This will be an ongoing series that I hope can help other students planning to research abroad – especially other Chateaubriand fellows!
I’ve now successfully secured my visa, but the process was long and often stressful. In Part 1, I explain making the decision of what type of visa to get, and why.
Getting a visa
One thing that was a hurdle for me in my preparation to move to France in January is the lack of information I’ve been able to find on getting a visa application together.
Specifically, I’m going to France as part of an exchange agreement while remaining enrolled in my home, but not host, university. This is an apparently unique situation, because most students go to France and enroll in a French university, which I’m not going to be doing. The Chateaubriand fellowship itself hasn’t posed any problems yet – in fact, it’s been helpful because it leads to a built-in point of contact at the French Embassy to whom I can go with questions. That being said, because of the multitude of visa options that Chateaubriand fellows have, the process seems overwhelming.
I’m hoping that this information proves useful for future fellows who may have questions about the process!
What visa to get?
My Chateaubriand fellowship will support me in France for 6 months. Anyone traveling on a U.S. passport needs a visa if they are going to be in France for more than 3 months. The options I had for picking a visa were either a Student Long Stay Visa (“student visa” from here on out) or a Scientific Long Stay Visa (“scientific visa”). Offhand, it seemed to make the most sense to get a student visa, since I am a student in the U.S., there are many ways of obtaining a student visa, and the cost of this visa is covered if you are a Chateaubriand fellow. I’ll spoil the end of the story by saying that I did decide to get a student visa, but not the traditional way.
Too many options
The first question for me that arose was regarding all of the different ways that one can obtain a student visa. For example, you can get a student visa if you were accepted into or have enrolled in a French university; if you plan on enrolling in a French university once you arrive in France; or if you will stay enrolled in your home (U.S.) university and not enroll at the French university but can show proof of participation in an exchange program. For Chateaubriand fellows, this last option involves showing a letter from your French PI indicating their acceptance of you to work in their laboratory. (Details of the specifications for this letter are included in the Guide for Fellows.) This is the type of student visa I ended up getting.
Very briefly, I did consider pursuing a scientific visa. However, I opted against it for two reasons: (1), the cost is not covered by the Chateaubriand fellowship and (2), it requires a lot of paperwork to be done by the host lab/university, and I was confident in explaining and going through the process with my French lab.
Why not enroll at the French university?
Great question! The policy may differ at different French universities, but at University Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) in Paris, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to enroll at the school for just one year if you want to enroll as a doctorant (PhD candidate); if you want to enroll as a Master’s student, you must first be accepted into a Masters program and also be prepared to take courses in addition to your research.
My French PI suggested that I try to enroll as a 2nd-year Master’s student (M2). (Yes, I am a doctoral candidate in the U.S. – we discussed this possibly being an easy way for me to get linked to the French university, regardless.) However, because I had missed the deadline to apply for the Master’s program by the time I got around to that part of thinking about the visa application, this option was closed off to me. I had also heard that previous Chateaubriand fellows had difficulty enrolling as PhD students at UPMC for just one year. Because it’s possible to get a student visa without enrolling at the French university, I opted to go that route after many months of back-and-forth with UPMC administrators, my French PI, and the Embassy to try and figure this all out.
In summary: instead of enrolling at UPMC in France, I’ll remain enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh. A formal exchange agreement between the two universities will allow me to receive a student visa.
Stay tuned for Part 2, an explanation of how I went about gathering the (many, many) documents required to obtain a student visa!