As a Canadian living in France, I was blessed with the opportunity to extend my working holiday visa for longer than just a year. If you ARE NOT Canadian, then this article does not apply to you. For the moment, it is my understanding that only Canadians are allowed to do this. But what is exactly involved in extending your working holiday visa in France?
I will warn you, this is not an easy, clear, straightforward process. It was one of the most challenging administrative processes I’ve ever had to go through. That being said if you’re like me and want to stay in France longer than just a year – it IS 100% possible to do so! Don’t give up!
One of the hardest parts of the renewal process is the lack of information. Therefore, the entire purpose of this article is to share my experience. I want to share what I had to do in order to extend my working holiday visa, with the hopes that it makes your experience much more clear and easy.
If you don’t have time to read this entire post, (I get it, we all have busy lives!) I’ve put together the main takeaways at the end!
Disclaimer: everyone’s experience extending their working holiday visa will be different. This article outlines the experience of a Canadian extending their Working Holiday Visa under the France-Canada Youth Mobility Agreement. I am also not a professional in this field and do not provide legal advice on how to go about extending your visa. The goal of this post is to simply share my experience to hopefully provide clarity to anyone going through this process.
Why is it such a pain to extend a working holiday visa in France?
If you have already started the process or just getting started, you may or may not have already realized how difficult it is to get a clear answer anywhere. I found that when I just wanted to gather information about what I needed to do or even what documents I needed, there was no information anywhere.
Part of the problem is that every region in France does it differently. Sadly, this means that my personal experience might not match yours. I have heard from close to 10 different people who went through this process and every single one had a different experience.
To me, that meant that one of the hardest parts of extending my working holiday visa in France was just knowing what was needed from me. Who do I speak to about this? How do I submit my documents? How do I book an appointment? What documents do I need? Clear information was hard to be found.
What did I do?
My first step was to gather information. They recommend starting your visa renewal process 3 months before your visa expires. This is recommended because of the long processing times (France is known for being slow administratively). I started researching 4 months before my visa was set to expire.
WHAT THEY DON’T TELL YOU
Part of the reason they recommend renewing your visa 3 months in advance is that it is renewed a year from when your visa is processed. Not from the original expiry date!! I originally assumed the year extension would be a year from my original date. This is not the case.
For example, if your visa was to expire on October 10th, 2023, they recommend starting the process on July 10th, 2023. If this visa was PROCESSED (meaning it was approved and they were processing the paperwork) on August 10th, 2023, then your year extension only lasts until August 10th, 2024. This is why they advise not to start too early because if it is processed earlier then your extension will be shorter.
How did I research what was needed to extend my working holiday visa in France?
I spent many hours calling and emailing different services including VFS (the company that originally processed my visa while I was in Canada), ANTS service, and many different departments in my local Préfecture. In hindsight, I now know that your Préfecture is responsible for extending your working holiday visa in France.
Dealing with the Préfecture was a very difficult process. I emailed 5 different departments because I wasn’t sure which department was responsible for dealing with my situation. I have never heard any reply. If I’m honest, sending emails was a waste of my time. To this date, I never had any email reply.
I tried visiting in person to ask questions and this is not allowed either. You need an appointment in order to enter the Préfecture and to speak with someone. The only way I was able to speak to someone directly was via the phone.
WHAT THEY DON’T TELL YOU
Calling the Préfecture was another major roadblock for me. I needed to speak with the Service Étranger to find information about extending my working holiday visa. This service only had 1 person working there for the entire region. They were also only open for 3 hours in the mornings.
I called 68 times over the span of 2.5 weeks before I was put through to speak to someone. Every time I would call, I would ask for the Service Étranger and I would be patched through and the phone would be disconnected because the line wasn’t available. There was no queue or call-back option. I just had to keep calling until I was lucky enough to call at the exact moment the person working was available.
What did I learn from speaking with the Préfecture?
Understandably, the conversation was rushed because they were trying to serve as many people as possible. But this of course did not help with my stress and I ended up leaving our call still relatively unclear.
I was told that I needed to send my documents (I will list them below) by post to the Préfecture along with a form. They told me the name of the website to find the form. That was essentially all we had time for.
I still wasn’t sure how I would know if it was processed or approved. I also wasn’t sure if I’d need to book an appointment to go pick it up or if it’d be sent to me.
DOCUMENTS I WAS TOLD I NEEDED
-proof of address in France (not more than 3 months old)
-3 recent photos of me (a passport photo – I took mine at Photomaton. I know one of the photos were used on my new visa, not sure why they needed 3 though.)
-proof of employment (note: in the end, I didn’t actually need this!)
-proof of health insurance (I just extended my policy from my first year’s visa)
-a copy of my passport and original visa
-proof of funds (2,500 euros)
+ the form I was directed to (it was titled Titre de Sejour: Salarie/Travailleur Temporaire. They do not have a form dedicated to Working Holiday Visas.)
Submitting my documents to extend my Working Holiday Visa in France
Instead of sending them by post, I am fortunate enough to be close enough to my Préfecture that I delivered them in person. I printed everything out, bought an envelope and dropped it in the mailbox.
They didn’t ask for one, but I wrote a letter explaining my situation in detail. I explained that I was a Canadian extending my working holiday visa in France because the form that I was filling out didn’t necessarily state that. My goal was to try to avoid any miscommunication or misunderstanding. Not speaking to someone directly, to explain and defend myself was stressful. I also labelled each document (ie. this is my proof of address, this is my proof of funds etc.) Trying to help my case, I tried to be as clear and concise as possible!
I dropped my documents in the mailbox for 2 reasons. 1) I wanted to save time by it not having to go through the mail. 2) I also wanted to try speaking with someone directly to ask my last few questions about if and when I’d be notified and how to book an appointment. In the end, I spoke to no one directly beside the representatives at the door. They told me to fill out a complaint form and that they would deliver it upstairs.
For a frame of reference in terms of timing, I dropped off my documents 3 months before my visa was due to expire.
WHAT THEY DON’T TELL YOU
Extending a working holiday visa in France is very rare. It doesn’t happen that often. This meant that some people I spoke with during this process didn’t even know what it was. Outside of the Préfecture, I spoke to a representative and I had to defend myself and explain to them that I was allowed to extend my visa in France. I also had to tell them that they were the ones responsible to do so.
The reason I was so confident in the fact that it was the Préfecture I was meant to be dealing with is that I was also simultaneously emailing the Canadian Embassy in Paris. I had asked them for guidance and they confirmed it was the Préfecture I needed to be speaking with. The Canadian Embassy was also the ONLY group that ever answered me via email.
What happens after you drop off your documents?
I didn’t hear anything for over a month. The worst part of the entire experience is the lack of clarity and communication from the French officials. I didn’t even know if someone actually received my documents. Whenever there is a deadline, there tends to be stress. Especially when the deadline also means you might not be allowed to continue to live and work in the country! And the lack of communication concerning where I was in the process, if my application had been received or accepted, was infuriating!
At the 2-month mark before my visa was going to expire, I decided to email the Canadian Embassy again to ask for help. They told me to write a letter in French explaining all of the actions I have tried to acquire my visa so far. I wrote up my letter, and sent it to them and they said they would check in with the Minister of the Interior. This was an intimidating thought. And I didn’t want it to get to that point, but I couldn’t just sit and wait without some type of confirmation.
MY DOCUMENTS WERE NEVER RECEIVED
3 days after the Canadian Embassy got involved, I received a letter in the mail saying that I requested to extend my visa in France and that I needed to provide all of the documents AGAIN. The date stamped on the letter was over a month ago. To me, this meant that the letter was either lost in the mail or it wasn’t sent out right away.
In the letter, they provided me with a copy of the form I originally filled out and a checklist of the documents required. It was the same list as above except they didn’t ask for proof of employment. I had to rush to reprint everything for a second time (I really wasn’t impressed) and went back to drop off my documents in the mailbox that same evening. I did the same as before, I labelled my documents and tried to explain that I was extending my working holiday visa.
Were my documents accepted?
The following day I received an email from the Préfecture saying that I didn’t have enough funds. This is INCORRECT. I provided a European bank statement that acted as my proof of address and my Canadian bank statement that acted as my proof of funds. Everything was labelled. They did not look at the labels and didn’t look at the following pages to see my other documents. It still infuriates me that even with everything labelled so clearly, they were still not taking the time to look at what I provided them with.
I emailed back explaining this to them and attached a copy of my proof of funds in the email. When I didn’t hear back, I contacted the Canadian Embassy to ensure that my email was received and that my document was accepted. From that point forward, I only dealt with the Canadian Embassy. They were the only ones answering me.
When was my visa processed?
Around 1 month before my visa was due to expire (this was about a month later), I reached out to the Canadian Embassy again to check in with the status of my visa. I’m glad I did because when the Embassy checked in with the Minister of the Interior, they said my visa was processed a month ago. According to the Préfecutre it was already sent to me. This was untrue and I hadn’t received anything.
This meant that my visa was processed around 10 days after I provided them with my documents for a second time. The main delay throughout this process was the constant lack of communication. This meant that my visa was officially processed 1.5 months before it was due to expire.
The issue was, I still didn’t have it. A representative from the Embassy called me in person and we spoke about the next steps. She said that I should wait a few more weeks, speak with neighbours and do everything I can to verify my visa wasn’t somewhere else by mistake. She said within 2 weeks I should contact her and she will let the Préfecture know that it wasn’t received.
WHAT THEY DON’T TELL YOU
When you extend your working holiday visa in France, you are not given a new visa. You are not given a new stamp or sticker in your passport. Technically, for the second year, you’re not under a working holiday visa at all! You’re given an Autorisation Provisoire de Sejour (APS).
An APS is essentially a piece of paper saying you’re allowed to work and live in France until a specific date. I have been told it functions the same as the working holiday visa and you have the same privileges/restrictions as a working holiday visa. I was also told that I need to keep this document with me at all times as it acts like an ID card (especially while travelling) and that it will need to always be presented with my passport.
Receiving my APS
I followed up with the embassy a few weeks later as we discussed. I then received an email from the Préfecture a few days after that. They told me to come in person in 3 days and they gave me an appointment time. They also told me I needed MORE copies of my photo, address and passport! This was the 7th copy of my photo I had provided them with and I actually needed to pay to get more printed. It was also the 5th proof of address I had provided them with.
Picking up the APS was very straightforward. I had to show my appointment email to enter the facilities and I brought the documents and my passport. All I needed to do was pick up the APS with my photo on it. I tried to ask questions to clarify I understood everything before I left since I was finally speaking to someone in person. In the end, I picked up my visa the same week it was due to expire.
Main takeaways from my experience:
I know that every experience extending a working holiday visa in France is unique. So I truly hope your experience is easier than mine! I know it was for other people! But if you are having a tough time, here are a few things you can learn from my experience:
1. Be persistent
If I hadn’t been following up all the time, I would have never received my original letter asking me to resubmit all of my documents. I also would have never known my visa was supposedly sent to me already. Don’t be shy to follow up!
2. Start early, but not too early
In the end, I received my APS the same week it was due to expire. This means technically it took me 4 months to extend my visa. It didn’t need to take that long but because of communication issues, it did. Don’t be afraid to start a bit early to understand what you need to do for your region!
3. Be patient and take deep breaths
I had a hard time finding patience during this process because I was very frustrated and anxious by the lack of communication. Deep breaths were essential throughout the process.
4. Your visa might not be renewed for a full year
This was something I learned at the end of the process. As I said above, your new APS will be issued from the date it is processed. So for me, I only have an extra 10 months in France rather than a year. Keep this in mind!!
5. Advocate for yourself and your visa
You might need to explain to people at the Préfecture about your visa. They might not know anything about it so be prepared just in case. Advocate for yourself! I had official documents on my phone ready to show people if they were doubting or arguing with me. No one actually argued with me, but I was told several times that “No sorry, we don’t extend visas here”. This technically might be true because, in reality, you are receiving an APS rather than a visa extension.
6. Ask for help if you need it
I couldn’t have survived throughout this process if I hadn’t reached out to the Canadian Embassy. I want to be clear: I reached out to them after trying consistently by myself to gather information and to receive communication from the Préfecture. The Canadian Embassy is there to help you but you need to try to help yourself first! Don’t start with them but they are there if you need them (I certainly did!).
In the end…
Of course, it all worked out in the end. But as I said in the beginning, it wasn’t an easy process and one of the most challenging experiences I’ve had to deal with!
Crossing my fingers that your experience is nothing like mine! I equally hope that this article is helpful to you if you were anything like me and found it impossible to find information. All any of us really want to do is just enjoy this beautiful country for just a bit longer – why do they have to make it so dang hard?!
I have more information about my life in France as an expat with a working holiday visa in the Living Abroad section of this blog! Feel free to check it out!