My father is an EU/US dual national. My mother, his wife, is a US citizen (only). They are retired, both over 65. They are financially comfortable and own a small residence in France, which they generally visit for 4 months every summer. My father is not a citizen of France.

My research (primarily on http://vosdroits.service-public.fr/) indicates that for my mother to stay in France for longer than 90 days, she is supposed to apply for a carte de séjour. This application can take up to six months, which means that she will quite possibly have left France by the time the card is ready.

The carte de séjour seems to be intended for people who want to reside in France permanently. There seems to be a gap in the law for temporary stays that are longer than 90 days. My mother does not want to apply for a carte de séjour for a few reasons, the primary one being that she does not want to establish a permanent residence in France. Another important reason is that she would then need to get a French driver's license, which is burdensome, and which seems like an unusual requirement given that she spends 2/3 of her time in the US. (See http://www.ambafrance-us.org/spip.php?article376.)

The main question, then, is: what documents must a non-EU family member of an EU citizen obtain in order to remain with that person in France for a temporary stay of longer than 90 days, or, alternatively, for regularly visiting France only 1/3 of the year without establishing residency?

Another way of asking that question might be: Is it really necessary for the non-EU family member of an EU citizen to obtain a carte de séjour in order to stay in France for 91 days (or 120 days, or what have you)?

I have some related questions as well, which I may ask separately.

I understand that residence-related questions belong on expats; I am posting this here because the intention is to avoid establishing residence.


I noticed that the EU directive states:

Article 11

Validity of the residence card

  1. The residence card provided for by Article 10(1) shall be valid for five years from the date of issue or for the envisaged period of residence of the Union citizen, if this period is less than five years.
  2. The validity of the residence card shall not be affected by temporary absences not exceeding six months a year, or by absences of a longer duration for compulsory military service or by one absence of a maximum of 12 consecutive months for important reasons such as pregnancy and childbirth, serious illness, study or vocational training, or a posting in another Member State or a third country.

However, http://vosdroits.service-public.fr/particuliers/F19315.xhtml states:

La carte a une durée de validité d'1 an minimum et 5 ans maximum et est renouvelable.


The card is valid for a minimum of 1 year and a maximum of 5 years, and may be renewed.

  • "EU citizenship" doesn't really exist, and the answer may differ depending on whether your father is French or has the nationality of a different EU country. – RemcoGerlich Jun 3 '15 at 13:05
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    @RemcoGerlich “EU citizenship” is a phrase used in the treaties and, since I know phoog is familiar with all this, I took it to mean precisely “from another EU country than France” (because otherwise it is indeed not applicable in this context). But it's true that it cannot hurt to confirm that. – Relaxed Jun 3 '15 at 13:10
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    I think I disagree with the closure votes (to expats)... this is travel to visit a country, that just happens to be occurring yearly, and for more than 90 days. – CGCampbell Jun 3 '15 at 13:49
  • @RemcoGerlich My father is not French. I will edit the question to make that clear. – phoog Jun 3 '15 at 17:36
  • @RemcoGerlich from 2012/C 326/01, Part 2, Article 20 (Ex Article 17 TEC), paragraph 1: "Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship." Link: eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/… – phoog Jun 3 '15 at 21:59

Yes, it is necessary. On a formal level, there is no gap in the law, more than 90 days is a long séjour for which third-country nationals need either a visa long-séjour valant titre de séjour (VLS-TS) or carte de séjour (or a carte de résident but that one is definitely not relevant here). As impractical as it is with all the delays and staffing problems in the bureaucracy, there is no intermediate status between residence and short stay.

I think the VLS-TS is mostly intended for people who cannot enter France without visa and especially for people who do not benefit from the EU freedom of movement (e.g. third-country nationals who are the spouse of a French citizen), which would rule out your mother. You could however still ask the relevant French consulate about it.

If your mother could get one, the requirements would be pretty much the same as for the carte de séjour, but the advantage is that it could be arranged in advance from the US each year, sparing her the generally unpleasant experience of dealing with the service des étrangers of the préfecture during her summer break. Otherwise, the only solution is the carte de séjour.

Either way, a stay longer than three months is a long stay, with all associated consequences. But note that there is no unified concept of "residence" under French law. It's judged independently for immigration, tax or citizenship purposes. Thus it's perfectly possible to be deemed a resident for tax purposes and hold carte de séjour for many years and yet see an application for naturalization fail because you do not meet the (more stringent) residency requirement for this purpose.

I don't know what the rules are for driving licences but to the extent that it is necessary to exchange them after some period of time, your mother's immigration status would therefore not necessarily make a difference. I think the embassy might be oversimplifying this by tying the requirement to exchange the licence to the carte de séjour.

Obviously, none of this solves the six-month waiting time issue but I don't think there is anything in place to make it easier for people in this situation. The only thing I can think of is that if your parents have a summer residence, it's perhaps in a rural département where things might be better than in, say, Seine-Saint-Denis. In practice, six months is merely a target that is frequently violated but it can also be quicker I think. (Beyond the six-month rule in EU-law, there is a 4-month implicit refusal for all carte de séjour that is routinely ignored).

Also, I don't see anything stopping your mother from applying for a carte de séjour and then leaving. The next year, she can either pick it up and immediately file for an extension (if the card is still in the préfecture, in spite of the directive) or perhaps start a new application. As crazy as it sounds, as long as she always has an application pending before going over the three-month threshold, she would not be staying illegally.

Researching another question, I came across article R222-3 of the code de la route, which seems to be the basis for the need to exchange a driving licence:

Tout permis de conduire national, en cours de validité, délivré par un Etat ni membre de la Communauté européenne, ni partie à l'accord sur l'Espace économique européen, peut être reconnu en France jusqu'à l'expiration d'un délai d'un an après l'acquisition de la résidence normale de son titulaire. […] Au terme de ce délai, ce permis n'est plus reconnu et son titulaire perd tout droit de conduire un véhicule pour la conduite duquel le permis de conduire est exigé.

To the extent that I understand all this correctly, it means that the licence only loses its validity one year after one establishes one's “normal residence” in France. And, in this context, normal residence is defined in article R222-1 as

On entend par "résidence normale" le lieu où une personne demeure habituellement, c'est-à-dire pendant au moins 185 jours par année civile, en raison d'attaches personnelles ou d'attaches professionnelles.

Your mother's situation (only 4 months a year, no specific professional or family ties with France) clearly does not meet this definition, even if she requires and does hold a residence permit. It's very different from the notion of residence used in the law on entry and stay (where three months is the relevant threshold) or taxes (where the definition is much broader). So the driving licence might be a non-issue.

  • Thanks for your response. I wonder whether, since the 90-day limit is for a stay in France, rather than the Schengen area, my mother could reset the 90-day clock by going to Spain for a few days. Do you think so? – phoog Jun 3 '15 at 17:49
  • @phoog No, the Schengen limit applies, there is no resetting. The assumption is that you are either doing a short-stay under Schengen rules or a long-stay under some sort of titre de séjour, hence the 90 days. Spending one month in the UK (or Ireland, Romania, Cyprus, etc.) would work but that's a trick useful for backpackers and obviously not what your parents have in mind. – Relaxed Jun 3 '15 at 18:04
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    But, as I read the law, at least, since my mother is a "person enjoying freedom of movement under union law," as long as she is with my father, she is covered by 2004/38/EC, which mentions the Schengen area nowhere. It speaks only of visits to various member states, in which case a 60 days in France followed by 2 days in Spain followed by 60 days in France is three visits of less than 90 days each. – phoog Jun 3 '15 at 23:42
  • I hadn't thought of that. I don't think it has been tested but I doubt it would be much help in practice. But to be honest, I don't really know. Note that, unlike the Schengen regulations which are directly applicable and quite specific about this 90/180 day business (incidentally not in the original convention, part of this was added later on), the directive only defines broad principles so what matters is its implementation in French law. – Relaxed Jun 4 '15 at 1:42
  • I can't find any disposition dealing unambiguously with this, but my feeling is that generally speaking French immigration law isn't really sympathetic to things like visa runs. So it could just as easily be deemed to be a single stay and it would be quite difficult to fight a fine imposed on this basis. – Relaxed Jun 4 '15 at 1:44

I am not sure why Relaxed writes that a 'visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour' is not applicable in this case, since it covers exactly the situation you describe.

For stays longer than 90 days, the Schengen regulations define two possibilites:

  • A national long-term visa (French: visa de long séjour valant titre de séjour) which in most cases must be issued abroad before travel to France and allows a stay in the issuing country for a period of more than three and up to twelve months.

  • A national residence permit (French: carte de séjour), which is valid for 12 months or longer. To obtain such a residence permit, you are in most cases required to enter the Schengen area with a long-term visa. Visitors with a short-term visa or persons staying in the Schengen area as non-visa nationals are usually not allowed to apply for residence permits from within the country.

Even if both documents allow long-term stay only in the issuing country, you are allowed short-term visits to other Schengen countries with basically the same rights as the citizens of the issuing country.

A long-term visa for spouses of French citizens is issued free of charge, but at least in the US, you have to apply in person at a consulate. You must provide a nice bunch of documentation and the processing time is said to be about 10-15 days. If you include a return envelope with your application, the consulate will mail you the passport with an affixed visa, you don't have to pick it up in person. The French consulate in Washington has a detailed description of the application process and links to services to find the appropriate consulate (depending on your state of residence) and an online tool to make appointments for the application interview.

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    The Schengen regulation does open the possibility but not necessarily French law, “À noter : ce dispositif ne vous est pas applicable si vous êtes Algérien ou Européen ou Suisse.”. I believe the spouses of EU citizens fall in the same category, cf. vosdroits.service-public.fr/particuliers/N123.xhtml but I might be wrong about that. Still, it would not make much difference with respect to the OP's concern of being considered a resident. – Relaxed Jun 3 '15 at 10:07
  • I edited my answer to clarify that point a little bit. Importantly, VLS-TS and carte de séjour are not really exclusive to one another, the most typical case is that someone will get a VLS-TS to be allowed to enter the country and apply for a carte de séjour. It's now possible to use only the visa for the first year (which was not possible before) but it was never specifically intended as a distinct system for people staying more than 90 days but less than a year. – Relaxed Jun 3 '15 at 10:20
  • Also, I assumed the OP's father was not a French citizen. If he was, the VLS-TS would definitely apply but EU rules would not. – Relaxed Jun 3 '15 at 11:15
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    @Relaxed: My father is not French; I forgot to make that explicit in the question. My father told me that the consulate told my parents that my mother cannot apply for a VLS-TS because he is an EU citizen. – phoog Jun 3 '15 at 17:39

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