A trip to France is one of the world’s most sought-after travel experiences. Whether you need a visa will depend on your individual circumstances such as your citizenship, your reasons for travel, and how long you plan to stay, but all visitors should be up to speed with the entry and exit procedures. Here's our guide to help you on your way.

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What you need to know about visas for France

France is part of the Schengen area, a bloc of 26 European countries that have abolished internal border controls. As a result, citizens of Schengen member countries (including non-EU countries Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland) and Ireland (a member of the EU but not Schengen) can enter France with just a passport or national ID card (carte d'identité in French) for an indefinite stay.

What about non-EU nationals?

To enter France, nationals of countries outside the EU and Schengen Area will need a passport valid for at least three months after their intended date of departure, along with proof of insurance, evidence of an onward travel ticket and accommodation (or sufficient funds to pay for these), and a visa if required.

Check the French government’s France-Visas website for full details of the information you’ll need to present on arrival in France. The site also has a handy Visa Wizard to help you find out if you need a visa and details of how to apply. France has a well-deserved reputation for red tape, so make sure all your documents are in order.

Passengers and trains at Lyon's busy railway station
Make sure your papers are in order if you're entering France on an international train service © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

Many nationalities can visit France visa-free

Citizens of around 60 non-EU countries, including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and many Latin American countries, don’t need a visa for a short stay in France.

Nationals of visa-free countries can normally stay for up 90 days within any 180-day period. Once you leave, you can’t re-enter the Schengen zone for a further 90 days (you can estimate dates on the EU’s travel day calculator). The EU’s Entry/Exit System (EES) is due to beef up security at external EU borders in 2022 by electronically monitoring border crossings, making it easier to identify anyone overstaying.

Some countries have special bilateral visa waiver agreements that allow visitors to spend time in one Schengen country without reference to time spent in other countries in the Schengen Area, subject to permission from border officials; check your home country’s government travel advice.

Following pandemic delays, the new European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will come into operation from May 2023. Under the new rules, nationals from visa-free countries will need to apply for pre-travel authorization online (arrange it 72 hours ahead of travel). The cost is €7 for a three-year, multi-entry authorization (there's no charge for travelers aged under 18 and over 70).

Applying for a Schengen visa

Nationals of non-visa-free countries, including China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and South Africa, need a Schengen Visa to visit France and other member countries. A short-stay 'Uniform Schengen Visa' allows visits of up to 90 days within a 180-day period, and is valid for travel throughout the Schengen area. The cost is €80 for adults and €40 for children aged six to 12 (free for children under six).

Visit the French government’s website France-Visas for the latest regulations and information on the process for applying. Find your closest French embassy or consulate on the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs - France Diplomatie website.

Young man photographing French breakfast with croissants on the table in sidewalk cafe in Paris, France
So long as you meet the visa requirements, there should be little standing between you and breakfast in a pavement cafe in Paris © Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

Visa extensions for travel to France

When your visa expires, you'll need to reapply from outside France to spend more time in the country. It’s not possible to extend tourist visas within France, except in emergencies (for example, a medical emergency), in which case you should contact your nearest Préfecture.

Tourist visas cannot be changed into student visas after arrival, but students sitting university-entrance exams or attending interviews in France can apply in advance for a special short-term étudiant concours (literally, 'student-in-competition') visa. Details are listed on the French government website Campus France.

Visas for working holidays in France

If you’re from a country with a working holiday visa agreement with France, and are aged between 18 and 30 (or 35 in some instances), you may be eligible to apply for the programme vacances-travail (PVT) scheme through the French embassy or consulate in your home country. The scheme allows participants to live and work in France for 12 months. Currently, France has arrangements with Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, Taiwan, and Uruguay.

This article was first published May 2021 and updated August 2022

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