We have long wanted to spend a lot of our roving retirement in Europe and since both of us speak some French we focused on France. Of course, we are also interested in exploring Spain and Portugal all for more than 90 days at a time.
Staying Europe Longer Than 90 Days
In order to live in Europe for more than 90 days, you need a long-term stay visa from some European country. As many of you know, there is an area called the Schengen Zone that is roughly the same as the European Union. Americans can only stay in the zone for 90 days out of every 180 days. That doesn’t mean you can move from France to Spain. It means you must leave all Schengen countries for 90 days out of 180 before you can return to a Schengen country.
This restriction presented a roadblock to our plan, so we needed a solution. The best/easiest solution we found was to apply for a long-term stay visa for France. That allows us to stay for a year in France and travel throughout the Schengen zone. Based on my research, getting a visa for France was a little easier than getting a visa for Spain, and we are planning to be in France anyway. Besides, we love French food.
How to Apply for a French Long-Term Stay Visa
After a lot of reading, we determined the list of what was required for our visas:
- Our passports
- A letter saying we weren’t going to work and that we are retired
- Proof of accommodations (could be a rental agreement)
- Verification of income (typically a bank account statement)
- Medical coverage including evacuation insurance
- Paying the fees for filing and for the visa
- See this page on the Embassy Web site for more info
We had to schedule an in-person appointment at a 3rd-party agency (VFS Global) to submit the paperwork in San Francisco. We were able to get an appointment at the end of the first week of December. This was about three weeks earlier than we originally planned.
The process should take about four weeks, but we were concerned about the holidays impacting the processing time, so we planned to be in the US until the end of January because we originally planned to submit our applications around December 18th when we returned to the US. But since we came back earlier because I broke my leg, we obtained an earlier appointment.
The Big Reveal – Getting the French Visa
Our passports actually came back to San Francisco about three weeks after we submitted them but the text and email messages from VFS Global were too cryptic to figure out what was going on. Finally, after the holidays, I checked the website and the status finally said something that I interpreted as, “come pick up your passport.” However, at no time did they say whether or not our visas had been granted.
On our way to Sonoma to visit friends prior to heading to Utah, we stopped in San Francisco to collect our passports. We were really excited when the people handed us the envelopes with our passports. We ripped them open and eagerly searched for the French visas. I am happy to say that our visas are now safely in our passports, so we are free to roam once again!
While the visas are only good for one year, we think they can be renewed in France. In addition, we believe if we decide to stay in Spain we can get a Spanish long-term stay visa while in-country. But, we will think about that another day, after we embark on the European discovery tour of our 2020 roving retirement.
Where would you like to spend a year abroad?
Many things have changed in our lives since this article was published. We decided, based on our reader’s interest in avoiding Schengen restrictions that another article was needed. The French Connection, Part Deux (Exciting French Residence Visas) is the follow-on to this article.