I found myself in a tricky situation last fall. My French long-stay visa had expired, and all I had was a récépissé – basically a receipt – for its renewal. I needed to go back to the USA to visit my family after having already canceled my spring trip due to the pandemic.

The only problem was that I had just submitted my French visa renewal to the Paris Préfecture. They gave me a récépissé stating that I had submitted the dossier, but I wasn’t sure if that would be sufficient for me to travel back to France from the US since my residency period had already expired.

Leaving France would be no problem since I’m an American citizen, but would the airline let me through with just a récépissé and not a valid French residency permit?

Quick note: It’s always safer to fly Air France during these types of situations. The budget airlines are far less likely to be aware of French laws around permits and they may deny you boarding if your situation isn’t clear. 

The reason why airlines are tough about these rules is that they are responsible for returning you to your home country if the French border control doesn’t let you in.

When I got my récépissé from the Paris Prefecture, they said I wouldn’t have a problem, but I wasn’t convinced, as I heard it can be tricky and risky to travel on a récépissé while your visa is processing.

Can You Travel to France with a Récépissé and Expired French Visa?
Will you let me back in?

Traveling with an Expired French Visa

After much research, here is what I learned: 

Can you travel to France with a récépissé and an expired French Visa? Yes, but only if you are in the process of renewing your visa – not applying for one for the first time. 

What does that mean?

In some cases, people are allowed to apply for a French residency permit for the first time from within France. Most people don’t fall into that category, but some do. 

These people are applying for their Carte de Séjour for the first time and they cannot leave France while their visa application is processing, even though they have a récipissée. 

Since I had already obtained my first Carte de Séjour and I was just renewing it, I could travel with my expired Carte de Séjour and récépissé in hand. 

The reason why I was so confused and worried about this was because I didn’t have a physical residency card. I had a large, full-page sticker on my passport with the word “VISA.” 

I didn’t know if that was considered a “first request” for a physical card, or a renewal since I already had the right to live in France. 

It turns out the sticker does count as a Carte de Séjour during your first year in France, even though it’s attached to your passport.

Sure enough, the gate agent for Air France at JFK did not know what to do since my residency visa (Carte de Séjour) expired. I told her I had a récépissé but she had to call her boss over to confirm that I was good to travel. 

Thankfully, the supervisor took one look and said, “Yep she’s good to go.” That relieved me as I worried I would have to explain the situation. I had even printed out FAQs from various French government websites stating that I could travel with a récépissé for renewal just in case they didn’t believe me!

PS you can print out this government website in case you’re worried, too!

Bear in mind the expiration date of your récépissé too! If it expires during your travels, you won’t be let back in. You can renew your récépissé if it expires within 15 days by contacting the French authorities here and clicking “Demande de renouvellement de récépissé.”

Good luck!

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  1. Another question:I applied for the renewal of my VLS-TS visa which expired in Nov.
    I’m still waiting for the administration to respond to my request for the renewal. It is mid Dec.
    In the meantime, I have learned that I have to return permanently to the US end of April, so I need to pull my application for renewal of residency in France all together. Can I stay in France until then as is or I need to complete the renewal and then pull it(cancel it?)

    1. I think you need the renewal to stay in France until April, correct? Even though you’re paying for the full year, you’ll only use a portion of it, but that’s the best way to stay “legal” I think.

  2. Hello, I’m currently in the same situation. I’m a student (I had VLS-TS visa), and I have applied for RENOUVELLEMENT DE TITRE DE SÉJOUR. For students now everything is online and I’m hoping to get my récépissé by the first of August. Can I travel with the récépissé? Or are the rules different for Carte de sejour and titre de sejour. I’m so confused and nervous.

    Thank you!

  3. hie, can i travel to France 10-15 days before my long stay student visa expires and go there a file for a renewal in those 10 days?

  4. Hello there.
    I have a long stay visa as vi privee familialle.
    Im just not sure if it is still safe for me to travel and able to come back in France with my more than two months left visa validity.
    Kindly give me info.

  5. Hello! I am in a similar situation and I am wondering how long it took to get the new receipt after applying for a renewal? I need to leave for Australia for Christmas and my receipt expires at the same time that I leave! (Yes I know it is crazy). I can’t find any information online about how long it takes to get a new receipt and I’m hoping i’ll get it before I go overseas, otherwise i’m in big trouble. Also, do you pick it up at your local prefecture after they call you or email you or something. Wow i’m so over the confusing French bureaucratic system! Thank you so much for your helpful article.

  6. Hi Victoria,

    I feel like I am in a similar situation. I currently have an [expired] student permit and I will be applying for a spousal permit because I am now married to a French citizen. However, I need to travel back to the US for a family event and my visa may still be in process. As you mentioned, I don’t think it’s a problem to go to the US, but I am worried about coming back (I’m not in metro France but Martinique). What is your analysis on my situation? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Angel!

      I am not an immigration attorney so please check with the Prefecture, but in my opinion, you would not be able to travel, unfortunately! This is because you are applying for a new type of visa, not renewing your old one.

      However, if Americans have the right to travel to Martinique (do they?) for vacation, then there is a good chance you’ll be fine on the return. My situation was stressful because at that time, Americans didn’t have the right to travel to France on a tourist visa. I really don’t know the culture in Martinique (if they check documents more closely, for example) so I can’t say for sure.

      Good luck!

      1. Hi, Victoria.

        I had a pluriannuelle from being married to a French husband whom I am currently divorcing. It expired yesterday. I have lived in Paris on a titre de sejour for a total of 3.5 years. My visiteur visa got approved 2 wks ago, no card yet. Yesterday, ANEF sent me an email that I need proof of divorce. My immig lawyer is confused re why they are asking for this when the application was already approved. Yikes.


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