This will be an ongoing series that I hope can help other students planning to research abroad – especially other Chateaubriand fellows!
In Part 1, I explained making the decision of what type of visa to get, and why. In Part 2, I described the process I went through to prepare the paperwork necessary to submit your Campus France application. Here in Part 3, I discuss preparation for the visa appointment.
Each of the French consulates in the U.S. has different criteria for the paperwork that is required to obtain each type of visa. My experience is with a long-stay student visa from the Washington, D.C. consulate. As of the time of publication, the paperwork requirements for this can be found at this link.
Some of the paperwork is the same as what’s required for the Campus France application, but not entirely. Some of the required documents, especially letters from either your host or home university (required for Campus France as well as the visa application), can take some time to get, so you should start this process as soon as possible. In my case, it took me from July until October to figure out who at my host (French) university could provide the documents I needed. (For a better explanation of why, read Part 2.) I certainly did not expect it to take so long! I’m glad I started in July and not any later.
List of requirements
- Proof of residency in the jurisdiction of the consulate you are applying to. At my visa interview, they asked for my driver’s license. However, you can also apply at the consulate based on where you are attending school, so I brought my student ID from Pitt, which fufilled this requirement. (My driver’s license, from New Jersey, wouldn’t have, since NJ feeds into the NYC consulate.)
- Passport. This requirement is pretty straightforward. You need a passport that is valid for more than 6 months past when you want to return to the U.S. The consulate will hold on to it after your appointment, and it will get returned to you by mail with your visa pasted inside.
- Application form, in English. It asks for things like your name and address, passport number and expiration date, and contact information, as well as details related to your stay in France. For example, it asks for your French address, means of financial support, whether you or a family member are a permanent resident of France, and what date you would like your visa to start. I found this form very self-explanatory except for learning what to list for my French address (question 25). I ultimately found an apartment in France before my visa appointment and used that address, but students can also use a university address if you don’t have an apartment or other permanent address at the time of application.
- Passport-sized photographs are required since your visa must have a photo on it.
- Confirmation e-mail from Campus France listing the consulate to which you have been assigned. The subject line of the email will be “Your Campus France application has been processed” with your Campus France registration number.
- The visa fee is not required if you are a Chateaubriand fellow.
- Official letter of enrollment from a school in France fits the same requirements for this document as stated by Campus France, so you should already have this in place by the time your visa appointment rolls around.
- Proof of financial means. This was the one item on the list where I was glad that I brought more paperwork than seemed required to the visa interview. Per the list, scholarship students (including, as I found out, Chateaubriand fellows) should bring a letter of award describing how much money you will be receiving per month. However : you are required to show at least 700 Euros of disposable income per month, and my Chateaubriand fellowship is for less than that. You can also bring a bank account statement in your name showing that you have 700 Euros times the number of months you want to stay in France at your disposal, or a notarized statement from a guarantor meeting the same financial requirements. I met the financial means requirement by showing my own bank account statement (both my checking and savings account – the visa officer pretty much asked me to give as much documentation as I had brought with me for this). However, as a Chateaubriand fellow, I was expected to have brought my letter of acceptance to the fellowship – the original email that states how much money your fellowship is for. I didn’t have this – I only had my Lettre de Presentation, which doesn’t include any information about finances. It ended up not being a problem, but took some explaining to the (luckily, very sympathetic) visa officer as to why I didn’t bring it with me. I would suggest to other Chateaubriand fellows to bring your acceptance email, though, because the stringency about this may differ by visa officer.
- Proof of departure or airline reservation. I was asked by the visa officer if I had made airline reservations, and I had not (because I wanted to wait until after I had my visa in hand to do anything permanent like that). I had brought a handwritten and signd letter inidicating my intended date of departure – but was not asked for it. Instead, the visa officer simply asked me to state my intended dates of departure and return, and she wrote them herself onto a form. It made me extremely nervous to have not been asked for a document that was listed as required, but the visa officers do this all the time and it ended up working out for me, since I got my visa!
- The OFII residence form is (1) in French, and (2) not necessarily required for all Chateaubriand fellows. It is required if you want to stay in France for more than 6 months/183 days, or if you are staying for 3-6 months but want to be able to work while you are in France. I would recommend filling out this form and bringing it with you since it can’t hurt to turn it in. Specifically, you may or may not be asked for it if you are asking for a visa that lasts close to the 6 month mark, like I was. In the end, it turns out to have been a good idea that I asked to turn this form in, because I was ultimately granted a visa for 8 months, and that would have been impossible without an OFII form. If you don’t speak French, the form is written in very simple language that would be easy to translate using Google Translate or an online dictionary like WordReference. (Just be sure to write your dates in the European order – DD/MM/YYYY!)
- Priority Mail Express envelope, pre-paid and addressed, which will be used to mail your passport, visa, and OFII form back to you. As of the time of publication, this cost $22.95 at the post office.
- Health insurance is required for any student in France, but for visa interview purposes, it is only required to show proof if you are over 28 years old, or (for PhD candidates, i.e. all Chateuabriand fellows) over 32 years old. This is because students younger than this are eligible to enroll in French social security as a student at a French university. (If, like me, you are under 28 or 32 years old but are not enrolling at a French university, you’re still required to have health insurance once you are in France, but you can purchase it through a private insurance company. You still don’t need to have this done by your visa appointment if you are under the age cutoff.)
Extra documents that it helped to have
There concludes the list of documents that are listed as required by the DC Consulate. However, there were additional documents that I brought with me that were asked for:
- A second form of photo ID. The consulate will ask you to leave a photo ID at the security desk, so make sure you have one that is not what you’ll need as your proof of residency for the interview. For security, you can use a work ID, student ID, driver’s license, or pretty much anything that has your full name and a photo on it. I used a work ID, and brought my student ID and driver’s license inside with me.
- Lettre de Presentation indicating that I am a Chateaubriand fellow. Though not explicitly asked for, I used it to explain to the visa officer why I was not required to pay the visa fee.
- A photocopy of my proof of residency in the jurisdiction of the consulate. The website says to bring proof of residency but does not indicate that you need a photocopy. However, the visa officer specifically requested a photocopy of my student ID, and kept it with my file.
- Lease agreement for my French apartment, signed by me and my landlord. I can’t say what I would have shown for this had I been using a university address on my application form.
- Letter from my home (U.S.) advisor indicating his agreement for me to participate in the exchange agreement with the French university. The letter I used for Campus France was a letter from my French professor. The visa officer asked for both.
Some things that weren’t asked for
I also brought a number of extra documents with me that weren’t asked for:
- Birth certificate. This is required if you are going to enroll in French Social Security, though, so if that’s your plan, make sure to bring it – along with a certified translation into French – with you to France.
- Lease agreement for my Pittsburgh apartment (which I through I might need as proof of residency – I used my student ID instead).
- Proof of health insurance that will cover me in France.
- Enrollment verification and transcripts from Pitt. The enrollment verification was required for the Campus France application but not at the visa interview.
- Handwritten letter indicating my intended date of departure. Like I mentioned above, the visa officer just asked me to tell her the dates I wanted my visa for. However, I would not recommend not bringing this, since it’s listed as required and another visa officer might be more of a stickler.
I’ll describe the actual appointment in a subsequent post. However, I’d like to just reiterate a point from my previous post – make your appointment early. Even though it can take some time to gather all of the required paperwork, most consulates are booking visa appointments 3 weeks out; NYC was booking 8 weeks out at the time I looked! If you encounter a delay with getting your paperwork together you can always cancel or reschdule your appointment. I had 4 weeks between scheduling and going to my visa appointment, and had everything together in enough time – even my (very delayed) Campus France confirmation!
Also, remember that you cannot have your visa interview until you are within 3 months from your intended date of departure. This does not, however, mean that you cannot schedule your appointment earlier than that, as long as the appointment itself falls within the 3 month window. And since it can take up to 3 weeks to get your visa, it helps to have your appointment early in the 3 months, if possible.
Stay tuned for Part 4, which will be about my trip to the consulate and the visa interview.