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I've been searching all over the internet for what seems like an eternity, but can find little information relevant to my situation. It's been my dream to live in Europe since I spent a few months in London, Paris, and Geneva several summers ago. Specifically, I would love to live in Switzerland, but from what I've read this seems nigh impossible (please correct me if you have better information!) so I would more than settle for France.

That said, I'm a freelance graphic designer here in the US of A. That means I design everything from logos to websites to T-shirts. I'm sorry to say I don't have a whole lot of experience yet, but I have a BA degree in graphic design from the Art Institute of Seattle and what I've been told is a fairly exceptional portfolio (although it's not online yet.)

So, first off, can anyone here clear up the visa process for me a little bit? What sort of visa do I need, how do I apply for it, how do I get French citizenship (or at least legal long-term residency) ... et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam. Also, please enlighten me about how self-employment works in France, specifically about any special permits I might need or anything like that.

To those who've completed the move, what order do you do things in? It seems like I would have to go to the consulate and apply for my visas and such first, then start looking for an apartment in Paris, and begin shipping stuff across the pond when everything is approved, but I've never done this before!

Oh, and one last question, although I know it seems like I've already asked a billion. If I moved to France and became a citizen, then could I theoretically move again to Switzerland as an EU citizen? Not saying that this is what I'm planning, but I'm interested in whether or not that would be possible.

Thanks in advance!
 

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OK, what you want to do isn't impossible, but it's going to take some time - like years - to accomplish.

First step is to get a visa to enter France (or any other country, for that matter). These days, this means you have to have a job so that the employer can sponsor you for a work permit. To do that, the employer has to have tried (in vain) for a certain period of time to find someone local to fill the position. Turn that around, and what you need to do is to develop some sort of unique skill or experience so that a potential employer can justify the hassle and expense of hiring a foreigner. For the first few years (currently about 5) your work permit will be limited to the employer that sponsored your visa. In theory you can change jobs, but your new employer will have to go through the same justification process to hire a foreigner, and you may have to go back to the US for a couple months to re-apply for a new work visa.

OK, to find a job in France (or anywhere else for that matter) it helps immensely to know the local language well enough to handle day to day conversation, read a job contract and write normal sorts of day to day messages. Work laws are also considerably different than in the US, so it doesn't hurt to understand how French job contracts and other labor rules work.

In France, if you want to be self-employed, you generally need to be already legally resident in France with unrestricted work privileges. Generally you get this after about 5 years of living and working in France. You set up a business entity - anything from an "auto-entrepreneur" (the simplest) to a full fledged corporation that has to be registered with all the social insurance "caisses" and the TVA authority. (TVA = VAT, which is something like sales tax, but on a national level)

Also after you have lived and worked in France for at least 5 years, you may become eligible for French nationality. That process takes the better part of a year, and involves submitting a dossier to the government supporting the notion that you are appropriately "assimilated" (yes, just like the Borg, if you're a Star Trek fan) - you speak, read and write French, you are involved in the local community, pay your taxes, and generally expect to continue to be a contributing member of society. It's not automatic, and if they don't think you're adequately integrated, they'll turn you down.

The process for moving to Switzerland is similar, though knowledge of any of the national languages counts (French, German or Italian). The key thing is to have a job offer from an employer willing to go through the hassle of sponsoring your visa application.

There are some non-job related ways to get a visa for France, but generally those don't give you a work permit. There's also the "competencies and talents" visa which requires you to propose a project you can do in France that will benefit either France or your home country. If you check the archives here, you'll see we've had quite a few inquiries about this visa, though no one has come back yet saying that they've succeeded in getting one.
Cheers,
Bev
 
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