stress isn’t worth it. I am taking stress/anxiety meds and I am still breaking out in hives. Yet, every meltdown, every tear and every headache will be worth it.
Let me be honest, money matters, this is not the path for someone who makes less than $50k a year. I am just on the cusp of shelling out the major Euros. We still need to pay a real estate agent to rent our house in LA and put down a serious deposit to rent a place in Paris. Here is a breakdown on what we have spent on documents.
$45 for our official birth certificates and marriage license
$96 in photos (AAA charges $8 per photo and was our least expensive option)
$280 to renew our passports
$2568 for international medical insurance policy
$120 in printer ink (for the hundreds of copies!)
$66 for Antz and I to renew our driver licenses
$66 for our police clearance reports (they only accept cash)
$450 for our documents to be translated into French
$325 for Stephen our initial visa consultant
$1300 for our French visa advisor
$375/99 euros per person for the visa application fees (the euro has gone up $50 since my last post!)
Countless hours of gathering and preparing everything, I’m not even including my cell phone bill for the long distance calls.
Total – $3,123 (although I’m sure it’s higher, I’m forgetting something!)
You have to submit a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the French Consulate to send your passports back along with the visas (fingers crossed). However, the visas are not yet officially complete until after you arrive in France. You must register at your local Mairie (which is similar to a city hall), take an X-Ray for your health exam, submit your forms with the OPII office (French immigration) and pay another fee of 241 euros.
One of the downsides of our move is we can’t take our 11 year old cat Lola with us. She is an indoor/outdoor cat and I know she wouldn’t do well confined inside an apartment all day. Plus, we have so many travel plans and we don’t have confirmed long term housing, it’s not possible to bring her to France as sad as that makes us. I do have info for anyone who may want to bring their cat abroad. Just email me for more details. Lola will be staying in our house, we discussed it and she’s cool with it.
I began writing this post on February 18, 2016 at 3 am. I have updated it over the last two years and it’s insane how much we have overcome to get where we are. Just do it!
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