The only thing more stressful than moving to another country during a global pandemic was getting the visa for my trip. When I applied for my visa to study abroad in France in 2018, everything seemed unnecessarily complicated and over-the-top, and let’s just say that nothing has changed since then… And it seems like things may have even gotten worse.
Here is a synopsis of how my experience went with applying for and eventually receiving my visa for France from VFS Global. For those of you who are getting ready to go through the process… Bonne chance!
Who Needs a Visa?
If you are going on a quick trip to France or another Schengen Zone country for less than three months, then you’re good to go without a visa. Any visit for 3-6 months needs a “short stay visa” (like my 4-month stay during my semester exchange program). Six or more months requires a “long stay visa,” which is what I applied for for the TAPIF program.
Learn more about whether or not you need a visa for your upcoming trip to France here.
Once you have determined that you need a visa for France, the first step to getting one is filling out the preliminary application. This document asks for you passport number, contact information, and most importantly, your reason for entering the country. Additionally, it asks for details regarding who is supporting you and how (for me, this was my académie and the overall Teaching Assistant Program in France).
Be careful to triple check everything on the app, because if you’re like me, you can easily mistype your passport expiration date or home address (whoops). I filled out this application three separate times to get it right, which seemed like a waste of time but worked out in the end.
Booking an Appointment
Once you have completed the application, it’s time for what seems to be the most stressful part of the process: booking an appointment. It shouldn’t be too difficult to go on the portal and choose a date/time, but when I went to do so, there were literally ZERO appointment slots available. Knowing that I had to wait for appointments to open up, then wait for my appointment to come around, and then wait for my visa to arrive, I seemed to be pretty pressed for time.
After over a week of checking the website religiously for appointment availabilities with no success, I was awoken from a nap by my mom telling me to get up and secure one! Only Chicago had appointments available, which is super inconvenient to say the least, but I went ahead and grabbed one as quickly as possible.
Preparing for my Appointment
I was relieved to finally have an appointment booked, but I also dreaded spending the time and money to go all the way to Chicago for this one meeting. I spent a couple of weeks tracking flight prices, which were unfortunately higher than the flight I had booked to actually get to Paris, but eventually, I went ahead and secured that as well.
I had the appointment and the flight ready to go, so the last thing to do was get my documents together. I’m a super type-A and anxious person, so obviously I brought way more than was actually necessary, but it made me feel good to know that I was prepared for anything. Additionally, the TAPIF program recommends that you bring at least three copies of everything, which I did but was also totally unnecessary.
Here’s a recap of all of the documents I brought (and organized very neatly in folders with lots of sticky notes) for my VFS Global visa appointment:
Required Documents: Printed visa application, appointment confirmation letter, receipt for appointment payment, passport, scanned copies of all passport information (including visas and stamps), France-sized passport photo, and proof of employment (arrêté de nomination, aka my teaching contract)
Additional Documents Accepted: Certification (university diploma) and flight information
Unnecessary Documents I Brought: Additional certifications (university transcript, high school diploma, TEFL certificate), bank statement, COVID-19 vaccine card and copies, and official birth certificate and copies
In addition to these documents, I also packed the following items in my Longchamp bag and brought them with me for my journey:
- Magazines and books – You can’t use technology in the center and may have to wait for up to a couple of hours
- Snacks and a water bottle – Have to stay energized for the big day!
- Hand sanitizer and masks – Because of COVID-19, duh
- Portable and regular phone charger – I didn’t want to risk the possibility of my phone dying and me not being able to find the VFS office building in an unfamiliar city
- Earbuds – I get super bored on flights, so I always plan to occupy myself with music and podcasts
- Wallet – To buy metro tickets and lunch
- Makeup and Chap Stick – A touch of foundation always helps me feel more like a human while traveling
After all of this prep, I was so relieved to finally make real moves toward applying for and getting my visa! For some reason, I thought that it would be a fantastic idea to not only plan my visa appointment, but also both my flights to Chicago and back home, for Friday the 13th. Needless to say, it was quite a day…
I got up at 5 AM ready to go to the airport for my 7 AM flight only to find that my flight had actually been delayed by three and a half hours. Great. Eventually, I made it to the airport and boarded my flight to Chicago! I had planned out a fun day of eating, shopping, and exploring, but now that my time was cut short, I had to adjust my plans at the last minute.
When I landed in Chicago, I found the metro without too many issues and fully relied on Citymapper to get me to the downtown area. I enjoyed a delicious brunch (and coffee, obviously) at Goddess and the Baker and ran over to The Bean to snap an obligatory photo. Then, it was appointment time!
I got to the VFS Global office about 25 minutes early and they let me go ahead up. I was so paranoid that my name would not be on the list or I would have another issue, but everything worked out in the end! As I waited (for nearly two hours, big yikes), I chatted with other TAPIF participants and study abroad students about what cities we were going to and where we were from to pass the time in this tech-free area.
When I was called up for my appointment, I reviewed my application with the agent, paid the application and courier fees, handed over all of my documents, and then got my biometrics report done. To be honest, I definitely spent far more time waiting than actually talking with the agent, but c’est la vie.
Once I finished with my appointment, I speed walked to the metro stop, and somehow, I (barely) made it onto my flight out of Chicago in time. Just a couple of hours later, I was back in Roanoke with a Chick-fil-a sandwich in hand feeling much better.
Once the paperwork has been submitted and everything is in order, the waiting game begins. VFS Global officially states that it takes about three to four weeks for the application to be processed, but I actually received my visa in the mail exactly one week after my appointment date. All of your information gets shipped from the center where you applied to Washington, D.C., and then hopefully, it gets turned into a nice little sticker in your passport and a “Bienvenue en France!” note.
When I finally got the notification that my visa was en route and received it from the FedEx deliveryman, I let out a long sigh of relief and finally felt content. I have said before that I thought the visa process was the hardest part about getting to France, and I stand by that. Even if it seems long and drawn out, don’t worry too much about how ridiculous the process seems… all the time and effort you put toward getting your visa will be so worth it in the end!
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