Applying for a French Polynesia Long Stay Visa from Panama

We’ve been docked at Vista Mar Marina outside of Panama City since shortly after our Panama Canal transit, waiting for our visa decision from the Embassy of France. I’m thrilled to report that after 32 days of waiting, we were approved! 


As Americans, we would typically be given a 90-day visa upon arrival in French Polynesia. However, we hope to stay for over a year exploring the region’s 121 islands. So, we applied for a long-stay visa on February 15th, 2024. Before our appointment at the Embassy of France in Panama City, I remember feeling overwhelmed and nervous. Various sailing forums/blogs have detailed their trials and tribulations with the process and the inconsistencies in what documents are acceptable vs. what isn’t. The wait time is long, and appointments are few and far between during the high season (January-March), so I, admittedly, over-prepared to ensure we got it right the first time! 😅 In hindsight, it was not as complicated as everyone made it out to be… Here is a detailed account of our experience, including the documents we submitted, fees we paid, and wait times. 

The Application

When you are in Panama and ready to book your appointment, create an account here and fill out an application. At the end of the application, it will prompt you to book an appointment at the Embassy of France in Panama City. For us, the soonest available appointment was ten days out. I booked one appointment for each of us based on advice from other cruisers/forums/blogs on the subject. We received an email within 24 hours saying they could accommodate both of us in one appointment, so they canceled one of the appointments for me. 

Application notes: Each individual needs to submit an application. So, we filled out two applications while logged into one account. We selected “visitor” as our purpose of travel and “no profession” under the employment section. We have heard that if you choose “retired,” you are required to show your pension certificate, and if you select “sabbatical,” you may need to present documentation from your previous employer. We used “S/V Sabado, Papeete Marina FC5H+QC5, Papeete 98714, French Polynesia (reservations not accepted)”  as our address in French Polynesia. 

The Paperwork

We arrived at the embassy with two stacks of paperwork to submit (one for each of us, as applications are submitted individually) and a folder with original documents (just in case). Here is what we brought:

  1. Cover letter (See document at end of post)
    • A brief explanation of our travel plans and an outline of the documents we included. 
  2. Application form
    • Printed from the website, signed and dated.
  3. Registration receipt
    • Printed with the application. 
  4. Passport
    • Passports must be valid for at least three months after your intended departure date and have at least two blank pages.
    • Additional passport photos are required. Photos must meet EU standards. We brought two photos each, but one was returned to us. 
    • We also brought photocopies of any pages with identification information or stamps. They had no issue with multiple images appearing on one page. 
  5. Letter promising not to seek or exercise any professional activity in France. (See document at end of post)
    • We did not have any of our letters notarized, and that was fine.
  6. Bank statements as proof of funds to meet needs while in France.
    • Ensure statements include your name, date, address, and balance. We submitted three months’ worth. They are looking for a minimum of €1,330 per person per month for the duration of your intended stay. 
  7. Marriage certificate
    • We each brought a photocopy, but one was returned to us.
    • We were asked to present the original marriage certificate at the embassy. 
  8. Letter detailing our accommodation while in France. (See document at end of post)
    • We included a copy of our vessel certificate of documentation and proof of ownership (COD says “Sabado LLC”; the embassy wants to see a name). 
    • We were asked to present the original certificate of documentation at the embassy. 
  9. Proof of health insurance for duration of stay.
    • We bought a 12-month policy through Insubuy that met the requirements. Our plan was called “IMG Patriot International Lite.”
      • Insurance must be valid in French Polynesia, cover medical repatriation, have a minimum coverage amount of $35,000, a $0 deductible, and be valid for the entire time you request to stay. 
      • Our policy came with a letter that we printed and submitted as our proof of insurance, alongside a printed screenshot of the webpage that showed we would be eligible to renew our policy for another year once ours expires. 
  10. Passport preference form.
    • This form was emailed to us before our visa appointment. This form allows you to request to keep your passport during the decision wait time (4-6 weeks), or you can surrender it to the embassy. We kept ours and indicated that our passports are “our primary form of identification” on the form’s reasoning space. 

The Appointment

We applied for our visas while staying at Shelter Bay Marina in Colón, a 1.5-hour taxi ride from the embassy. We had just arrived in Panama and weren’t familiar with the transportation options/traffic patterns. Our appointment was the morning of the 15th, so we decided rather than worry about getting a taxi from Colón at 6am, we’d make a trip out of it! We arrived in Panama City on the afternoon of the 14th, checked into a hotel in the historic district (a 5-minute walk from the embassy), and had a romantic Valentine’s Day date in the city. If you want to splurge on an incredible, memorable meal, we highly recommend A to Z Chef’s Table! We walked to our appointment the following morning, wearing our government-building-appropriate outfits: closed-toed shoes, nice jeans and a button-down for Ray (no hat), and a long dress with something to cover my shoulders for me. A guard stopped us outside, and we were buzzed into the building after he confirmed our appointment. Inside, we walked through a metal detector and were asked to put our belongings into a locker. I was allowed to keep my wallet and our paperwork with me, but all electronic devices needed to be silenced and kept in a locker. We took a seat in the waiting room, which had a bathroom, water fountain, and a TV, playing something filmed in English, dubbed over in Spanish, with French subtitles. A woman came out at our appointment time and took our paperwork back to her office, asking us to stay in the waiting room. Twenty minutes later, she returned and brought us back to her office. She told us that our application looked complete and returned our originals, passports, and anything she didn’t need (extra passport photos and one copy of our marriage certificate). We paid €99 each in cash and were given a receipt to hold on to. She explained that the decision can take 4-6 weeks, and if approved, we will be notified via email to return to the embassy and present our passports with our receipts to get the visas. 

We received an email on March 19th inviting us to return to the embassy. We dropped off our passports and they were ready to be picked up the following day with our visas inside! We were granted a one-year stay and were told we could renew that for another year after (I had requested a two-year stay when applying). Upon arriving in French Polynesia, we were instructed to make an appointment with the High Commission of the Republic. We will post an update about the check-in and eventual visa renewal process once we navigate it. 

If you are applying for a long-stay visa- I hope you found this helpful! 

8 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Wow! Well done. You will enjoy FP after the long ocean crossing. Will keep this write-up to refer to in the future. Thanks for the detailed description. Bon voyage. Fair winds to Sabado and crew.

  2. Well done write up, your college days didn’t go to waste! Hahahaha
    SO excited to hear about the next chapter of your fascinating journey. Much love to you both!

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