Note: I am Canadian and this guide is written from the perspective and experience of a Canadian acquiring a French working holiday visa under the France-Canada Youth Mobility Agreement. There will be some differences if you are getting this visa, and are of a different nationality and under a different agreement.
If you’re under the age of 35 and dying to move to France, you should look into getting a visa under the working holiday visa (WHV) / programme vacances-travail (PVT) scheme, which was created as part of the France-Canada Youth Mobility Agreement. The same visa also exists under similar agreements around the globe.
While I must stress that it is a temporary visa – as in, it cannot be turned into any other permit and returning to your home country upon its expiry is mandatory – it’s a good option if you haven’t found a job in France yet (thus cannot apply for the young professional scheme or try to get a work permit), wish to travel around France, and get a taste of what French life is actually like.
How to Get a French Working Holiday Visa
If you’ve decided that the French working holiday visa is the right visa for you, congratulations! It’s one of the easiest visas to get – and this is coming from someone who’s applied for half a dozen in her lifetime.
All the information you’re after is on the official government web page, but I’m going to break it down in the categories below.
Conditions of Eligibility
In order to be eligible to get a French working holiday visa, you must meet all of the following requirements:
- Be between the ages of 18 and 35 as of the application date,
- Hold a Canadian passport that is valid for at least six months past the end date of the visit,
- Have never benefited from this visa or the other two types of visa under the mobility agreement,
- Provide proof of sufficient financial resources to finance the beginning of their stay as well as to leave the country,
- Agree to pay any fees and taxes as provided for in legislation,
- Submit all documents asked for in the application kit.
Anyone who wishes to get a working holiday visa for France must complete the application kit, also known as the 3D Visa Application Package.
One Visa Application Form
The visa application form is self-explanatory in terms of filling it in. It asks for personal details as well as the purpose of applying for the visa. There is also a large section regarding France specifically, asking you about means of support, if you have any family in France, if you’ve ever stayed in France long term, and so on. If a section does not apply to you, leave it blank.
The one question I get asked a lot regarding this section is the first address. This can be anything from a hostel, to a friend’s place. If it is a hostel or hotel, print out a receipt showing that it has been booked for the first few days of your stay. If it is a friend’s place, have them write a letter confirming that you’re able to stay with them, as well as scan a copy of their national identity card (if they’re French) or visa/permit (if they’re foreigners living in France).
Two Recent Identity Photos
These photos can be originals only and be 35mm x 45 mm. Digital photos and scans are not accepted. I would strongly recommend going to a professional service to get this done. I personally went to London Drugs, where they knew the exact measurements needed for a French visa photo, and stamped it to certify the date.
The Completed Checklist
Fill out all the information at the top and tick the boxes to indicate both the originals and copies. Documents must be submitted in the order that they’re in on the checklist.
Canadian Passport (Plus Photocopies)
You will have to submit your actual passport along with the application, in addition to photocopies taken of the first six pages. It must be signed, as well as be valid for at least six months following the end of your stay in France.
Proof of Financial Resources
You will need to have proof that you can fund your initial stay in France, as well as be able to buy a return ticket home. While the magic number used to be 3000 CAD, as of 2017 they are asking for proof of an additional 1000 CAD for airfare, for a total of 4000 CAD.
It is best to go to your bank and ask for an official statement of your savings. You can ask your parents to get official statements of their bank accounts and to sign a letter saying they would support you in the case you ran out of money, but this should be treated as secondary proof. If you have no money under your own name, it drastically reduces your chances of being approved.
You will need to have photocopies of all proof of financial resources.
You will need to include a professional letter stating your purpose for applying for a working holiday visa, and intent for your stay. It should be approximately one page in length. Reasons could include wanting to learn French, learning more about French culture, taking cooking classes, and so on. Be honest.
An Envelope to Return Your Passport
You will need to include a prepaid XPress Post envelope that is already addressed to you. This is meant to contain your passport, so that the consulate can mail it to you in the case that you are unable to pick it up in person.
Proof of Medical Insurance
You need to have valid medical insurance that will cover the entirety of your stay. It must include health care and repatriation – the latter being something you will likely need to tack onto a plan as an add-on. It is also recommended to sign up for liability insurance.
There is no shortage of medical insurance you can purchase. I have met people on WHV who had everything from basic travel insurance to comprehensive international medical insurance. It is recommended to research what is the best option for you personally.
When and Where to Apply
When to Apply for a French Working Holiday Visa
You should apply for a working holiday visa no more than three months before your planned departure. I would personally recommend two months before, as one month before is leaving it a little short if 1) they take longer than usual to reach a decision, and 2) you are getting your application mailed back and not picking it up.
In my personal experience, I picked the visa up a few hours after submitting my application. However, mine was a special case as I did not apply from within Canada. For my friends who applied within Canada, they tended to wait around a week before receiving their passport and new visa.
Where to Apply for a French Working Holiday Visa
There is no fee for submitting the application form. You simply have to make an appointment online and go in to submit the application and take biometric data. You cannot mail in an application – you must go in person.
Residents of Ontario and Manitoba will apply at the Consulate General of France in Toronto; residents of British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan will apply at the Consulate General of France in Vancouver; and residents of Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Nunavut will apply at the Consulate General of France in Montreal.
Applying From Outside Canada
As I mentioned above, I applied from outside of Canada. You can only apply outside of Canada if you are an official resident of a different country. In my case, at the time I was living and working in Budapest with a Hungarian work-residence permit. As such, I had to go to the French consulate that handled visa applications from Hungarians in Vienna. Similarly, I had a friend apply for – and receive – her French working holiday visa at the French consulate in Seoul while working as an English teacher in South Korea.
If you are living outside Canada and have a valid residence permit somewhere else, you will likely be able to do the same. However, before booking an appointment email both your local French consulate in Canada, as well as the French consulate in your country of residence, before making an appointment.Ask them to confirm whether or not they are able and willing to process a French working holiday visa.
An additional word of warning: You cannot apply for the visa from within France. I have met a few foreigners who traveled to France with the intention of staying on a WHV, but hadn’t applied for it before their departure. They were promptly sent back home when the amount of time they were able to stay as tourists had lapsed. Don’t let this happen to you!
Once You Arrive in France
Once you arrive in France, you do not have to go register yourself anywhere. You’re simply thrown head first into the fun world of trying to open a bank account, find an apartment, and find employment. These are all incredibly frustrating things that really are deserving of their own posts.
For the sake of brevity, I will simply touch on what kind of work a WHV holder is allowed to take, as well as the legal obligations that come with it.
Getting a Job
Working holiday visa holders are granted temporary authorization for a one-year residency permit, and are exempt from requirements regarding work permits from the DIRECCTE. However, this does not exempt their employers from registering them with the necessary authorities upon being hired. As such, be sure to double check with your employer(s) that they registered your employment properly before you begin work.
I have met people here on WHV who have done everything from bar tending, to working at a big finance company, to working at a TV station, to being a salesperson at a boutique in Paris. A WHV has no limits on what kind of work you can do, so it’s really up to you and what you want to do – and who is willing to hire you!
CDI vs. CDD vs. Freelance
There exist two types of contracts in France: contrat de travail à durée indéterminée (CDI) and contrat de travail à durée déterminée (CDD). In a nutshell, the former means that you have a job forever – there is no end date. The latter, meanwhile, has a clear end date.
Whether or not WHV holders are allowed to take a CDI is a hotly debated topic, given that it’s a temporary visa with a clear end date. I have met WHV holders who worked on both. However, most employers don’t consider it right to give a temporary visa holder a CDI, and will only give CDD’s instead. That said, giving someone with a working holiday visa a CDI is not actually illegal – it just goes against what the visa is meant for.
The working holiday visa is meant for CDD work, as the point of the visa is primarily meant to be travel, working only when you need to give your funds a boost. As such, some people have not been granted their renewal because they had a CDI or a single job during their first year, or worked the entire time instead of in blocks between travels.
However, after plenty of research, I’ve discovered that whether or not you’re allowed to work a CDI job depends entirely on your local prefecture – and the one you go to renew at in particular. For example, I personally only went to prefectures in central Paris, and was told multiple times by different people that I was not permitted to take a job with a CDI contract.
If you have been given a CDI job offer, I strongly recommend that you go to the prefecture local to your residence in France, and speak to them prior to taking the job. Even if you plan to only stay with the job six months maximum – as the visa guidelines strongly recommend – you should get verbal or written approval, as if that particular prefecture is against a working holiday visa holder having a CDI, it could cost you your second year renewal.
On a similar note, the agreement between Canada and France mentions that you can only take work that is “salarié” – meaning, work where you are on a payroll. As such, freelance work is not allowed, and France’s auto-entrepreneur scheme is not suitable for this visa. You should also not perform any sort of self-starter business activities, such as setting up an e-shop or selling handmade goods.
Social Security and Health Care
When you are hired for the first time in France, your prospective employer must submit a Déclaration Préalable à l’Embauche (DPAE) that will declare your employment to all necessary authorities. This must be submitted seven days before you begin work.
When this form is being filled out, your employer must make note that you don’t have a social security number yet. What’s more, following the DPAE, they must submit a declaration along with the necessary accompanying documents to La Caisse primaire d’assurance maladie (CPAM) to request a social security number/health care card for you. This is part of their legal obligation when hiring a foreigner.
While your dossier is being treated by CPAM, if everything is going well, they will mail you a temporary social security number to your home address (not to your workplace). This temporary number will suffice until (or if) your receive your real numbers.
When can you expect your real social security number and coveted carte vitale (French health care card), if ever? This is a hotly debated topic for working holiday visa holders.
Based on what I’ve read online and heard from others who’d held the visa, they never received their carte vitale, social security number, or even temporary social security number – despite being legally employed! This spreads the false assumption that working holiday visa holders are not eligible for French health care or social security benefits.
On the contrary, I’ve been told by workers at the prefecture that as long as our employers are taking social contributions in our name out of each paycheck, working holiday visa holders are eligible to receive a social security number and carte vitale.
So why do people have such a hard time receiving either of these on this visa? I blame their employers’ failure to declare them to CPAM, their failure to declare themselves to CPAM (which you can do once you’ve received three paycheques), something being missing in their dossier (the social security office is notorious for being difficult regarding birth certificates, which they want translated, authenticated, legalized, and to be no more than three months old), leaving the country before their papers were processed and number created, or simply giving up (which is easy when it comes to French administration!).
In all likelihood, if you’re proactive and submit your documents to CPAM (or your employer submits it on your behalf) in a timely manner, you will receive a temporary social security number within a two-year stay in France. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll receive real, working numbers or cards while on that particular visa.
This may seem pretty unfair, but if you’re planning on staying in France long-term (as in, pursuing more serious French permits back in Canada after you finish your initial stay in the country on a WHV), it may not be over yet. If you have a temporary social security number and go to the doctor, you will receive a receipt with that number. If and when that social security number turns into a real one, you will most likely be able to take these receipts to the French health insurance offices for a refund.
Renewing a French Working Holiday Visa
While working holiday visas were originally restricted to a four-12 month period, as of 2015 holders are able to request an additional year. This extension request can only be made within France, at the prefecture local to your current French residence.
In order to begin the renewal process, applications must present themselves at the local prefecture two months before the expiry of their visa. At the prefecture, they will be told what documents they need to bring to be eligible for a renewal. What documents you need depend entirely on the prefecture you go to – I’ve heard stories that vary wildly! Some people only needed to bring their passport, while others were asked for bank statements, proof of a second year’s worth of insurance, proof of residence, a letter of motivation, etc. … As such, I cannot say with any certainty what documents you’ll be asked to bring in.
Due to the fact that the second year renewal is a new development, some prefecture may not be aware of its existence, or even be knowledgeable of what a working holiday visa is! If this is the case for you, bring in a copy of the official agreement that clearly states WHV holders can apply for an extension up to 12 months.
Also clarify that you are asking not for a new visa, but an “autorisation provisoire de séjour” that mentions being “autorisée de travailler“. This is a paper that you’ll receive that will state you’re allowed to stay for an additional six months. If you wish to get an extension for an additional six months on top of that for a total of 12 months, you will need to return to the prefecture close to the expiry date of the six-month authorization. There will be another checklist of documents to bring for the second meeting.
I have heard rumours that if the prefecture denies your request, that you can apply for the second year back in Canada, but I am not certain of this. However, it is not out of the question – email your local consulate back in Canada to explore this possibility if your local prefecture refuses to give you permission to stay an additional 12 months.
I have also read that you can stay an additional 12 months for a total of 36 months if you apply for an internship or study period. However, I have yet to meet anyone who’s gone this route, and so am not entirely sure of the process.
What to do When Your WHV Expires
Once you have exhausted your working holiday visa extension, you must return to Canada. This is non-negotiable. If you wish to continue living and working in France beyond the expiry date of your WHV, you must apply back in Canada for the appropriate permit.
This is true even if you got a CDI and your company wants to keep you (they will need to try to acquire a work permit for you, and to collect it you will need to return to Canada), if you PACS’ed with a French partner after living together for a year, and even if you got married.
Seems like a bit of a bummer, but if you really want to stay, just make sure to start the process for your next titre de séjour as soon as possible (as in, six months to a year before your visa expires – French administration moves slowly!).
If you keep on top of things, you’ll only need to go back to Canada for a few weeks, rather than months or years. After that, you can come back to France, new permit in hand.
A little known fact: You could also apply for another temporary visa under the France-Canada Youth Mobility Agreement if it falls under the study or work experience categories. However, keep in mind that these will only be good for 12-36 months, and will still require you to return to Canada upon their expiry. As such, if you want to make France your home, I would recommend trying to get a more permanent permit instead.