Under the free movement of persons in the European Union (EU), nationals of the 27 EU Member States are free to settle in France if they work, study, or have sufficient resources. Combined with the right to respect for private and family life, this freedom extends to family members who are nationals of countries outside the EU, when they accompany the European national.
Therefore, any EU national who wishes to settle in France has the right to be accompanied by their third-country national spouse, children or those of the spouse under the age of 21 (or dependent on them), and ascendants or those of the spouse.
The right also extends to people who are part of the household or who have health problems, under restrictive conditions.
It should be noted here that the concept of spouse covers the married spouse, but also the common life partner of more than two years. This is a significant difference with the law applicable to spouses of French nationals, since only married spouses (or PACS partners for more than a year) are eligible.
Obtaining a residence permit in France for the family member of an EU citizen is compulsory, and must be initiated within three months of their entry into France. It is not necessary to obtain a particular visa from the French consulate before departure, because entry is simply to be done in a “legal” way. This means that an arrival under tourism status (under Schengen visa or via a visa exemption) is perfectly acceptable.
The applicant must go to their local prefecture, accompanied by the European national, and request the issuance of a residence permit. On this occasion, it is necessary to provide the authorities with documents confirming the identity of the persons, the activity of the EU national in France, and their family ties. The authorities have no discretion in the matter and cannot refuse to issue the permit if the conditions are met and the family link established.
The card issued to family members of EU nationals is free of charge and valid for 5 years, renewable. It grants the right to work in France without additional formalities for the holder.
The procedures applicable to family members of EU nationals in France are therefore simple and direct on paper. In practice, however, they can be long because the delays within the prefectures can be significant, both for the submission of the application and for the delivery of the card. In addition, the application receipt that is given upon filing does not systematically grant the spouse the right to work before the card is actually printed. It is therefore crucial to initiate the process as soon as possible after arrival, especially if the applicant wishes to exercise a professional activity in France.