We are heading back to Europe after an almost two year hiatus due to the Pandemic. We did a quick trip last year to check on the work on the boat (which is STILL not done, of course) but this summer will, hopefully, be our first cruising season on Decize.
The first thing we needed was a long-stay tourist visa. The standard visa (which, for US citizens, requires nothing more than a valid passport) is only good for 3 months and we are planning on being gone closer to 5. Here is the official statement on the “long stay” visa:
Besides a fee (about $100) you have to provide a bunch of documents. The consulate in Houston no longer handles the processing of the visa (though you still have to start the process at the official French site )- they now use a private firm that verifies your documents, records biometrics (fingerprints, photos) and takes your money (VSF Global). VSF then send everything to the French embassy in Washington for approval. If everything goes well you get your passport back (in 2-4 weeks) with the visa.
Not sure what you do if you are not in one of the 10 US cities that has a VSF Global office – fortunately we are. As stated above the visa is good in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days which is good as we plan on travelling outside of France. The Schengen area is ” an area comprising 26 European countries that have officially abolished all passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders.”
Some of this is easy, the passport and passport-size photo for instance, but just what the heck is a “note verbale” for instance? You MUST have a piece of paper for each box on the list. Here’s what we provided (and it worked!):
- Travel Document: Passport
- ID Photo: Passport pictures (Walgreens)
- Purpose-1: A signed letter promising “not to exercise any professional activity in France.”
- Purpose-2: We don’t have “pension certificates” in the USA. We worried about this one a bit. We finally provided copies of our latest social security statements.
- Funds: A copy of our latest bank statements (not sure how much they are looking for).
- Accomodation: We provided the address of our marina and a copy of the sales contract for Decize. The marina address would probably have been sufficient.
- Health Insurance: “A copy of your American health insurance card is not acceptable .” You need a “travel health insurance certificate covering costs for medical repatriation, and emergency and/or hospital treatment, for a minimum amount of €30,000“. More on this below.
Travel Health Insurance
There are lots of companies that offer travel insurance. My advice is to avoid the US companies as they are ridiculously expensive. The range of premiums is huge (from hundreds to thousands of dollars). We elected to go with a premium package from Europe Assistance .
Total cost for both of us was €477 (about $570). A minimum package (that still meets the requirements) would have cost about €300, for both of us for 5 months. This is less that we pay for one month of health insurance for Roberta in the US. (This is where I start a rant about how totally screwed up the US healthcare system is but…. I won’t.)
The interview at the VSF Global office in Houston (on the West Loop) took about an hour for both of us. You have to schedule an appointment online. The interviewer was very nice. We did not have a “we won’t work letter” (you MUST have a piece of paper for EACH applicant and EACH item on the list!) but she let us write one out by hand. We had to pay a copying fee for each page that needed to duplicated and for the actual visa application (for some reason the ones we brought were not acceptable?).
Total cost (VSF’s fee, the application fee and copying charges) was about $150 each. We also had to have our photos taken and provide fingerprints.
And… after about two weeks we received our visa-enabled passports back via Fedex… (these pics have the actual visa numbers and dates blurred out).