Considering that I had written about what to pack/not pack for France last week, it might seem a bit counteractive to talk about getting a French visa this week. In other words, this is to say that, for those heading off to France for long-stay purposes, it makes sense to get your visa first before you can actually go about packing.
Any case, hear me out: while it’s true that I went through the visa process last year to become an assistante de langue, I had forgotten many of the details since then, of what to fill out, scan and copy, and so forth. And considering that I didn’t even know if I was going to return to France this year until just a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t want to post any wrong information regarding the process.
However, if you had caught that phrase, “…until just a couple of weeks ago,” then you can safely assume that I will once again return to France for teaching! I’ll be dedicating another post to how that came about, but until then, I can discuss the details of how to get your French visa, as I had to do it (once again) before heading off to France.
Fresh from my consulate appointment today, here are some things you need to do in order to obtain your visa for France:
*note* This post is only applicable to those who are U.S. citizens and who are interested in becoming assistants de langue or lecteurs/lectrices. Other visa cases, as well as other countries, might have different procedures, so it’s important to check your status on your French consulate’s website (a simple Google search will do).
1. Book your appointment. …and book early. Many spots are often taken in July and August, which is peak-season for assistant(e)s de langue, lecteurs/lectrices, and study-abroad students to get their visas as well. That said, make sure you can reserve around that time, or better yet, wait until late August or early September to go since things will be tapering off by then.
For my first year in the TAPIF program, I booked for the end of July (to be more precise, July 31st) which was on the early end of the visa season, but nevertheless, I got it all done and over with quickly, so that was something less to worry about.
This year (my second year of TAPIF), I made an appointment in early September (the 9th, to be exact). I could’ve scheduled it for earlier, but again, I didn’t know if I would even be able to return to France this year until late August, let alone receive my work contract in time. For my situation, booking later than never was the best option to do.
Once you make your appointment, print out the confirmation email and bring it with you to the consulate; this will be your ticket to allow you to enter the building for the appointment. Don’t forget it!
2. Get your arrêté de nomination. Unlike other aspects such as booking an appointment or obtaining the visa application forms, receiving your work contract (“arrêté de nomination”) from your académie is really tentative. Especially when French administration is notorious for being slow in processing paperwork, you may not get your arrêté until late July, August, or even early September! Considering that you must have this form in order to get your visa, it certainly causes a lot of stress when you don’t have it.
During my first year of TAPIF, I got my arrêté just a few days before my visa appointment (late July). That was a close call. For my second year, I got mine in early September, again, just a few days before my appointment (I’m seeing a trend here…). Any case, I didn’t have to worry about using my electronic copy from the Rectorat to go into the consulate after all! Some assistants ended up going with the PDF version (which the French consulate will accept, although they much prefer the original), and just made sure that they got the original one in the mail before heading off to France.
Once the arrêté arrives, check to make sure that it’s stamped, to show that it’s official. If it’s not stamped, contact the TAPIF program immediately to get it fixed. Make several copies of your work contract to bring with you to the appointment.
3. Fill out the visa application and OFII forms. This is a no-brainer, as you can find these forms readily available on your French consulate’s website. Fill out the basic information (name, DOB, nationality, etc.) as well as the name, address, and contact information of your French employer, which in this case is the school that you’ll be working at. All of the information about your school should be on your arrêté, so it should be easy to put them in.
If you’re not sure about your address in France, just fill in your school’s for the moment. For the OFII form, you’ll only need to fill out the top half of the page for the visa appointment, as the bottom half will be completed once you arrive in France. It’s pretty straightforward!
4. Make (lots of) copies. Sure, the consulate tells you to make one additional copy of most documents (e.g. passport identity, arrêté de nomination, OFII form), but I say you should make more, as you’ll never know if you’re going to need them then or later. In fact, the French consulate of Los Angeles makes this point on their website (albeit in fine print at the bottom of the page:
“The consular administration has full authority to evaluate and request more documents than those submitted by the applicant.” (link here)
Go wild with the copy machine. Make two, three, ten copies of everything. Scan them, if you can. It might all seem ridiculous to do, but once you go into the consulate and hand over three of the same document, you’ll be glad that you had made extras! Plus, you can save them when it comes to submitting the same paperwork at your OFII appointment in France. You’re very welcome, my TAPIF-ducklings.
*story time* There’s also a thing of not coming in prepared with all of the necessary documents and copies: at my visa appointment during my first year of doing TAPIF, I witnessed a young girl (teenage/college age) who had forgotten to bring one of the required documents for the visa, and oh man, she got seriously chewed out by the lady who was serving her. Saying things like, “you didn’t bring so-and-so document? How could you possibly forget? We made it very clear on the consulate website that you need to bring it, etc. etc.” Consulate workers can really be vicious at times, but I don’t blame them, since they have to deal with a lot of inconveniences every day.
5. Get a passport-sized photo. This is needed for your visa application, as well as for other admin purposes while at the French consulate. You can opt to take a photo at your local pharmacy or, if you’re like me, are super cheap and don’t like to spend money, take it yourself at home. Just make sure you have a white/neutral backdrop for the photo and try not to smile this time (granted, it might be hard to, especially if you look like a serial killer without the smile!). Crop it to a 2×2-inch size, print it on photo paper, and you’re set!
6. Get a FedEx envelope and Airbill. I’m not sure if this applies to all of the French consulate headquarters in the U.S., but at least for the Los Angeles, it is required; the workers won’t accept any other delivery options. Just go to your local FedEx store and pick up an Airbill form and FedEx envelope, or order them online.
Fill out the Airbill with your billing information, sender and recipient information (put down your address twice in both locations), and how long you want it to be delivered, i.e. 2-3 business days. Bring that along with the envelope to the consulate where they’ll take your passport to affix the visa and mail it back to you, hopefully before you leave for France.
7. Arrive at your consulate early. Don’t be that person who is five minutes late to your appointment; the French consulate in Los Angeles is especially particular, and being late can cost you the appointment (thereby forcing you to book another one, and you might not be able to find another spot until much later). Plan ahead of time, taking into consideration how you’re going to get there (by car, plane, train) and other accommodations should you be coming from a different state to do the appointment. Luckily, I live within the city that my French consulate is in (Los Angeles), so it’s just a matter of driving over there, albeit most likely with traffic. Because after all, it’s Los Angeles…
8. Be prepared. Before your appointment, organize your documents into a folder. Personally, I like to separate the originals from the copies and paperclip them together (so two stacks of paperclipped documents). This saves time of having to dig through everything in front of the already-cantankerous workers who process your visa (I don’t think I’ve met a nice consulate worker in my life).
When the workers ask for a certain document, give it to them. If they ask you something, answer them honestly. Basically, don’t make it hard on yourself; the quicker things happen, the sooner you can leave the consulate. Don’t be that person who argues with the worker on some contentious detail on your paperwork; you can’t blame them for something that you did, and being hostile certainly won’t boost your chances of getting your visa. Be ready to give anything and everything to them, and no one will get hurt.
9. Wait (and wait and wait). Once you finish the visa appointment and walk out of the French consulate (unscathed, I hope), the next step is to wait. Having all of the paperwork required for the appointment doesn’t necessarily mean that your visa will get approved (although I don’t see why not). Things might happen, and hopefully it’ll turn out well in the end.
There’s also a matter of when your approved visa will arrive in the mail. If you had your appointment during peak season, then it might take a while for it to come, perhaps up to two weeks. Make sure that you don’t book your flight to France too soon (at least two weeks after the appointment), because you can’t fly without your passport! I was able to get everything back super quickly during my first year of TAPIF (within a week), and I hope it’ll be the same this time around. *fingers crossed*
…any case, that’s about it for me! If you’ve ever gone to get your visa, let me know your tips! I’d be happy to read them. Bon courage!