I get a lot of e-mails about PACSing and Carte de Séjours in France, so I wanted to clear up some things. These two are completely separate from one another – the Tribunal d’Instance takes care of PACSing and the Préfecture takes care of the carte de séjour. If you ask the Tribunal about the CDS, they will most likely give you wrong information, and if you ask the Préfecture about getting PACSed, they will most likely give you wrong information as well.
You can get PACSed whenever you want (similar to marriage – except marriage is still not an option in France for gay or lesbian couples.) Any two un-related people over the age of 18 can get PACSed in France, regardless of their nationality. (Two non-EU citizens – such as 2 Americans – are allowed to get PACSed as long as one of them has a carte de séjour already.) You may or may not have to prove that you live in France, so if you plan on getting PACSed soon, make sure both of your names are on an EDF or France Télécom bill. Check my PACS/Marriage page for more information on the paperwork needed to get PACSed.
You do not need to have a visa in order to get PACSed, but you need a visa in order to receive a carte de séjour due to being PACSed (or even married – the laws are the same). You must obtain a long-stay type D visa in order to stay legally in France, but it doesn’t matter if you obtain this visa before or after you get PACSed/married. If you obtain the visa before getting PACSed/married, you only have 40 days to actually do so after your arrival. If you obtain the visa after you get PACSed/married, then obviously this costs more because you have to return to your home country, but it might be easier to get because you can prove that you are indeed PACSed/married (with your certificat de PACS or livret de famille) which makes your application stronger than just having the intent to do so after your arrival in France.
If you are a PACSed foreigner, your partner is an EU citizen and you have a long-stay visa, you are entitled to the CDS visiteur – which gives you the right to stay, but not work – if you cannot prove un an de vie commune in France. This year of living together can definitely start before you get PACSed, as long as you were living in France legally at that time. (If you’ve been in France for more than 3 months without a visa, thereby surpassing the tourist limit in the Schengen space*, this time will NOT count towards your un an de vie commune. The year starts upon your LEGAL arrival in France, after you get the visa.)
If you can prove the un an de vie commune, regardless of when you got PACSed, then you are entitled to the CDS vie privée et familiale, which gives you the right to work in France. (This is the same carte you will receive if you are married to an EU citizen and have a long-stay visa.) I’ve heard horror stories of foreigners being denied a CDS even though they fulfill these requirements because some Préfectures don’t know the rules or don’t want to follow the rules. Even though PACSing has been around for almost 10 years, some fonctionnaires are still clueless as what it really means for foreigners in France.
I have found one organization, ARDHIS, that tries to help PACSed foreigners with their legal status in France. It’s actually an organization for the rights of homosexual and transsexual foreigners, but they have some legal information that is pertinent to any PACSed foreigner. (A few other helpful organizations for immigrants are GISTI and FASTI.) If you have been denied a CDS even though you are PACSed to an EU citizen and have a long-stay visa, here are some official documents that might help your case:
A circulaire from the Ministère de l’Intérieur (Villepin) dated October 30, 2004, specifically states your right to a CDS vie privée et familiale if you can justify un an de vie commune or to a CDS visiteur if you cannot. The PACS section starts on page 4.
Another circulaire from January 2007 reminds the préfectures that the first circulaire from October 2004 is still effective and PACSed foreigners should not be denied a CDS.
*Just a reminder about the Schengen space tourist visa: You can stay for 3 months, but then you must leave for 3 months! You can no longer leave for one day and come back without a visa. The original Schengen countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. As of December 2007, the eastern countries were added: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Switzerland & Liechtenstein (2008-9), Cyprus (2009) and Bulgaria & Romania (2011) will be fully implementing the Schengen laws during the years noted. Notice that the UK & Ireland do not implement the Schengen laws!