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Last updated: January 5, 2023

Visa, titre de séjour, carte de séjour… What’s the difference? I often hear these terms being used interchangeably, but they’re actually different! Here’s a little guide to visas and residence permits for France.

Visa for France

A visa is generally issued from your home country (or current country of residence). It is a sticker in your passport that allows you to travel to France and stay there for a specified period of time. There are short-stay visas (90 days or less) and long-stay visas (1 year max). The duration of the visa is related to your reason for being in France.

Official website concerning France visas:

long stay visa for France

Depending on the type and category of visa granted, you might have requirements to fulfill upon entry into France. When I arrived on my long-stay visitor visa, I had to validate it by paying a tax and going to a medical exam. Each type of visa also comes with its own set of authorizations. For example, on a visitor visa, you are not allowed to work for a French company or solicit French clients, but on a student visa, you can study and work a certain number of hours.

90-Day Visa Waiver

Americans can stay in France (or in any of the 26 countries that make up the Schengen Area) for 90 days out of any 180-day period without a visa. I’ve heard people refer to this rule as a “Schengen visa,” a “passport visa,” and even a “tourist visa,” but for Americans, it’s not a visa at all. It’s an exemption from having to apply for a visa.


Visa long séjour valant titre de séjour: This is one of the most common types of long-stay visas. This visa needs to be validated within three months of arriving in France. After validation, it serves as a titre de séjour for the first year abroad. It is a renewable visa, and you would apply for a carte de séjour for your second year in France. 

Titre de séjour

This is a catch-all term to talk about residence permits, whether it’s a visa in your passport or a physical card. A validated VLS-TS, a carte de séjour, and a carte de résident are all considered titres de séjour.

Carte de séjour

The carte de séjour (CDS) is a physical card that is granted by the French préfecture (in France). You most commonly receive one upon renewing your VLS-TS when starting your second year of living in France. In this case, it will be in the same category as your original visa. It is also possible to change categories, depending on your purpose for being in France. For example, I arrived on a visa “visiteur,” but I married a Frenchman, so I later applied for a carte de séjour “vie privée et familiale.” In some instances, you might apply for your card shortly after your arrival to France, like if you are traveling on a visa “passeport talent.”

carte de séjour
My first carte de séjour!

Duration of the Carte de séjour

Carte de séjour temporaire—1 year
Carte de séjour pluriannuelle—2 years or more, depending on the category

Carte de résident

The carte de résident is a physical card that is granted by the French préfecture. It lasts 10 years!! There are several conditions to meet before applying for this card, but in general, you need to have lived legally in France for a few years.

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When talking about titres de séjour, a récépissé is a special kind of receipt. It is usually a half-sheet of paper with your photo attached to it.

récépissé for carte de séjour

When you are applying for your carte de séjour, you might get a récépissé at the end of your appointment. This means that your documents have been received, and the récépissé will temporarily grant you permission to continue legally staying in France, with all the rights that your carte de séjour would give you. If your appointment to renew your titre de séjour is after its expiration date, you can apply for a récépissé, which will tide you over until your appointment. A récépissé can also be renewed if it is due to expire before your carte de séjour has been printed.

French Visa Terminology
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7 thoughts on “French Visa Terminology

  • September 20, 2021 at 12:19 pm

    Hey there, thanks for the info, I’ve just gotten my recepisse and like yours it’s valid for 6 months. But the carte de sejour is meant to be for a year. When your carte arrived was it for a year?

    • September 21, 2021 at 9:08 am

      Hi Matt,

      The length of the carte de séjour varies and depends on the type of residence permit you currently hold and the type of residence permit you’ve applied for (student/vie privée et familiale/visitor/etc). My first carte de séjour was for a duration of one year but that might not be a helpful comparison for you if your situation is different than mine 🙂

      Feel free to provide me with a few more details if you’d like more information.


      • September 21, 2021 at 10:35 am

        Hi Ellen,

        thanks for the response, i was a visitor but now ive changed to a vie privee et familiale

        • September 21, 2021 at 10:43 am

          Well, in that case, your situation is exactly like mine! You can expect a one-year card this time. When you renew, as long as you’ve met all the requirements, you can expect a two-year card.

          Congratulations on getting your status change processed!

          • September 21, 2021 at 10:47 am

            Thanks Ellen. Best of luck 🙂

  • September 28, 2021 at 3:56 am

    this is such a super clear, super helpful post Ellen – thank you. i’ve got a VLS-TS visiteur now (actually expired 1 Sept) w/my CDS appt tomorrow to “renew” but/and apply for VPF, and have got the French Bureaucracy jitters. The form isn’t super clear, nor have I found instructions for it – not even a basic multiple choice for which CDS category I can select from! I appreciate your helping clarify!


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