|Check out that vintage early 2000s photo...|
Many people come to France on a student visa, thinking it’s some sort of foot in the door to a fairy tale life in France. Well, that’s only half of the truth. Yes, getting a student visa gets your foot in the door, but it’s not a foolproof solution for staying in France beyond your first year. There is a healthy dose of effort involved. But the effort pays off, if my experience is any proof.
I was lucky that I already had a short-term job in Paris, so my visa procedure was a bit different at the embassy in Washington DC., where I had to apply. Still, the first time I came as an undergraduate student in 2006, I went through the consulate in New York. The part I don't remember ever having to do was creating an account with the Campus France service, which provides you essential papers for getting your visa. It's straightforward, but I hear it can be a little temperamental at times.
If you’re already here in France, maybe as an English teaching assistant, you can change your status if accepted to a school into a master’s program for example. And then once school starts, you’ll actually need to go to class (at least a little) to keep up appearances. Buy a file box, as well, to give all of your fancy paperwork a new home. It’s a solid investment.
Despite the hurdles, getting a student visa is a great start to a life in France, and there are definite perks beyond obviously letting you live legally in the country. Let’s take a look.
Having a student visa allows you to work legally in France. You can’t work full-time, but you can work up to roughly 20 hours a week. That said, there are ways around this pesky limitation if you sign up for the “autoentrepreneur” status, but that’s another topic for another day. Just know that if you are willing to roll up your sleeves, there is a way to pay for your life in France even as a student. I’m the proof! I’ve worked in a pizzeria, a coffee shop, as a tour guide and even as a bartender as a poor little student.
Maybe you’re not worried about money, but you still need to keep busy. Having a student visa allows you to work as an intern. You’d be hard-pressed to get any substantial internship experience without a legal status in France. The student visa takes care of that. Now you just have to go out and find someone who will be willing to let you do work for free. Like that even exists…
3. RENEWING A VISA
Student visas are fairly easy to manage and renew once you get your first one in your home country. Renewing a year-long visa in France is contingent on proving that you attended class and took your exams. Even if you failed and have to repeat the year, you can still renew your visa as long as you register at the school again. It can get complicated if you’re trying to cheat the system and not attend school, so it’s actually better just to take your exams and, you know, try and pass them.
4. VISA UPGRADE
Student visas allow some individuals to switch to a big-person visa within France if you find a way to upgrade. For example, if you find a job that is willing to sponsor you, if you get married or PACSed, or if you want to start your own company, you can get a meeting with the local prefecture to discuss what it will take. It’s not always a surefire bet, but if you follow the rules and persist, generally you can make it work without having to go back home and redoing the visa process all over again.
Of course this may be obvious, but having a visa for France allows you easy travel throughout the Schengen zone and beyond. You can cross borders and no one will ask any questions. Anyone who has ever traveled to the UK, for example, while they were temporarily without paperwork knows that this can be stressful, and even though no one in France has ever asked to see my carte de séjour (which you’ll get if you stay longer than a year generally), it was always in the back of my mind.
6. FRENCH NATIONALITY
Having a student visa can be your first step on the path to French citizenship. It takes 5 years of living continually in France to be able to be considered for nationality, and entering the country as a student totally counts. If you actually go to class and complete a higher education degree, the wait time is reduced to three years with your diploma. Just make sure you keep renewing in France and don’t go home to do it. And sure, these are long-term perks, of course, but let me tell you, now that I have a French passport, they are perks well worth mentioning.
Being a student and having a student ID card gets you all sorts of perks as well (important things, like discounted lunch at Breakfast in America, for instance) but the student cards are independent of a visa. I don’t think the school ever really asked about my immigration status. In any case, you’ll need both to make it as a student – sign up for classes and get the visa. Once you do both, sit back and reap the benefits, until it’s time to make your appointment for a renewal…
I’m so glad those days are over for me…