Getting Your Canards in a Row

Au Pair Visas for France

Like any adventure, moving to France sounds glamorous and exciting, but as anyone who has gone through the process knows – whether it’s to be an au-pair, a student, a TAPIF English assistant, a company employee, or even someone’s spouse – there is a dark side.

FrenchDuckThere are a number of resources out there about visas, but after extensive searches, my puzzle still had quite a few pieces missing.  For the sake of those who come after me, here are the details I would have liked to know, based on my experience getting an au-pair visa for France in the U.S. at the Washington, DC consulate.

I’ll be extensive in my details because I know you’re starved for them, but if there are others who had different experiences in other cities, please leave comments! If you’re still searching for something, comment those, too, and I’ll be happy to answer questions where I can!

How Long Will it Take?
Getting all of the paperwork together to apply for your visa can take several months as there are many moving pieces to coordinate, particularly scheduling a French class and getting the contract approved by the DIRECCTE in France.  I had my first interviews in mid-July and both I and my family thought (erroneously) that I would be able to arrive in France by end of August for la rentrée, or back-to-school. In reality, my timeline looked like this:

Mid July: Interviews with families and agreement with ma famille
We’ll call them the Famille S

July 23: Scheduled visa appointment for first available opening on August 15 (three weeks later!)

July 24-25: Translation of diploma & medical certificate
I had fortunately had a routine appointment the week before and was able to request the report to have it translated.  If you haven’t had a medical exam within the previous 3 months, you would have to schedule one first. I used One Hour Translation and did not request a notarized document.  I was told a certificate of accuracy would be provided, but I ended up having to request it separately.  
Cost for both documents: ~$25

July 26: Dossier for the DIRECCTE mailed overnight by DHL to Mme S (~$90)
Included originals and copies of: the signed contract, my college diploma (original and translation), medical certificate (original and translation), certificate of enrollment in French language school,* passport, a lettre de motivation (cover letter) in French, CV (resume) in French.°

Aug. 2: Completed dossier submitted by Mme S to DIRECCTE
We’re told approval could take up to two months! I stay optimistic and keep my original Aug. 15 visa appointment, even knowing it will probably take until mid-September to get all of the paperwork together.

Aug 14: Reschedule visa appointment for Sept. 3.
No word from the DIRECCTE.

Aug 22: Mme S receives word that the contract has been approved and is being mailed to her.

Aug 28: Contract still hasn’t arrived from the DIRECCTE to famille S.
M. S visits the DIRECCTE offices and is only able to receive an official color copy, a black and white copy, and an email PDF.  They send both to me by overnight DHL on Friday, even though the consulate specifically requires the original stamped document. With the Labor Day holiday, even this doesn’t arrive in time for my Tue, Sept. 3 appointment.

Sept 3: Reschedule visa appointment
I cross my fingers and wait up until the morning of to see if my DHL would arrive, but no luck.  The next available appointment is originally for September 10, but I still don’t have my paperwork, anyway, so there’s not much to do about it.

By some crazy miracle, the copies from the DIRECCTE arrive that night and an appointment opens up at the consulate for the next day!

Sept 4: Visa appointment!
I’m told everything is approved with the copies of my contract (quel soulagement!).

The French consulate in DC has improved since I was last there in 2010, by the way.  They now have a scanner in case you forget copies and I saw some candidates having their photos taken at the counter.  I’m not sure if this was a standard service for their specific request or if the consulate is now kind enough to take them for you if you forget to bring your own or have photos with the wrong specifications, but I’d still plan to go fully prepared if you can!

On the other hand, it is impossible to reach them by phone and when I emailed the address for appointment inquiries, it bounced three times.
Cost: $160


Sept 5: Original docs of contract approved by DIRECCTE delivered
One day “too late”.  They had accidentally been sent to the address where Famille S was on vacation and were mailed by courrier on Monday morning, Sept. 2.

Sept 6: Flight booked for September 23
The consulate website says 2-3 weeks from the time of appointment until you receive the visa, but the lady at my appointment promised me I’d have it back by the 21 (17 days later).
Sept. 10: Visa arrives at the local post office for pick-up!
Less than one week after the appointment.

*Au-Pair French Class Requirements
Many of the language schools in Paris, and I assume in France, are willing to provide a certificate of enrollment for au-pairs, but every one I contacted insisted that the au-pair visa requires you to take 10+ hours of French per week. In addition, they required several weeks to provide a certificate of enrollment.

For various reasons, I didn’t want to take basic grammar every week through a specific au-pair program. It appears that other countries do require 10 hours per week, bit neither the websites for the DIRECCTE nor the French consulates in the U.S. indicate a 10 hour requirement.  I sent a specific inquiry to the DC consulate and was told that here, at least, there was no hourly requirement.   In the end, I signed up with France Langue, a school that I liked, for “2 visites ou conférences/semaine” for each trimester and they were willing to email me a certificate of enrollment with no delay period.

ºThings I Didn’t Know I Needed
When Mme. S went to submit our dossier to the DIRECCTE, she was told I also needed to provide a CV (resume) in French.  Fortunately, either she or her company translated mine almost immediately.  To save yourself the hassle, I’d consider having this translated along with your medical certificate and diploma.

So there you go.  Help someone else out and pay it forward! Share your own wealth of knowledge or your questions in the comments.

Photo borrowed from:


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