Non-WMU AIFS: Grenoble, France
I had heard sometime during the extensive process that French visas were one of the most demanding. I listened to dreamy tales of other countries with much less intensive requirements as we, a group of ten strangers with similar destinations, sat in an office for hours waiting to be called on by elusive worker bees. Whether or not they were true, it made us feel better to at least have some conversation as the hours ticked by.
Before beginning your actual visa application, you must submit an application to Campus France. I’m not exactly sure what it is they do, but I do know that this is a necessary step if you wish to study abroad as you will not be granted a visa without having done this. They require a payment of $190, part of which is a partial payment towards the actual visa application fee of $90. You can reach the website here: http://www.usa.campusfrance.org/en/temoignage/students-already-accepted-regular-service-3-weeks. I found the instructions easy to follow and this step was not much trouble for me at all. Do remember to email them with the necessary information once you have completed the application and sent the payment so that your file can be processed. This will take a few weeks.
To apply for a French long stay visa, you have to go to the French consulate website and figure out which consulate you need to be applying to. There are a handful of them in the U.S., and if you go to the wrong one, they won’t accept your application. For anyone with residency in Michigan (out of state students, too, as long as you can prove residency) that means you go to Chicago. Unfortunately, neither the general French embassy’s website or the Chicago embassy’s website are very user friendly. They’re easily translated to English, but sometimes the wording is confusing. However, it doesn’t take very long to figure out where the “visa application” part is. Chicago’s site allows you to apply partially online. You can fill out the questionnaires in English and the information will be transferred to a document in French that you must sign and take with you when you make an appointment in Chicago, along with whatever other documents they require from you. The list I was given of documents I might have needed included: proof of residency, identification, three passport photos, a passport, Campus France acceptance letter/ study abroad acceptance letter, a printed version of the Campus France email confirmation, last completed degree, an OFII form, proof of accommodation, and proof of funds. If your parents are funding you, you’ll want to grab your birth certificate and proof of them financially supporting you. One of the girls I was waiting with had to have her birth certificate faxed over because she had to prove her parents were, in fact, her parents and would support her because she had their bank statements as proof of financial support. I recommend booking an appointment early in the summer if you plan to leave for the fall semester. Appointment slots fill up quickly in the summer since many people leave around that time, and booking early will give you time to make another appointment should your first application be rejected. Within ninety days of departure is a good time frame. Remember, your passport can take up to 15 days after your visa application submission to reach you, whether you are granted a visa or not.
The French consulate has recently outsourced their visa application appointments to VFS, so you will be going there as opposed to the actual French consulate. An address for VFS should be emailed to you, but I recommend getting there an hour or two early to double check that you are in the right place. In Chicago, VFS is right across the street from a French market, so any leftover time before your appointment can be filled with good food and a great atmosphere. Anyone accompanying you can spend their time waiting for you here, as they are not allowed to wait in or directly outside the VFS building. I recommend taking the whole day off for this trip. Usually people wait a couple hours for their appointment, but I ended up in there for six and a half hours just waiting- although to be fair, they did say they were unexpectedly understaffed. Either way, don’t make any definite plans on this day. Most of my time there was just waiting for someone to check my application and send me on my way. Only a little bit of my time was spent getting my documents in the order they wanted and filling out more paperwork. In the waiting room I was told that everything I had questioned over the phone with the actual French consulate themselves was wrong. I needed my credit card to pay the rest of the application fee, not cash like I had been told. I could take a bag with me to my application. I didn’t need half the things I brought with me. Much of the stuff they asked for when I applied online wasn’t even asked for or looked at, but I’d still say bring two copies of everything you can think of just in case on top of the original versions.
Truth be told, getting my visa was one HECK of a stressful experience. In writing this, I hoped to at least lessen the terrible burden that follows this government-mandated slip of paper. I know I would have liked something relatively easy to read that could’ve helped prepare me and told me what to expect, because my application was taxing to say the least.