As an Australian I have a lot of “White Passport Privilege” when it comes to travelling the world. Most of the places I have visited haven’t required me to get a visa. Or if I’ve had to get a visa I’ve been able to do so on arrival in a largely straightforward process.
With the exception of a few countries like Brazil, Russia (which I’m actually not going to anymore because of difficult visa requirements), Argentina and Turkey, very few countries on my upcoming trip to Europe, Central and South America require me to get a visa.
Most of the countries on my list offer between 30-90 days visa free on my Australian passport.
But the one sticking point in my big travel plans was the pesky Schengen rule.
The Schengen zone is the area encompassing 26 countries; Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Whilst as an Australia I don’t have to apply for a visa to the Schengen Zone, I am limited by the rule that says in any 180 day period I can stay no longer than 90 days.
Basically what this means is that anytime I enter the Schengen zone, border control officers need to be able to look at the 180 days before that day and not count more than 90 days in the zone on my passport.
Back before the European Union and the Schengen Zone, Australians never used to have any problems backpacking Europe long term, most countries gave us between 30-90 days each.
But alas the Eurozone strikes again and given that there is no border control between Schengen countries, there is instead a blanket 90 day rule over the whole zone.
Considering there are only a handful of countries on my list that don’t fall within the Schengen zone, the only way to extend my stay in Europe was to either stay illegally and risk being permanently excluded from the zone, or get an extended visa for one of the countries.
Hence began my endeavour to get a French Working Holiday Visa. I thought I’d write a guide to make it easier for you to work out how to get a french working holiday visa!
Note: The following advice is for Australian passports only but may be useful for countries like New Zealand and Canada that have similar arrangements. This information is current as of 5 November 2015.
What is a Working Holiday Visa?
Working Holiday Visas are visas that allow travellers to stay for usually up to a year in a country, and work in order to supplement their travel funds.
They are usually intended for young people and are limited by age (most set an age limit of 18-30).
Working Holiday Visas are reciprocal; we have similar deals allowing the young people of many countries to come into Australia under similar arrangements.
Currently Australia has reciprocal working holiday visa arrangements with 23 countries; Belgium, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong , Italy, Ireland, Japan, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, Taiwan, Turkey and the UK.
I’m pretty sure we also have an agreement in the works with the US but I’m not sure on its status at the moment.
As you can see, there are a fair few options for countries in Europe. After a lot of research I landed on France, mostly because they are the only country that doesn’t require you to do something extra when you enter the country like apply for a residency permit.
The only requirement is to obtain the visa before you leave and then enter the country on it and get it stamped.
You will need to obtain a work permit in country if you plan on working, but, as I have no real intentions of seeking work that wasn’t an issue for me.
However the bureaucracy of countries like France is notorious and it lived up to its name when it came to the pretty stressful and complex process of getting a visa.
To make it easier I’ve prepared a step by step guide and checklist for getting this visa with little to no hassle.
So How Do I Get a French Working Holiday Visa?
In order to be eligible for the French Working Holiday Visa you need to be:
- 18-30 years old at the time of the application
- Be outside of France when you apply and the visa is granted
- Hold a valid Australian passport
- Must not have previous benefitted from this program
- Other additional document requirements which will be outlined below
Step One: Book an appointment at the Sydney Consulate online
Due to fingerprinting requirements you need to travel to the Sydney Consulate to lodge your application, regardless of which state you live in.
They can’t issue a Visa more than 90 days before your entry into France, thus don’t make your appointment too early.
That said, it will be a lot less stressful if you don’t leave it too late. As the appointment calendar releases appointments 60 days in advance my advice would be to start looking for an appointment 150 days before you leave. And book the first one that works that is no earlier than 90 days before you leave.
I intended to apply in September, but because I was in Korea in July when all the dates were released I almost missed out on getting an appointment (I’m told this is one of the busiest times of the year). After obsessively checking the appointment calendar I managed to snap up what must have been a cancelled appointment for the 18th of September; 66 days between my intended date of entry.
I lodged my application on the 18th of September and my passport didn’t arrive under the 22nd of October so definitely don’t leave it too late!
Step Two: Book Flights to Sydney
If you don’t live in Sydney you’ll most likely need to get on to booking flights for your appointment. Be sure to account for cancelled flights and delayed because if you are more than 10 minutes late for your appointment it will be cancelled and chances are you won’t be able to get another appointment for at least a month.
Step Three: Book Flights to France
However unlike other countries that only require a proof of funds, France required an actual return ticket. So I booked a fully refundable ticket with Qantas; they have a flex ticket which is super expensive but that didn’t matter considering I had every intention of cancelling it and getting all of my money back.
Step Four: Book Health Insurance
You need compulsory comprehensive one year health insurance. Basically this just means travel insurance with sufficient health coverage (unlimited will be best).
This was another stumbling block for me as the first 90 days of my travel are covered on my credit card at which point my free travel insurance with my university will kick in. Hence I didn’t want to pay for a year long policy that I didn’t need.
This was harder to find but after endless research I finally found a policy with Southern Cross Travel Insurance that would allow me to cancel for only a $35 fee so long as I cancelled before my trip started. I cancelled as soon as I got the visa.
If you are actually looking at buying travel insurance (because it is super essential), they are also pretty good value.
Step Five: Order a Police Check
You need to have a police name check that is less than 3 months old at the time of the appointment. I ordered the Federal one just to be safe. It costs $42. You fill in an online form and it didn’t take more than a week to arrive.
Step Six: Gather all your documents for your appointment
You’ll need the following documents and items to lodge at your appointment:
1 x Australian passport (with validity of at least 3 months from the intended expiry of your visa)
1 x Long Stay Visa Application form (filled out, dated and signed)
1 x passport sized photograph pasted on to the form
1 x Evidence of financial resources
- This requires proof of at least $5000 Australian dollars
- I got a statement prepared by ANZ for the last 3 months of my savings account. As it was an interim statement I needed to order this and left it too late. I intended up having to go to ANZ in Sydney straight after getting off the plane to get a statement.
- Make sure it has your full name on it (I also got mine stamped by the bank to be 100% safe). This means a simple print off of your online banking will not suffice
- They also say you can have last 3 months pay slips but I don’t think this would be as certain.
- Credit limits on credit cards are not sufficient.
1 x Evidence of compulsory/comprehensive one year health insurance starting from date of arrival in France
- Due to the way airline schedules work you won’t be able to book your flight exactly on the day your visa expires.
- But you do need to have a whole year’s worth of health insurance, regardless of your return ticket date.
- Hence mine had to show validity from 23rd of November 2015 – 23rd of November 2016.
- I printed the whole PDS out and photocopied it to my statement of insurance/receipt sent out by SCTI and highlighted the health insurance part
` 1 x Police Certificate + photocopies
- You’ll need both the original National Police Check (for them to sight) and a photocopy of it (which they will attach to your application).
1x return ticket
- Print off your e-ticked/itinerary for the return flights you have booked.
1 x processing fee
- 99 euros
- They can’t accept cash, they will take the payment in Australian dollars on your credit card
1 x return postage satchel
- If you don’t live in Sydney and don’t fancy another trip there, you’ll need to also have a postage satchel filled out so they can send your passport back to you.
- The postage satchel needs to be for registered post and they recommend Express Platinum Post so I just went with that (I didn’t want to give them any excuse to reject my application).
- Make sure you have it filled out with your address!
- Also keep the tracking number so you can track the package
1 x print out of appointment confirmation
- This has a unique barcode on it that will be scanned by security before you are admitted to the embassy.
- It will be emailed to you when you make your apppointment
NOTE: As you’ll be without your passport for what will most likely be at least a month it’s also a good idea to take a photo of it in case you need it for any other travel booking requirements.
Step Seven: Go to the appointment
Make sure you go to your appointment and you aren’t late. You can’t take anyone with you unless they have their own appointment.
1 appointment = 1 passport.
It’s pretty easy and shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes. You’ll be asked to show your passport to the security at the door before being let in.
I then had to wait for about 5 minutes before I got called up to what is essentially a bank teller sort of set up.
You’ll shove all your documents under the little slot, the person there will check them all (and if you are paranoid like me send all the extra copies back through the slot to you), take your photo and fingerprint you.
They’ll then ask for payment (I think mine was $157 AUD with exchange rate at the time) and give you a receipt for the application and payment.
Step Eight: Wait and Don’t Panic
The wait was probably the most stressful part of the whole process. During the more than four weeks it took for my visa to arrive in the mail I managed to convince myself that I had put the wrong date on my form, that they had lost my application and that it was going to arrive rejected.
I sent three emails off and none of them got a reply (you can’t call the visa part of the French embassy). But after four weeks of waiting my passport arrived in the mail. No letter attached or any peep from the embassy. Just a passport with my visa, properly dated and filled out in it.
Relief is an understatement.
Step Nine: Go to France!
I haven’t quite got to this step yet. I’ll update this post with any specific requirements upon entry!
UPDATE: I’ve since spent 11 months in Europe (and most of it in the Schengen Zone) with no issues. I wasn’t asked a single question by French authorities upon entry and I never got asked about my visa by any Schengen authority whenever I left or entered the zone. I also only entered from once. The rest of the time I entered or exited from other Schengen countries (Slovenia, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Germany to name a few) and had no issues. As soon as they saw the visa my passport was stamped.
I knew I had a million questions I needed answered so comment below and I’ll do my best to answer them!