Our Family’s (2nd) Year in the South of France
Kids and Castles - Our year with kids in the South of France

The San Francisco French Consulate: Applying for our Long Term Visa

This was a BIG day for our trip.  We carefully booked the appointment so that it would fall after we got Z’s new passport but before we left for our Canadian vacation.  The Consulate web site has a very detailed page outlining what you have to bring.  The obvious stuff like passports, green cards, but also:

  • Where you will stay – in our case the rental agreement
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Motivation letter
  • Bank statements showing that you have the required amount per person per month of your stay
  • Passport-size photos

Yelp has reviews of the visa process, and the consensus is that if you have all your stuff together, everything is straightforward. So we spent the days leading up to the appointment filling out forms, making copies, and trying to guess what else they might ask for.  They changed the list between the time we applied and the time we went, so I cross-referenced the lists and prepared a  superset of everything plus a whole bunch of extra stuff – just in case.

I was ready, and I was STRESSED.  My first experience head-to-head with the famous french bureaucracy. Here we come.

BOTTOM LINE:  It was fine.

The process was pretty painless and took just over an hour. Our agent was a delightful woman with a charming British accent who was extremely helpful with a few issues we had.

The consulate uses a “blue chair/brown chair” system. There is a row of blue chairs against the wall.  Visa applicants  are seated in the first open blue chair, and as people are called up from the chair at the end, everybody shifts down one spot. Only applicants get blue chairs.  If  you are there with a friend, they have to sit in a brown chair to wait.

In the middle of the room are 3 rows of brown chairs. People who are picking up visas sit anywhere in the brown chairs.  When an agent is free, they go through all the brown chair people first, and then call the next blue chair person.

Not sophisticated but pretty efficient.  The kids did get to sit wherever they wanted.

A Few Tips:

  1. Don’t be even a tiny bit obnoxious: The lady who was in line behind us was not exactly rude, but she made a couple of comments to the room about how strange the system was. I think she meant to by funny, but I suspect it was not a coincidence that she was sent down the street to get a photocopy she hadn’t brought, while our agent quietly photocopied our marriage certificate for us.
  2. Stuff to bring not on the list: Marriage certificate and photocopy. Plane tickets and photocopy.  Bring a book – no cell phones or laptops allowed.
  3. Stuff we didn’t need to bring: The kids.  They did not have to be there and were quite bored with the whole process.
  4. Renew passports: The web site says “passport valid for one year”.  Turns out the rule is really “valid for 3 months after planned return  date”.  It’s a good rule of thumb anyway as I discovered a year ago when I was pulled off a flight to Tel Aviv because my passport expired in five months. Plus, it’s such a complete pain to get a passport renewed while traveling that it’s better to just reset the five years months before you’re thinking of departing. (Yes, we are making an emergency trip to the Saskatoon passport office while we’re in Canada next month.)
  5. Make multiple appointments at the same time: The web site is clear – one appointment per passport.   So I scheduled my appointment at 10, L’s at 10:30, Z’s at 11:00 and JM’s at 11:30.  But turns out they actually have 5 appointments per slot, and they deal with people as they come into the office (the appointment gets you through the door, not talking to somebody).  So I could have made all 4 appointments for 10:00.
  6. Be prepared to be without your passport for 2 weeks: I didn’t find that written anywhere, but they wanted to keep our passports until the visas were ready.  Turns out we were lucky that JM’s passport needed renewal, so we got all the passports back until his is ready.  I always hate being without my passport (never know when you have an emergency) but this would have meant rescheduling the trip to Canada and missing the family reunion.

UPDATE (July 22, 5:30 PM):  The French Consulate just called to say our visas are ready.  We just have to take our passports in to pick them up.  That was FAST.  So much for a two week wait.

5 Responses to “The San Francisco French Consulate: Applying for our Long Term Visa”

  1. Laura says:

    Hi there! I love your blog. I am currently in the process of collecting all the requirements for a long-stay visa (2E Working holiday) to France. I found this very helpful and realize b/c of this that I need to be super prepared! I am a little nervous…

    • Diane H. says:

      Hi Laura, Thanks for dropping by. Good luck with your adventure. I found the consulate people to be very nice – as long as you were trying. The girl in line in front of us who was just a tad snotty had a completely different experience than we did. But as a Canadian you’re probably good on the “nice” thing.

  2. Angie Deptula says:

    Hello Diane,

    I know this has been awhile since your application date, but my husband and I were wondering if you guys had to get French translations for the documents?



    • Diane H. says:

      Hi Angie. No translations were needed. In fact, even though French is JM’s mother tongue, we all spoke English during the application procedure.

      Hope this helps!