I am in the process of applying for the French VLS-T (6-month) long-stay visa. Unlike the VLS-TS (12 month) long stay visa, the VLS-T is like a pure tourist visa and does not require registration once in France with all those nasty overtones of residency, particularly tax residency. Very good for us shirkers trying to void paying VAT on our boat, motor-home, Lear jet or whatever.
I had planned to use the VLS-T visa as a vehicle to extend my time in the Schengen zone – not just France. Read More
The French government visa website says, “During its period of validity, the VLS-T long-stay visa is equivalent to a Schengen visa, enabling you to move around and stay in the Schengen Area outside France for periods not exceeding 90 days over any period of 180 consecutive days, under the same conditions as if you held a Schengen visa.”
When they say ‘Schengen Visa’ they mean the 3 month visa which nationals of many countries must apply for just to travel in Europe for 90 days. For CANZUKUS nationals and citizens of a select bunch of 57 other countries – there is an automatic Schengen visa waiver meaning 90 in 180 days with no other requirement other than a valid passport. And ETIAS pre-registration when that comes online in 2024.
So with the VLS-T visa you get six months in total in the Schengen zone of which three months must be in France. But I wanted more.
I double-checked the source EU regulation on long-term visas (visas > 3 months). It confirmed the French website advice: “A third-country national holding a long-stay visa .. should therefore be allowed to travel to other Member States for three months in any six months, under the same conditions as the holder of a residence permit.” which is documented as: “Aliens who hold valid residence permits issued by one of the Member States may move freely for up to three months in any six months within the territories of the other Member States.” But what happens if you enter the Schengen zone before the start date of the visa?
Article 5(1a) of the Schengen Borders Code says “the periods of stay authorised under a residence permit or a long-stay visa shall not be taken into account in the calculation of the duration of short-stay on the territory of the Schengen Member States (when assessing the compliance with the 90 days in any 180-day rule provided by the EU/Schengen acquis)”. It is important to note that this does not allow for an extended stay in the Member State that issued the visa, for example 6 months + 90 days in France (referred to here)
It seems that if you want more than six months in the zone, and you are a national of an Annex II country (for example one of the CANZUKUS countries) you can enter Europe but not enter through France, and stay for the first three months using Schengen visa-waiver days.
To make this airtight – if you are in France at the end of 90 days – cross an internal border to another country for example, Belgium. Depart the Schengen zone by going to the UK, for example. Immediately fly back entering through France and start the VLS-T visa clock for the next three months. Then if you so desire, move on to other Schengen countries and start using the 90 day allowance after that for a final three months. Doing this – your passport stamps will demonstrate absolute compliance with the Schengen rules. If anyone can find a legislative reference that contradicts this please let me know.
In Australia, the French embassy has outsourced the front-end administration to an Indian company called VFS Global. The same company handles applications for visas for several countries, from several locations in each applicant home country. For example, Australians can apply in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. This is a major improvement on the old system which required Brisbane natives (me) to fly to Sydney just to lodge an application form.
The high level process requires the applicant to fill in the application form online on the French government website France Visas, make a booking with VFS for an appointment, confirm the booking has been made back at the France Visas website, print the application form and the appointment booking and then attend the VFS Global offices.
What do you need? A valid passport, an application letter containing a declaration (you can find a template in the Resources section), proof of adequate funds, proof of accommodation, proof of return flights, medical insurance, and money for the application. For many people this should all be easy.
For some, with non-standard circumstances, this can be a challenge. For example, I live on a boat. So, accommodation and air travel are difficult to address. And I’m cheap – so medical insurance is something I submit begrudgingly. So a bit of creativity is often required which I will explain, and perhaps inspire others to alternative ways to fit the expected mould.
When I applied for an appointment the Brisbane office was not able to be selected. The Visa Section of the Consulate-General of France in Sydney returned my email confirming a technical problem at the site – forcing me to book with Sydney.
Once booked with a site you can’t change it. A few days later – Visa Section advises that Brisbane was up and running. Though the VFS Global website still did not reflect that. I called the VFS Global hotline and they undertook to investigate, and then changed the appointment to Brisbane in their system. So, contrary to previous experience with the Visa Section – both parties were responsive to emails and solved issues. So far so good.
I attended the appointment on 16th January. It was very low-key. No queues, no ticketing system, no seeming urgency to be strictly on time. Only one staff member with a small 6 seat waiting room, and a small locked backroom for photos and fingerprints.
Indira, a very pleasant lady looked thru my paperwork but then had to break the bad news – applications could not be outside three months before the planned visa start date. Yes, not more than three months. It must be within three months. So much for planning well in advance. Unfortunately I was 3 months and 5 days from my planned entry date to France so had to re-book online and pay the processing fee again.
On my 2nd round at VFS Global on 14th February – all went smoothly. Indira was not fazed by the Boat papers, ICCC card, marina booking, and map with planned route. I had attached two medical insurance certificates: a Schengen Medical Insurance certificate from agents Europ-Assistance; and a certificate for overseas travel insurance provided free by my credit card provider.
To my surprise, Indira rejected the Europ-Assistance insurance in favor of the free policy. Reason: the French Embassy will not accept insurance labelled as “Schengen Insurance”. I had previously used the same insurance in Italy but I suspect I know the reason why it is not accepted. Its in the fine-print and is a detailed discussion for another post.
At this stage, if you select the ‘Express Mail’ service you will be asked to fill in your address details on the actual envelope. Use your phone and take a photo of the tracking number – its the only way you will find your passport once they send it. Anyway, 40 minutes later I walked out with my wallet several hundred dollars lighter. Now I wait with regular email updates to advise me of progress.
Euro-nomads with a spouse holding an EU passport can get the visa fee (not the processing fee) waived when applying online. You have to select Yes when asked “Do you join or travel with a family member from an EU country”. I did not – because there was a possibility my wife would be delayed and follow me. I didn’t want my natural miserly inclination to override the desire for a smooth entry into France. The process takes you to a dead-end though – and you assume from the information provided that your only option is to use your Schengen waiver and apply for residency when you get to France.
The French embassy were similarly cryptic: “As a family member of European citizen and Australian citizen, you do not need a short stay visa to settle in France the only visa we are allow to issue free of charge to the family members of EU described here. If you are traveling only for 6 months, you won’t be a resident in France, therefore we invite you to apply for a temporary visitor visa for 6 months, you will have to pay the visa fees.” Funny, not what the sign at VFS says….
On 9th March 24 days after submitting my application I received an email notifying me my passport and visa were on their way. I had paid for the express post option, and the passport arrived four days later.
I will be trying to make out as many Schengen days as possible so I will be using the tactic outlined above slightly modified for boat travel. So, enter Schengen thru Italy, tour Italy for several months, then sail into France and check in to start the visa. I’ll let you know how it goes in the next post on this subject.