Getting A Carte De Séjour In France (As The Spouse of An EU Citizen)
“If you walk into the préfecture with less than your standing height of paperwork, you’ve probably forgotten something” Quote from a forum
Over the past few months I’ve immersed myself in quite a few French-related forums on Facebook, and one of the standing jokes is how much paperwork you have to prepare anytime you want to do anything official through the French government. We bond over stuff like this, because it keeps us sane 🙂
In all honesty however, it’s really not that bad!
When I first moved to the US I went through a boat-load of immigration and it took a good 20 years, and several standing heads of paperwork to get from student visa to citizenship. It was a long and tedious path, but very worthwhile, and I would do it over again in a heartbeat. Today, I’m lucky enough to hold dual Danish & American passports, which is pretty darn sweet.
French immigration is really not much different. Yes, the paperwork is long and yes, there are tons of steps and you’ve got to do it all in French, but that’s just part of the deal of coming here. As long as you follow procedure and read the fine print, you are generally good to go.
So what ARE the exact documents you need to get a carte de séjour? And how long does it take? We’ll go through ALL the juicy details in this post…..
Americans Need A Visa To Stay More Than 90 Days in France
So, why would you even need to worry about immigration? Well, as I’ve mentioned in my post about EU stay limits, if you’re a US Citizen you can come and vacay in France (without any prep or paperwork), but only for 90 days out of every 180. That’s the limit, and if you want to stay longer than that you need to apply for a special visa.
If you do not have any ties to Europe (i.e. no family here), then the visa you need is a long-term stay visa, and the application process must be completed through the French Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence before you arrive in France. Then there’s several additional steps that you must complete after you get to France (e.g. registration with OFII), to make it all legal. Once you get all that done, you’ll be allowed to stay for up to a year, and then, if your visa type allows it, you can apply for a residence card (“titre de sejour” or “carte de séjour”) to stay on longer once the year is up. There’s lots of nitty, gritty details to all this including which long-term stay visa to apply for (there are several different types only some of which allow renewal, and some that allow you to work), plus exactly what paperwork you need and when, but for all of it this is where you start:
- French Long-Term Visa Application Website (official French government site -> this is where you’ll start your application)
Americans Traveling To France With An EU Spouse Get Benefits
If you happen to be married to an EU spouse* (say, a Danish gal like me) however, and you’re traveling together with them to France, then you get the benefit of skipping a few steps. Instead of applying for a long-term visa before you arrive, you can actually wait until after you get here to start the process. Also you’ll be able to skip the long-term visa step and apply directly for a carte de séjour (CDS = residence card) which will not only give you the right to stay, but also to work in France. It’s a pretty sweet deal.
*NOTE1/ It’s Different For Spouses Of French Nationals: If you’re married to a French national, the application process is different yet again! I won’t be covering how to apply for a CDS if you’re married to a local. For that, read more HERE.
What Carte De Sejour Will You Be Applying For?
There are lots of different types of Carte de Séjour that you can apply for in France, but if you’re the spouse of an EU citizen you will be applying for “Carte de séjour de membre de la famille d’un citoyen de l’Union/EEE/Suisse”. You can read general information about this CDS on the French government website HERE.
What Should You Prepare BEFORE You Arrive In France?
Before you arrive in France, I recommend doing a bit of prep-work to make sure you have all the documents you need from US side in-hand. Not all of these are required, but getting them while you’re still in USA will make your life infinitely easier (trust me):
- Valid Passport -> Make sure your passport is valid and the expiry date is more than a year out. If it expires sooner, renew it while you’re in the USA before you come. Your EU partner must also have a valid passport.
- Marriage Certificate -> Make sure you have a valid, official marriage certificate. I would strongly recommend (might not be required, but I think it’s a very good step) to get it apostilled** too.
- Birth Certificate -> Get several copies of your official birth certificate from your state of birth. This is actually NOT one of the required documents for the CDS, but birth certificates are often needed in France for various legal reasons, so it is well worth bringing a few (you WILL end up needing them!). Plus we were actually asked to show it during our CDS interview. Again, I strongly recommend getting it apostilled** too.
**NOTE2/ What Is an Apostille? An apostille is basically a way of assuring a document is legal. It is an official stamp/certification that authenticates the document for acceptance in all countries that are members of the 1961 Hague Apostille Convention. Both France and US are members, so if you get a document apostilled in US, it is accepted as legal in France. In US, you can get an apostille through your State apostille office. For example, in Florida we ordered a printed copy of Paul’s official birth certificate online, then we mailed it to the Department of State apostille office with $10. A week later we got it back with the apostille on it.
When Must You Apply?
You must apply for the CDS within the first 3 months (90 days) after you and your spouse arrive in France. It may take several months after that to complete your application, and that’s fine. You just need to be “in the system” as having applied before your standard 90-day stay limit us up. As long as this is the case you are considered in situation régulière (= basically you’re legal). If you apply after the 90 day period is over you’ll be in situation irrégulière ( =“sans papiers”, or without papers), which is not how you want to start your relationship with the French authorities.
Where Do You Apply?
This particular CDS must be applied for at your local préfecture. Mainland France is divided into 96 departments, each of which has both préfectures and sous-préfectures. For the most part the CDS can only be applied for at the MAIN préfecture for your department, although there might be exceptions, depending on where you are located (e.g. Paris has several application locations). In our case, our main department préfecture is located in the center of Toulouse around an hours drive from our home, and it’s the only place we can apply.
What Are The Steps?
Important Note/ Always, always check the requirements of your local préfecture before you start the CDS process. Although the application process is very similar across France, local préfectures will often have slight differences. So, they might have slightly different paperwork requirements (including which pieces might need to be translated), plus they might have slightly different systems (for appointments and such). Don’t just take my word for it. Check local requirements on your prefecture website first!
That said, the process to get your first CDS typically requires 3 separate visits to your local préfecture:
Register Your Request At Your Local Préfecture* – Within 3 months of your arrival in France, you must present yourself at your local préfecture to register your request to apply for a CDS. At this visit they will enter your request into the system, and you will receive an appointment date for deposit & review of your full application, likely some weeks or months later. It’s a good idea for both you and your spouse to go to this first meet together, and you should bring (at a minimum) your current passports, proof of residence/address (see below) and a French contact telephone number. You may also be asked for other documents (depends a bit on the person at the préfecture), but most folks seem to get through this step with just those details. Note that some préfectures are only open certain days for this. For example, in our department in Haute Garonne, you can only make a “premiere demande” (= first request) on Mondays, whereas in other departments it might be first-come-first-serve on any day, by appointment only, or online only through the prefecture website.
*2023 Update: For most préfectures this step is now done entirely online, including in the Haute Garonne.
Deposit Your Dossier & Complete The Interview -> At your official appointment date at the préfecture, you’ll be required to deposit the full “dossier” for your CDS application, including all supporting documents (see below). You will likely also be interviewed and asked questions about why you’re asking to stay in France, and how you plan to support yourself while you are here. Again, it’s best for both you and your spouse to go together to this, and if you do not speak enough French to make it through the appointment, it’s a good idea to bring a friend or interpreter who can. If the prefecture accepts your dossier, you’ll be given a recepissé (basically a paper receipt) that shows you’ve applied for a CDS.
- Pick Up Your Carte De Séjour -> Once your dossier has been processed and your card printed, you will receive notice that your carte de séjour is ready to be picked up. Once again, you’ll need to make the trip in person into your local préfecture to do this. This time however, all you’ll need is yourself, your passport and your recepissé.
How Long Does It Take?
So, like everything in France “it depends”. We’ve gone through it ourselves and we’ve seen a few others go through it, and all-in-all it seems to take around 3 months to get the whole thing completed end-to-end, depending on how busy the local prefecture is, and how big the backlog of CDS applications is. At current time, because of Brexit & a big influx of UK citizens seeking CDS for the first time, application times seem to lengthening. Take this into account if you’re applying within the next year.
In our case, it took a total of around 3 1/2 months*** and ~9 hours of waiting to get the whole thing completed. This was exactly how each step went:
- Registration (4 Hours Wait)* – In Haute Garonne, registration for a premiere demande is only allowed on Mondays between 9AM-3PM, and it’s a first-come-first-serve process. You show up, you’re given a ticket with a number to wait in line, and then you’re seen in that order. We arrived at 10AM and the prefecture was already packed with people, so our wait was 4 hours before we were called. We had ALL our documents with us (the entire “dossier”), but we were only asked for passports, proof of address & telephone number. 10 mins later we had our appointment date.
*2023 Update: For most préfectures this step is now done entirely online, including in the Haute Garonne.
Appointment (+73 days later, +1 hour) – We arrived 30 mins early, but our appointment started exactly on time and lasted exactly 30 mins. Our documents were reviewed, questions were asked (why do you want to stay in France? how will you support yourself?) and we were given the recepissé. We had everything they needed and more, so it went smoothly.
- Final Card (+36 days later, +4 Hours Wait)* – Just over a month after we got our recepissé, we got a text that Paul’s CDS was ready for pick-up. Once again we needed to go to the prefecture, get a number and wait in line to be seen. It took 4 hours to get through the queue, but only ~5 mins to pick-up the card once we were seen.
*2023 Update: In Haute Garonne, CDS pick-up is now by appointment only, which you schedule online. No more waiting around with a number for hours on end, thank goodness!
***NOTE3/ Beware Travel Restrictions: As a US citizen you can travel within the first 3 months of being in France since you’re still within your 90-day regular (tourist) stay limit. However once this time is up, it’s not recommended that you travel outside French borders until you get your first CDS. There are ways to do it (e.g. once you have your recepissé, you can apply for a “visa consulaire de retour”), but honestly it’s a pain. Best not to travel until you have that final card in-hand.
What Does It Cost?
The “Carte de séjour de membre de la famille d’un citoyen de l’Union/EEE/Suisse” is FREE!
What Documents Are You Required To Present?
As I mentioned above, make sure to check with your local préfecture for their specific requirements, as they may differ slightly, depending on location. The following list meets general requirements & were the docs that were required for our interview in the Haute Garonne (official list HERE). We were required to present ORIGINALS and PHOTOCOPIES of all documents so we bought 2 complete files of “stuff” (they reviewed the originals & give them back to us, then they took the photocopies for their files):
- Application Form (Maybe!) – Some préfectures have application forms, but some do not. In Haute Garonne they do happen to have a form.
- Valid Passport – For both you and your EU partner. Make a color photocopy of both.
- Three Official Identity Photos – The photos must conform to ISO/IEC spec 19794-5 in size & appearance. Basically they’re just full-face, neutral expression, neutral background photos of a specific size. You can find photo booths in most supermarkets in France where you can get these done. Most prefectures also have booths for this.
Proof of Address (= “justificatif de domicile”) – This must be dated within last 3 months. The most common proof is a recent (less than 3 month old) electrical bill (EDF) in your name. If you are renting or live with family then you must get the owner of the house to provide the following three things:
- an official letter stating you live with them (this is called an “attestation d’hébergement” and you can find blank examples on the web, like this one)
- a copy of their latest electrical (EDF) bill, dated less than 3 months
- a copy of their identity card or passport
- Proof of Family Link (= “justificatif du lien familial): This is your official marriage certificate. Some prefectures require this to be officially translated into French***. Not all do, but I think it is a good precaution to get it done.
- Proof of Sufficient Support (= ” justificatif du droit de séjour dont relève l’accueillant”) This is always one of the hardest parts of the application and the one most folks get worried about. Basically the French government wants to make sure that your EU spouse (the “accueillant“) is in good standing in France, and that you can support yourselves without becoming a drain on the system. If your EU spouse has a job or salary, then you simply need to present proof of that (e.g. work contract, monthly salary statements etc.) and you’re good to go. If your EU spouse is not currently working, then you need to present proof of sufficient funds (e.g. savings, bank account statements, 401K statements -> basically anywhere you have money). Plus you’ll need proof of health insurance for the both of you:
How Many Savings Are Enough? This is tricky since there’s no absolute official guidance on it. However I’ve seen several application forms (for example, from Préfect De La Haute Savoie and another from the Préfet du Bas Rhin mention a minimum amount “équivalent au RSA ou ASPA, calculé en fonction de la composition de la famille”. The larger of these numbers is ASPA and in 2018 for a couple without children this equates to 1,293.54 € per month (or 15,522.54 € for the year)*. I think this is a good minimum base reference. To be safe we listed much more than that. Also, in order to show that our savings were “stable”, we printed out 3 months of statements as proof (3 months seems to be the charm for just about anything here in France). That worked for us.
*2023 Update: The latest numbers for ASPA for a couple are now 1 492,08 € per month or 17 905,06 € per year.
- What Kind Of Health Insurance Do You Need? Again, there seems to be no official guidance on this, but any travel or private health insurance that meets Schenghen visa requirements (= minimum of 30,000 € coverage with emergency medical evacuation and repatriation) should be sufficient. We bought a 1-year plan through American Visitor Insurance which provided us a visa letter that we included in our “dossier”. That worked perfectly.
Back-Up Documents. So this is the wishy washy part of the application. I’m a big believer in bringing back-up documents, especially when dealing with government entities, and I always bring a big stack of them “just in case”. For Paul’s CDS I brought extra print-outs of bank statements (going back 6 months), birth certificates (for us both), criminal record checks (yes, I’m that detailed), blog income info, and a bunch more. Out of everything, the only thing they asked for in the interview which was NOT on the official list, was our birth certificates. I’m so glad I had them!
***NOTE3/ Official Translations: If your préfecture requires that a document be “officially translated” into French, they are asking for something very specific, which you can only get done here in France. Your translator must be a certified translator, officially accredited to a French Cour D’Appel (French Courthouse). They are called traducteurs assermentés and you can find a list of them HERE. Most of these translators will work with you via mail, and charge you around 45-50 € per translation. Do not work with one that is not accredited!
Other Nationalities Married To EU Citizens
I‘ve written this whole post from the point of view of an American married to an EU spouse. But what if you’re not a US citizen?
Well, if you’re married to an EU citizen and from one of the many countries that do not require a visa to enter France (i.e. you can stay in France for 90 days without the need for special paperwork), then your application procedure will be identical to what we went through. You’ll simply travel into France as a tourist, and then apply for the CDS within the first 3 months of your arrival. Someone from Australia or Canada, for example, would fall into this category.
If you’re married to an EU citizen and you’re from a country that requires a visa to enter France however (you can check HERE), then your CDS application procedure will likely be different. You’ll probably have to apply for a temporary visa before your arrival in France and/or get other approval before you come here. Someone from Thailand or China, for example would fall into this category. In this case you should contact the French Embassy or Consulate in your home country before you travel to France.
Civil Partnerships & Same-Sex Partnerships
A final note on civil partnerships and same-sex partnerships.
In France you can chose to be PACSed (pacte civil de solidarité) to a partner of the same or oppposite sex. It is defined as a “contract concluded between two physical persons who have reached the age of majority, of different or the same gender, for the purposes of organizing their life in common”. It is the French equivalent of a domestic partnership and it provides legal benefits similar to (although not exactly equivalent) to marriage.
If you are PACSed to an EU citizen and you can prove “un an de vie commune” (= one year of living together), then you can apply for a “Carte de séjour de membre de la famille d’un citoyen de l’Union/EEE/Suisse“, in the same way as a conventionally-married person. This will allow you to reside and work in France (valid 1 year, renewable). To read more about PACS and how it’s done read HERE. To read more about PACS and the CDS application, read HERE (scroll down to appropriate section).
So Are We Good Forever Now?
HA!!! Not even close. Paul’s first carte de séjour is only valid for a year*. He will need to renew it 2 months prior to it expiring, which means another appointment, another set of documents (pretty much the same ones we presented for his first appointment, just updated) and another interview. Hopefully his next card will be longer than 1 year and we can get a reprieve until the next, next renewal 🙂
*2021 Update: Paul finally got a 5-year CDS, which is actually what he should have been entitled to the first time around based on EU Directive 2004/38/CE, (scroll down to Article 11: Validity of the residence card). THANK YOU to blog reader Mitchel (see comments below) for this invaluable piece of information.