If you hold a passport from a developed country that does not start wars with others, chances are you will rarely need entry visas to visit other countries on short stays such as conferences and/or vacations. However, for longer stays to live and work – say for a semester – you will need a visa to legally enter and stay in the country of your choosing.
What does one need to do to get a visa when heading to a country like France? Your local French Consulate has an excellent online set of instructions and application forms, that includes a category “Long stay visa for scientists, researchers or university teachers“. With the correct documents you will probably be given a “Passeport Talent” type of long stay visa. There are three steps to the process. Step 1 involves getting an invitation letter/hosting agreement [Protocole/Convention d’accueil] from your host in France. This is an official letter from the institution which has been officially stamped by the local Prefecture. To obtain a hosting agreement you will need to provide your personal details: passport, foreign residence permit [if appropriate] and an official letter from your university stating precisely : (1) when you will arrive in, and depart from, France; (2) what the title of your work project is to be; (3) what and how much your income will be while you are in France. In short, they are looking to make sure that you will be financially secure and are there for a legitimate reason. Your host has to also provide details on their local team and on you as well. Once this document is processed [this can take 2-3 weeks], you will be sent the original, stamped letter to your home address. The helpful folks in the host institution’s Foreign Scholars Office will be able to assist you with this process.
Step 2 involves a visit to your closest French Consulate [in my case Chicago] after making an appointment on-line. You will need to bring your passport (& residence permit, if applicable) and copies of these documents, evidence of a return airline ticket, a passport size photo and your payment [$US115 or 99 Euros]. In addition to your application form you also need to partially complete a “Demande d’attestation OFII” form. Once your documents are processed you will have a visa in your passport, and stamps on your hosting letter and the demande d’attestation form. The staff at the French Consulate in Chicago were very helpful.
You cannot apply for the long term visa earlier than 3 months before departure. Although the processing of my long stay visa took only 2 weeks, the processing can take up to 1 month, so allow adequate time to complete this process. They will send you your passport with new visa/stamped papers to your home address if you provide a self-addressed envelope. I prefer to go and pick up the documents myself since I am not living in my home country. [I am a great believer in Murphy’s Law…] I was fortunate that I was able to drive to Chicago before the weather becomes really awful in late Fall/Winter. In fact yesterday when I went to pick up my passport and newly minted visa it was actually sleeting!
Step 3 is completed after you arrive in France. It involves additional paperwork [completing the rest of the “Demande d’attestation OFII” that was started during Step 2]. The completed form is sent via registered mail to the OFII or the Office Francais de l’integration et de l’immigration. As I understand it, the French authorities also affix a sticker/stamp to the visa in your passport, which apparently validates your visa.
So now the hard paperwork/footwork is done – I have my visa & a place to live! Now I just need to get all my other work finished for the end of the year…