February 26, 2013. That’s the date the eternally angry lady at the sous-prefecture slid my French carte de sejour across a desk–her brows wrinkled and lips tight–and turned away without so much as an aurevoir. I picked up the newly minted, crisp piece of plastic with my photo and French credentials, smiled wide enough to catch the attention of the soured fonctionnaire, and kissed my card with a loud “smack.”
No reaction. No smile. No felicitations. Nothing. Not even a nod in my direction.
But her bad day, bad year (I suspect, bad life), could not spoil my moment. I had waited nearly two years for this day, and I was finally holding, in my hands, an official piece of plastic that identified me as a resident of France.
If you’re not familiar with the carte de sejour, you have no idea of the power it holds for an étranger. With this card, I can finally get health insurance (sécurité sociale), declare myself as an autoentrepreneur (self-employed), pay French taxes… okay, so it’s not all wine and cheese.
So why has it taken nearly two years to get this gem? The short, not-so-sweet answer is The French Government. The long answer is more complicated and requires some explanation of the process.
First comes the visa. And this is very important. You must obtain a visa, regardless of your situation, to enter the country if you plan to stay more than 90 days (for Americans). As soon as you enter the country you must immediately start applying for the carte de sejour. I cannot stress this enough. It take 3 months, at least, to get this document, so you need to start the process as soon as you arrive.
The first carte de sejour is not really a cart de sejour. It’s a sticker in your passport that basically validates your visa and allows you to stay in the country for one year. While there’s lots of paperwork, getting this authorization is not too difficult. But don’t get comfy; the next year they get really strict.
Three months before your one year is complete, you must again start the process for obtaining/renewing the carte de sejour. This time the paperwork is different, and the process is more strict. Now you have to provide proof of your ability to stay in the country: income, proof of residence, proof of marriage (in my case), etc. And it’s not as simple as it sounds. Only certain documents are accepted.
In my case, for example, they wanted to see everything in both names of me and my spouse. I had no idea of this and so had not prepared. I moved to France to marry a man who’s lived his entire life here. Everything was in him name and we saw no need to change that… until we visited the sous-prefecture in Arles. The next few months were a mad scurry to get everything in both names. Warning: nothing happens quickly in France.
In addition, they questioned why I did not have security sociale. Well, the folks as security sociale wanted the carte de sejour. This merry-go-round is very common in the French administration.
Long story, short: it took six months to get the card after the initial visit to the sous-prefecture.
So, finally, I have my piece of pink plastic, and even the sour-puss admin at the sous-prefecture could not squash my enthusiasm. France was now open to me! Then I arrived home to show the card to my husband. The card is marked “temporary.”
And, the issue date is Feb. 26, 2013. The application date is July 1, 2012, and the expiration date is July 1, 2013.
I can rest for one month–paperwork and sous-prefecture-free–and then I get to start the process all over again.
As they say in France, c’est la vie!
I made the first inquiry in March about how to get my son enrolled in high school in France. They told me to call back the end of August.
They weren’t kidding. August 30 is when everything opened back up after the summer holidays, and school started just a few days later. So I thought a visit to the school, a few papers, and within a few days he’s ready to go to French school.
No, I didn’t really think that. This is Southern France.
During August the entire country (I exaggerate only slightly) is on holiday and nearly everything that resembles administration of any kind is closed. With school only a few weeks away, I was surprised and frustrated that I could not find one person available to answer questions about where to start–until Aug. 30. And then there was an exam to be taken to determine his level. The exam was scheduled for Sept. 14. School started Sept. 5.
Yep. Thats about how it goes here. I mean why should I expect that he would start school on the first day? much less in the first week? Because after the exam, then they have to find a school. Oh, yes. It’s not as simple as going to the local high school.
On the day he took the exam, the examiner told me to local high school was full. We’d have to find another in a town somewhere close, hopefully. This was from the man who runs CASNAV, and organization with the goal of helping children newly arrived in France get adjusted, settled and enrolled in school.
You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. But I was ahead of the game. While waiting for the exam, I had been working to get him into a private school.
I’m happy to report that he was accepted to an excellent school, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Education in France is free, including universities; of course, private schools are not. Because France has this mentality of education for all, even private schools here, or at least the one’s I’ve seen, are relatively inexpensive compared to private education in the States. 110€ per month for tuition, and another 93€ per month for him to eat everyday in the canteen. I don’t think I could feed him at home for the cost of tuition and lunch at the school.
I’m not sure if the public school would have required different paperwork, but I think this is standard: vaccinations, proof of residence in France, and liability insurance.
All students in France need liability insurance in case something happens to another student as a result of some action, like another kid trips in the aisle over your kid’s foot. Bizarre, I know. But it was only 13€ for a year, so I didn’t even groan.
And so, he boards the bus every morning at 7 and gets off the bus every evening at 7. Schools in France have longer days than American schools, but more and longer holidays. School usually starts around 8 am and end around 5 pm, except on Wednesdays, when most schools close at noon. There are lots of breaks in the day because classes seem to work more like an American university with regards to their schedules. On Thursday mornings he has a 2-hour break, so that’s when he takes private French lessons.
He had one year of basic French in the States. Not enough, but at least it was an introduction. If we hadn’t worked out a certain type of arrangement with the school, he probably would have had to start back a year or two, at least until he picked up the language. He’s doing ok in physics and math, but the philosophy may as well be taught in Greek. He doesn’t understand a word. But then again, he says the French students in the class don’t understand a word of it either. English is, of course, is easiest subject, and I think they like having an American in the class. It enhances the other kids’ English studies.
So in the end it worked out better than expected. And Friday night he spent his first night out with his new friends. They threw him a birthday party.
“Visa in jeopardy.” That was the subject line in the email today from my son’s father in the States. And a few minutes later a phone call confirmed: The French Consulate in Washington, D.C., turned down my 16-year-old son for a Visa. In other words, he doesn’t have the right, according to the Republic of France, to come live with his mother in France, despite the fact that she is a legal resident with a carte de sejour, married to a French citizen.
Today I didn’t cry. But last week I burst into tears after the nice lady at the Office of Justice in Arles told me it would take 6-10 months for the “regroupement famille” process. She then called the OFII, the French Immigration and Integration Office responsible for making decisions about who gets to stay in France and who doesn’t. They were the ones who told her to have me apply for a student Visa. Well, according the Consulate, my son can’t have a student Visa because I live in France. And for the minor who gets a student Visa? Well, that child gets to live with a stranger for a year.
And so goes the French system of immigration. My son can’t come live with me and go to school here for a year. It could take a year to get approval through family regroupment; but a minor child get get a Visa in a few weeks to live here with non-relatives to go to school in France. Something about this just doesn’t make sense.
When I spoke to the school agency a few months ago, they told me to take him to Marseille when he gets here and they will determine his level and help us select a school. But the Consulate says he needs a letter of invitation before he can get a Visa. And the school says they can’t give a letter of invitation until he gets accepted through placement. Hmm. Even if I had been able to figure that one out, the Consulate says letter or no letter, he can’t have a student Visa if I live in France.
So, now what? After months of trying to find answers, finding none that made any sense, I finally made him an appointment at the Consulate in D.C. and provided enough paperwork to satisfy even the IRS, thinking surely if I had enough paperwork they would give him a Visa of some sort. Wrong.
I’m not knocking the French government. From everything I’ve heard and read, the States is just as bad or worse. I had an Asian colleague at the university whose husband lived and worked in another State and whose child was still living in Asia. The U.S. would not allow the family to all come on one of the parents’ Visas, even though both were professors and the salary of one of them would have easily supported the family. And let’s not forget that they were both paying taxes to the U.S.
I’m also not proposing open borders. I don’t believe any country should have to support all the poor and jobless of the world by allowing them to free-load (which apparently happens frequently in France), but if you can support yourself, why not?
Hopefully, next week I’ll be able to post a happy ending to this saga.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve gathered my life into this 3-inch folder. And it keeps getting thicker.
The process of entering a new country seems never-ending. Once I’ve crossed a hurdle, there looms another. This week it was my cart de sejour. What a relief! But now I need to start thinking about changing my driving permit.
Sometimes I haven’t had the papers I’ve needed, and it’s more difficult to get them once you leave the States, or more expensive to have them delivered, so I had the idea to create a list of documents I’ve needed or thought I might need. I’ll add to it as needed. And if anyone has other suggestions, feel free to comment and I’ll add them to the list.
Oh, and sometimes you need these translated into French.
Documents from Country of Origin:
- passport (and many photocopies)
- birth certificate (many photocopies)
- social security card
- driver’s license
- medical records
- vaccination records
- proof of address in country of origin (phone bills, electric bills)
- financial statements: retirement accounts, bank accounts, insurance, tax documents, pay stubbs for 3 to 6 months, proof of income
- health insurance records
- marriage certificate, divorce papers
- diplomas, transcripts, French language certificates or other proof of language study
- resume or CV
- work contracts
- important phone numbers
- contracts, agreements, records for any outstanding properties or other incidentals in country of origin (for example, I needed to have my contract for my storage unit with me so I could renew over the phone; car title; house or mortgage records).
- Demande De VISA Pour Un Long Sejour (application for long-stay VISA)
- Demande D’Attestation OFII (this document must be certified by the French Consulate in your country of origin and presented to the OFII in your French prefecture in order to obtain a carte de sejour)
- Prepaid Flat Rate Mailing Envelope (for return of your passport and long-stay VISA)
- head and shoulders photo (size differs in France, so read all instructions carefully for requirements)
- Power of Attorney (I left these in case I needed someone to deal with business in the States in my absence. It turned out to be necessary. If you have real estate, you need a separate POA that states very specifically the liberties of the person in your stead, and must be notarized and filed in the precinct where the real estate presides; at least this was the case in Virginia.)
Documents in France:
- proof of address (It’s a good idea to put a cell phone or some other bill in your name at your French address. Everything was in my husband’s name, so it was often complicated.)
- proof of income (work contracts, pay stubbs, bank statements)
- French bank card (open a bank account in France as soon as you can)
- Livret de Famille (if you married in France)
- Acte de Mariage (equivalent of a marriage certificate; certified by the local Marie)
- Titre de sejour (record to show you paid taxes upon entering France; required for carte de sejour and auto insurance)
- Certified D’Attestation OFII (this document must be certified by the French Consulate in your country of origin and presented to the OFII in your French prefecture in order to obtain a carte de sejour)
- long-stay VISA
- national identity card of spouse (if you are married to French national)
- passport of spouse (if you are married to French national)
More helpful information: French Moving Planner