There are different ways in which one can attain a long stay visa for France; school, family, work, refugee, etc. The easiest way to look up what kind of visa you are eligible for is by checking out the official website for French visas https://france-visas.gouv.fr/en/web/france-visas/long-stay-visa . My husband is a French citizen so I was able to get a visa Vie Privée et Familiale. Now, we have to remember that the U.S. is relatively young when compared to most of the countries in the EU and France is quite well known for its bureaucracy and quite well known for the paperwork that is involved when doing most things. I'm serious. I'm warning you now, be prepared. Have copies of copies and bring everything with you when you have an appointment.
When we first talked about moving, I looked up the requirements and the needed documents. We had talked about moving to France at some point in our lives and we knew that marriage would help tremendously and we did not think to notify the French government prior to our marriage.......but we should have. If you are marrying someone from another country, it may save you some time in the future if you notify the country of your intent prior to the big day. I say this because we had to have our marriage transcribed, recognized, and sent a Livret de Famille in order for me to get my visa. There are additional steps if you wait more than a year as well like we did. Yes, France recognizes weddings in the U.S., but they don't just let you use an official document from the courthouse as proof of marriage, so, you have three options; 1) let them know ahead of time, 2) get the marriage transcribed afterwards, or 3) get married again in France. We almost got married again in France, but if you are married to your spouse for three or more years you can apply for a multi-year visa!
We went with option 2 as we had already been married for two years and I wanted to be able to apply for French citizenship sooner rather than later. France will recognize the date in which you were married in the U.S., but don't be fooled, it is process. Of course, we were doing all of this during 2020 when Covid slowed everything down, but we eventually got our Livret de Famille and copie d'acte de mariage.
Here is the Washington D.C. website with instructions, they are in French. https://washington.consulfrance.org/mariage . *When you are on the consulate websites, there is always more information and instructions in French, they are not available on the english versions of the site.* Depending on which state you live in will determine whether you send your documents to the consulate in Washington D.C. or to Los Angeles. If you are in Florida like we were, you'll send them to the D.C. office.
One of the things one must do in order to have the marriage properly recognized is send in an apostilled marriage certificate. Now, you may be asking what that is. Well, it's kind of like a notary, but for the marriage certificate we had to send in a certified copy of the marriage certificate from the courthouse with the fees to the department of state and they then sent us back an apostilled certificate. We were in Florida so this is what we used https://dos.myflorida.com/sunbiz/other-services/apostille-notarial-certification/ . I found this website for any state https://www.nationalapostille.com/apostille-a-marriage-certificate/ . You CANNOT take your marriage certificate to the local UPS store or bank and get it notarized and think it will work, it is NOT the same. Get used to these kinds of requests because all sorts of documents need to be notarized or apostilled in order to be recognized in France. (I am currently applying for master's programs and your diploma has to be notarized!!! So get everything certified through notary or apostilled, just do it. Driver's license, birth certificate, diploma, and other important document. Once you are overseas, it is v difficult to get things notarized if you are not there in person due to laws.)
The other fun part of our journey in getting our marriage transcribed was the call for original copies of our birth certificates.....mine had to be less than six months old and my husband's had to be less than three months old. Welcome to France. We were able to order my husband's online and sent to our American address, but it was a bit more difficult for mine. I ended up asking my parents to go to the courthouse and get a copy. Going to the courthouse in the county in which you were born is the easiest and least time consuming way to get an original copy of your birth certificate in the U.S.-their online ordering system is garbage. When I ordered mine and it had not arrived, my parents went to the courthouse and the government literally said their website doesn't work. Cool. Anyways.....once you have the birth certificates and marriage certificate you are almost ready! The rest is a bit easier, passport copies and such. Things that one should have readily available.
Once you send in all the required documents, payment, and return envelope, you can patiently wait for your Livret de famille to arrive. They say it typically takes around 8 weeks, but ours took longer due to Covid. Like, it took more than three months. The whole process is time sensitive and can cause a little stress, but with preparedness, some breathing exercises, maybe a bottle of wine, and patience, you'll get through it. This is only one of the items you will need if you plan on acquiring a Vie Privée et Familale visa. Stay tuned for more to come!