Studying in France: 7 Steps to Getting Your Student Visa

Hi guys. Well, I finally did it. I got my long-stay student visa for France. I’ll be moving to Paris in September. (Yay!) I also have to tell you that getting your student visa should not take 7 steps. But I’ve got my false steps here to save you the grief.

Paris street artist JR made the Louvre Pyramid disappear, with these black-and-white photos installed on one façade of the pyramid.

Now first things first. If you’re from a country that France will let in as a tourist for 90 days and that’s the max you want to stay, you don’t need a student visa.

But if your intent is to study for longer, here’s how to get started.

Step 1. Determine if you can afford to study in France

Yes, you will need to prove you have enough money.

To find the exact amount, go to a French consulate site in your own country. Find the link for long-stay student visa. Then download the “Student Visa Application Requirements.” (BTW, the list of requirements are the same for undergraduate programs, graduate study, and language schools, which is what I wanted.)

Now you might see on the top of the list that you need to apply to CampusFrance first. That’s what they make Americans and a few other folks around the world do—and it’s what makes our process so long. Oh well. More about CampusFrance later.

CampusFrance, as noted on the list of visa requirements

For now, let’s focus on Number 8: Proof of Financial Means. There it is, $820 times the number of months.

Requirement 8: Proof of Financial Means

Personally, I think $820 is not going to be enough for Paris but in smaller cities, you should be able to find housing for $400 a month or less.

What about tuition, you’re wondering. Well, bachelor’s programs at public universities average 190 EU per year. Others are not much more. I know. Amazing.

However, language institutes are not going to be that cheap. I couldn’t find a single source for info about those fees, so I’ll just tell you what I’ll be paying. At the language school I found, tuition is €3,087 a semester for a 21-hour week of classes. That’s $3,627. Ouch. But it’s the going rate for decent language institutes.

There is one other thing that may help you afford studying in France. People on student visas are allowed to work part-time, which at the moment is 60% of the official 35-hour French work week. And 60% of 35 is 21 hours a week. (Disappointingly for the French, Macron is talking about upping the hours of the work-week. I’ve been told to expect protests… )

Tip 2. Find a school in which you want to study

As a teacher, I knew it would drive me nuts if I ended up in a language school with teaching methods I didn’t like. So last summer, on a break from my job in Saudi Arabia, I decided to go to France to look for a school.

BTW, for accommodation in France, I’ve used three times now. Roomlala works like Airbnb, but is usually less expensive. I.e. in Poitiers (where I was meeting vacationing friends) I rented an apartment for 300 euro for a month.

A typical street in Poitiers.

In Poitiers, I also visited the local CRIJ. Centre Régional Information Jeunesse. A EU group that assists students in finding housing, jobs, and healthcare. They don’t really handle the academic side of things, but in Poiters, Vincent spent a couple hours with me.

For French language studies, I should look for a Centre FLE, he said. Pronounced cen-tr flu, this refers to Centres de Français Langue Étrangères. (Centers for French language study for foreigners.) Centers can be private or public, sometimes a department within a university.

Another criteria for a school that meets the student visa standard is if they offer the TCF (Test des Connaissances du Français), DELF, or DALF exam.

For a September start, Vincent recommended finalizing my application to a center by May. You’ll need the summer to process your visa, he said.

I also asked if there was an age limit for getting a student visa. He had to call around. No one else knew anything either. “So,” he said with a shrug. “It is not a problem.”

So I knew a lot more now. BTW, I also found lots of info on Paris Unraveled. Allison can help you with any issues concerning moving to France, including this advice about finding a language school. Do not enroll for less than 21 hours a week of in a classroom. You might have your visa application refused, or if you do take less classes, you may not be able to renew your visa.

Tip 3. Spend more time than you think you’d need, looking for a school

As charming as Poitiers is, it is a small town. I was pretty sure I wanted to live in Paris, but to make sure I took trains to Bordeaux, then Toulouse. I’m glad I did, but came back more convinced than ever that I wanted a big city.

Central Bordeaux.
Toulouse. Called the ‘rose’ city, for its rose-colored stone.
In Paris, my chambre de bonne (formerly a maid’s room) is on the very top corner of this 7-floor walk-up.
The view from the inside.
Another view. Amazing, isn’t it?

And in Paris, I started to go round to schools in person.

Now at the time, for some reason I couldn’t figure out if the Sorbonne had a Centre FLE. So one day I went to one of the Sorbonne campuses, hoping to talk to someone in person, but without a student ID, they wouldn’t let me in. But it turns out they do have a Centre-FLE-like department.

And I went to Alliance Française on Boulevard Raspail. One of the sales-type  people at reception said, “No problem with the student visa. Just pay us for twelve weeks of study and you can stay a whole year in Paris.” (To be fair, she also said that each AF has its own management.)

Ecole L’Etoile was a much more laid-back, friendly place, and recommended by Paris Unraveled. I asked to look at a sample textbook but they didn’t use any, they said. Each teacher writes her own curriculum. Hmm, I wanted a book to look at. And what a lot of extra work for the teacher, I thought.

Then I went to Institut Catholique Paris (ICP), a small university near the Luxembourg Gardens. ICP has a quiet campus off a main street, with castle-like red-stone buildings. In the garden, a French class was playing charades. There was lots of laughter.

Their centre FLE is called Institut de Langue et Cultur Françaises (ILCF). A nice reception lady gave me textbooks left behind by a former student. Colorful, with interactive lessons, they were the kind of books I like to teach from.

Back in the garden, the charades group was breaking up. Oh yes, they said, it’s a great school. We really like it.

That was good enough for me. More than good.

Step 4. Research what else you need to know about living in France

Towards the end of my stay in Paris, I scheduled a Pick My Brain session with Allison of Paris Unraveled. I know. I keep plugging them. But she helped me a lot.

We met at a café just off Saint Germain Boulevard. Here’s the basic info to share with you.

Me: What are the English teaching opportunities here?

Allison: There’s a big demand. Business English too.

Me: What about housing in Paris?

Allison: (Eye roll). It’s very, very hard to find an apartment to rent. They go in minutes. It’s hard to qualify. You need all sorts of papers. The main thing they look at is the caution bancaire. It’s a deposit of two months rent in a [French] bank that can’t be withdrawn until the tenant vacates.

Me: What about renewing a visa? Staying on? I don’t think I can afford studying for a second year.

Allison: Try the auto-entrepreneur visa. You could set up your own business. For you it might be freelance-tutoring English. You do have to submit a business plan and market study. But I’ve helped a lot of students with this. The main requirement is that you have to make at least 1500 EU a month. Please remember though. Working under the table is the worst crime you can commit in France!

Step 5. Apply for the visa

Back in Saudi Arabia, I found out that because I had a Saudi work permit, I could apply for the student visa from the French consulate in Riyadh. So I met with the Cultural Affairs Attaché, a very friendly, young French man in charge of the student visas. Our interview went like this:

Name Withheld: Why do you want to go to France?

Me: To retire there.

NW: Oh, nice. But why do you want to learn French?

Me: To have French friends.

NW: Oh, very good.

(Pause. Smiling at each other.)

Me: And how long does it take to process a student visa?

NW: Oh… I don’t know… A day?

Me: A whole day?

NW: We don’t have many Saudis applying for student visas. Would you like to see photos of my village? (He showed me some.)

Me: Oh, je dois aller. (I must go.)

Then my company didn’t get paid by the Saudis, but three months later, when they were—and I was—I left the Kingdom for good.

Step 6. Apply for your visa through CampusFrance

I put my first visa try above, to show you how different the process is in the U.S.

All French consulates in the U.S. make you apply through CampusFrance—and they do reject people. So good luck. Take your time with this step and get it right.

You will have to tell CampusFrance which French consulate you’re using. There are nine in the U.S. Click here. Your driver’s license works as proof of residence.

Are you with me still? Good. Let’s move on.

CampusFrance uses on online portal onto which you have to upload all your docs. Here’s what you’ll need before you upload:

♦ Scans of your passport detail page and most recent diploma
♦ An acceptance letter from your French school (including the number of hours a week and semesters you’re enrolled for)
♦ A head-shot photo
♦ A 150-word statement about your reason for studying in France
♦ A copy of your CV
♦ Another cover letter explaining why you want to study in France, this one giving more detail about how your studies will help you in your career
♦ Any information about previous work or studies in France, including results from internationally-recognized French language tests

Oh boy. Have your eyes glazed over yet? There’s more. CampusFrance also asks for supporting docs:

♦ The address of where you’ll be staying in France. (I reserved housing for my first month on
♦ A receipt of your plane ticket to France. Buy a refundable ticket. After your visa is approved, you can get a cheaper non-refundable flight.
♦ Proof of traveler’s health insurance. For your first few months.

I know these latter three items seem counter-intuitive. Why go to this trouble (and expense) if you don’t know whether they’ll accept you? But it will strengthen your case, and you will have to submit proof for all of the above to the French consulate.

I needed help organizing everything, so I had another Pick My Brain session with Allison. I recommend you do the same. The Campus France upload site is not easy to negotiate. She’ll help you with that and most importantly, help you avoid getting rejected.

Her most important tip is this, which I think is okay to tell you because she gives it for free on her video. Do not say anything in your statement about working in France. That’s a sure reject.

After you’ve prepared all your docs, go to the Campus France portal, upload the docs, and pay your processing fee.

Normal processing is three weeks. You can pay extra for expedited service. (BTW, here’s a scary link that summarizes the entire process.)

One last bit about timing. Both Campus France and consulates are very busy in the summer months. So allow plenty of time. If you hope to begin studies in September, start your Campus France application no later than May.

Also keep in mind that you cannot schedule your consulate interview any earlier than three months before your studies start. For me, that meant scheduling my trip to the consulate for June.

Step 7. Interview at your nearest French consulate

Congrats. You’ve got your approval email back from CampusFrance. Now go to your nearest French consulate website and look for the scheduling link. On the LA consulate site, I eventually found it by doing a search for ‘appointment.’

What do you have to bring?

Again, go to your list of required documents. By now, this should make sense to you.

The interview itself was pretty much pro forma. The two consulate people kept calling, “Next.” Then you go up, your consulate person starts asking for your documents, and you slide them under the glass.

I was amazed that after all the FULL CAP warnings on their site about bringing everything, they would not consider any exceptions whatsoever, people ahead of me kept saying, but … but … but…

What an awful job those two people had. But I had all my docs. I even managed to get a smile out of them.

I hope this helps!

Thanks for reading.


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