Previously, on Adventures in Becoming an Expat, we applied for (and received) French VLS-TS Visiteur visas.
⚠️ Disclaimer 1: I'm writing about my own experience going through the validation process for a VLS-TS Visiteur visa, in Strasbourg, in the first half of 2022. I hope this information can be helpful, but please note that the process may vary between prefectures and from year to year. This is a long read as I've tried to be as thorough as I can.
⚠️ Disclaimer 2: Many summaries of this process are outdated, about Paris, or both. Many of them highlight disgruntled staff who exclusively speak French. We did not encounter this. Our experience in Strasbourg was that the OFII and radiology staff were helpful, friendly, and almost all spoke fluent English. We were grateful for how painless this was for us as (currently) monolingual Americans.
There are two steps in validating a VLS-TS visa and turning it into a residence permit — a "titre de sejour" — that is valid for 12 months. (It's also renewable; more on that process when we do it.) The first step, validation, happens online within 3 months of arrival in France. The second, a medical visit, is scheduled by OFII, the Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Integration.
Unlike what you may read in older articles, as of 2022 this process is completed online. We hit the Étrangers en France website, changed the language to English (top right), picked the 'validate' option, and entered our data. As part of the process you're directed to another platform where you pay the stay tax and receive your Timbres fiscaux électroniques, your electronic tax stamps. You'll enter the number on the stamp to complete the validation process.
After paying and completing the online form, you'll be emailed a confirmation document and login information for the EeF site. This login (among other things) allows you to make address updates, begin the renewal process, and apply for work permits. The confirmation document doesn't schedule the medical exam, but it does state:
This medical visit to a doctor is compulsory. [...] Following the medical visit and examinations, you will be given a medical certificate attesting that you fulfil the medical conditions authorizing your stay in France. You must submit this medical certificate to your local prefecture to renew your residence permit (the request must be made two months before your validated visa expires).
We completed this step on 30 January 2022, two months after arriving and a day or so after moving to the Strasbourg area, our soon-to-be-permanent prefecture.
OFII medical process
Supposedly OFII will send an email or post you a letter with your Convocation, your summons to the medical visit. This did not happen in our case; after almost two months of anxiously waiting, I sent an email to the Strasbourg OFII office. An agent responded within a week, with radiology visits Tuesday, and medical visits the following day. I was happy to see we wouldn't have to run all over the city or have to spend hours waiting for each others' appointments.
Le jour de la visite, vous devez vous présenter munie de :
- la présente convocation,
- votre passeport, votre carnet de vaccination, vos radiologies pulmonaires récentes, vos comptes rendus d'hospitalisation, vos lunettes de vue ainsi que votre carnet de maternité le cas échéant. Je vous précise qu'il n'est pas nécessaire d'être à jeun.
Translated, on the day of your visit, you must present yourself and the following documents:
- this convocation letter
- your passport
- your glasses or contacts, if you wear them
- your complete vaccination records (note that this is not just Covid vaccinations!)
- the OFII-ordered radiology
- any recent pulmonary radiology reports or images
- any recent hospital records
- any applicable maternity records
Having completed treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma last year, I brought a lot of supplementary documents:
- the summary-of-treatment handoff letter from my oncologist
- the report for recent complete blood tests, ordered by my new French GP
- textual descriptions of my last two CT scans; I included a (presumably crappy) robot translation into French for each
The radiology appointment in our case was at SIMSA, at Place Kléber, and it's a large commercial radiology clinic. We brought passports and our convocations; in hindsight, I should have provided my CT scans here.
We arrived early, checked in, and wound up being seen before our appointed time. The receptionist spoke solid English, which we appreciated.
The clinic wasn't empty, but it was far from crowded at 14h on a Tuesday. Unlike other accounts we'd read, there was no need to fully or partially disrobe for the chest X-ray. It does sound like if you're wearing an underwire, this may change things, as they're trying to image your lungs.
I needed a follow up profile view scan, likely because I hadn't provided info about my cancer treatment. I was able to briefly explain to one of the radiation techs that I'd completed cancer treatment for lymphoma, and she passed that along to the radiologist for their read of the profile view. After about a 10 minute wait, we were handed folders with the images and the radiologist's analysis. In my case, it read "Masse médiastinale avec un lymphome connu" — mediastinal mass with known lymphoma. Both of our reports stated "Absence de lésion pleuro-parenchymateuse d'allure évolutive" — absence of pleuro-parenchymal lesion with an evolutionary appearance, meaning that we didn't have evidence of Tuberculosis.
With that done, we were free to leave. There was no payment required, as it's part of the OFII stay tax. The two of us were heading back to the tram within an hour of our arrival.
The OFII medical visit proper
Aside from a moment of confusion at the security desk (our names weren't on the day's rendezvous list, for reasons), the medical visit itself was quick and low stress. It was less like a medical exam than it was a couple of quick tests and a brief interview with a doctor.
At the door, we showed our passports and convocations, and once they figured out that we were due to be there that day, we were escorted upstairs to the waiting area. The receptionist handed us a mental health survey, which we filed out and handed back with our combined paperwork.
A few minutes later, we were called back to the nurse's office together (the whole process was done as a couple). She immediately apologized for her "limited" english, which was frankly excellent; almost the entire process was in English. After a brief review of our files, we each did a verbal Q&A screen for tuberculosis. She did give a brief explanation of this part in basic French, but we got the gist of it.
We were asked if we wanted blood tests for HIV and Hep B / C, which we accepted; these were a finger stick, and she moved on to other tests while they sat. Weight and height were recorded, and used to determine need for an additional diabetes blood test. After a cursory vision test (read half of biggest line with each eye) and a short survey, our blood tests came back negative and we were brought back out to the waiting area.
There was no wait -- we were immediately met by the doctor, who left it up to us if we wanted to do the interview single or as a couple. The whole interview was conducted in English.
She reviewed Shanna's medical history first, then asked a couple of questions about our health, why we were in France, and about our professions. Between my cancer and Shanna's nursing background, we wound up on brief a tangent — she asked us about healthcare in the US and how it's paid for, and we talked a bit about how it differed from France. Her questions about medications were mostly focused around if we knew how to refill prescriptions here in France.
She then moved on to my (much larger) file. She asked a few questions about my cancer treatment after reading the handoff letter my oncologist prepared, but didn't go in depth aside from asking if I was taking any medications (I'm not) and when I was due for my next CT scan (August, per my French GP). Throughout the process she seemed to be trying to make sure that any conditions or treatments were going to be taken care of. The whole interview was extremely low stress.
At that point she signed and stamped our Certificats de Contrôle Médical, our medical exam certificates, reminding us that the original she was giving us was the sole physical copy we'd get. A second original is sent to the prefecture. After wishing us the best in our move and our arrival, she sent us on our way.
That's it — it was a low stress, quick process, and we're now officially able to renew our VLS-TS Visiteur visas as Cartes de Séjour this fall.