(featured photo by: www.intergate-immigration.co.uk)
Last year, I got a visa and residency permit for France as an au pair (nanny) under a student visa, and this year I’m going through the process of a regular student permit in Switzerland. Both processes are similar but not identical, and my personal experiences have been very different, so I thought it may be useful to hopeful travelers to know about some possible things to encounter.
Andrea described her visa and permit process for France in detail in her book Twenty in Paris, but my experience wasn’t quite so nightmare-ish as hers. I remember it having a lot of rules, but being essentially straightforward and relatively quick. I had one month to complete the visa process before leaving because it took so long to find a family to work for, and I just barely got it done in time. I had to sign a personal contract, a form for the French government, pay a fee, etc. I honestly don’t remember all the documents I had to have, but it was quite a large number of things to have copies of. Then all the documents had to be taken to the French Consulate closest to me, Houston in my case, and I had to give them my passport. Then when they approved it, they put the visa in my passport and mailed it back. I got it two days before my flight!
To complete the permit process, I had to prepare more documents, pay another processing fee, and do a medical exam exactly like Andrea did. Then I right away got another giant sticker in my passport across from the other, verifying the entirety of my stay for the year. It was definitely a lot of paperwork and needed to be dealt with sooner rather than later, but it was assuredly do-able and more annoying in general than annoying for any particular difficulty. Just make sure you have every document necessary when going to the consulates, because I was missing something the first time I had to drive two hours in France to do the permit, so I had to go back, costing me time and money.
The process in Switzerland is essentially the same, with you needing to get a visa in the country of origin before arriving and then applying for the permit. They require even more documents than France, notably with money assurances that you can support yourself for the entire year. The Swiss love love love their laws, and they follow them to the letter. In this way, they are less flexible than France with certain documentation.
(The Swiss love their laws – photo by: www.sproutcontent.com)
Unfortunately for me, my permit process has been really complicated. In order to get the original student visa, you have to have the official acceptance letter from the school. Well, for my program I only had an unofficial acceptance because the 100% acceptance rested on my passing a French language exam. And because I physically took that test in Geneva only three weeks before school starting and got the results two weeks before school, there was no time to go home and do the process of a visa which would take more than two weeks. So, I decided to just enter based on a normal tourist entry and then apply for the permit directly. But because that’s not specifically following the rules… I feel like they’re indirectly punishing me by taking a ridiculously long time to review my case. It’s been months since they asked any more questions, but I simply have to wait. Someone told me that they would have accepted the unofficial acceptance under the condition of immediately receiving the official acceptance when I obtained it, but by that point, it was too late for that.
(Waiting on the Swiss -photo by: www.apuregeneration.com)
Long story short, visa and permit applications can be really complicated, so make sure you do your homework on exactly what’s required many months in advance, because you could otherwise get stuck. While I wait for my permit, I can always leave, but I wouldn’t be able to return without one, so I essentially can’t leave the country… lots of fun. Double and triple check every rule when doing the application to make sure you get everything right the first time. If not, you could be forced in a difficult situation or be denied completely.
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