An Official Resident in France

It’s official. Another stamp in my passport to prove it. I am now recognized by the French government as a permanent resident in France. Yesterday, after a long day in Marseille, I received my carte de sejour.

If you’re not familiar with this tiny piece of paper (for which I prepared many, many not so tiny pieces of paper in order to receive), it’s absolutely necessary to apply immediately upon entering the country, because you have to have it within 3 months of your entry date, or they make you return to your home country and apply for another VISA. We don’t want to do that again!

And if you find yourself in this situation, make sure you get your passport stamped upon entering France or the European Union. You’ll need to photocopy this entry date in your passport and send it to the OFII (the office that issues carte de sejour) in order to even get an appointment.

Speaking of appointment–mine was yesterday; at least part of it was yesterday. It’s a little overwhelming when you receive your summons documents in the mail and read all that they require of you on this day. For those of you who may be facing this day with a mixture of dread and hope, I’ll walk you through my experience, and perhaps relieve some of the anxiety.

To start at the beginning, when I received my VISA, they also stamped my paper to apply to the OFII for a carte de sejour. Make sure you have this paper when you go to apply for your long-stay VISA. You need this paper stamped at the French Consulate in your country of origin. You can not do it by mail. You must be there in person.

I almost made a mistake in that I didn’t apply for my carte de sejour immediately upon arriving in France, and the information on the website clearly says apply immediately. I didn’t remember this part. I only remembered that I had to have my carte de sejour within 3 months of entering the country. I mistakenly thought it would be a matter of making an appointment and showing my paper.

Wrong. I miscalculated French bureaucracy, which like good wine and cheese in France, is not a myth.

Upon reading the instructions more carefully, I learned that I must send a few documents, along with a copy of my passport stamp with date of entry, just to get the appointment. The French officials were polite enough to send a confirmation letter saying they had received my documents. That took about 2 or 3 weeks. The next envelope arrived another 2 weeks or so later with several pages of information about the day of my appointment and what I needed to bring.

Let me say here that I prepared a portfolio that was almost an inch thick. I basically brought everything I had needed to date for my marriage and my VISA. I didn’t need most of it; but I do think it had something to do with my situation: first, I think Americans are not scrutinized as well, second I am married to a French national, and third I’m educated and employed. As my husband say, the government wants make sure you aren’t going to live under the bridge. What he means is that France has a social government where everyone is entitled to health care and social benefits. The government doesn’t want people immigrating to France in order to take advantage of its generous social system.

Be prompt for your appointment. There are many people with the same appointment time, and some I suspect, with no appointment, and you all go through the process together (but privately, one by one). It take half a day, at least. You watch a video, have a general medical examination, and spend some time with an interviewer.

First, you watch a video about France and the “four formations” you must complete in order to receive your carte de sejour. These formations are the heart of your application, so I’ll describe them:

You must speak French. If you do not speak basic French, they send you to French school. Don’t be too frightened by this. My French is basic, and the kind lady determined this by asking my questions, in French of course, that were part of my application: What is your phone number? What is your address? Do you have a secondary degree, such as from a university? What is your profession and do you have a job? She was very patient with me.

You must understand French culture and sign a contract saying that you agree to integrate (this includes accepting issues of equality, etc., important because many persons of Arabic descent immigrate to France, and equality of men and women is stressed). Not a problem for this American.

You must understand the Republic of France. This is basic civics, and it’s the only formation from which I was not exempt. No one is exempt from this formation. Everyone is required to take a one-day lesson in French civics. So, I must return to Marseille in one month for this class. They will provide an English interpreter, and I think it will be interesting, so no complaints.

You must be employable. For me this was not a problem. I have several degrees and a job with a U.S. company. I also do a good bit of consulting and freelance projects. I was exempted from yet another day of training, which I think is similar to the American job preparedness system.

And so, I received three certificates and one appointment for a class in civics.

But I had that little carte de sejour stamp in my VISA before I left. The looming civics class did not prevent my immediate access to permanent residency.

All things considered, the experience wasn’t as bad as I expected. But I wouldn’t recommend taking it lightly. For example, I had to produce proof of residency in the form of a bill for telephone or electric. I have nothing like that in my name, but they accepted my marriage certificate and my husband’s telephone bill. But I was distinctly aware that had I not been able to produce this one document, I would not have received that desired carte de sejour. Also, the letter I received asked for many other documents concerning my health, education, proof of employment, etc. I had all of these documents ready to present, but was not asked for them. Again, I suspect my American nationality smoothed the way.

Here’s the catch: in 9 months, I have to do this all again. Yep, that’s right. The carte de sejour is good for one year. And you need to apply 3 months before it expires. I understand from another American, and I think someone said this in French yesterday, that after a few years I can get a 10-year carte de sejour.

By the way, I’ve decided to keep my American passport.

Here’s a great site with helpful information about moving to France: French Moving Planner

Marriage Visa

Marry a Frenchman and you can get a Visa in 5 days.

At least that was my good fortune (marrying the Frenchman and getting the Visa quickly). After worrying for a year, and really anxious in the last two months after getting married via a French civil ceremony, I showed up at the French Consulate in Washington, D.C., handed over my documents, and received my Visa via the mail in 5 days.

Waiting to approach the Frenchman at the window in the Consulate, I was very nervous. Everyone seemed to have some complications–waited too long to apply for an upcoming trip; forgot documents; didn’t meet financial requirements; had over-stayed passport, etc. But I had everything in order, and as the spouse of a French national, the man took one look at my documents, had another lady review them, and told me he would get my back to France and my husband in short order.

Sigh. It’s over. And they stamped my application to get my carte de séjour. I’ll soon be a permanent resident with healthcare and the privilege to work!

Generic Works Sometimes

If your are not concerned with politics, you will be if you ever decide to move to a foreign country.

Republic, democracy, social medicine, border control–it matters when you think about crossing the border for any length of time. My mother called this morning to say a U.S. government shutdown could affect getting a VISA (but I think that is for incoming visitors to the U.S.). I won’t comment on Republic vs. democracy, but I will say there is plenty of bureaucracy when trying to get into another country.

Healthcare is the issue that most concerns me; not from a political perspective, but from a practical one: I need it.

France, of course, has socialized medicine. And whether Americans agree or not is irrelevant to me at this juncture. It may work in my favor. I opted not to get international insurance because the deductibles are so high it doesn’t make sense. Especially after I read that healthcare, even without insurance, is less expensive in France than in the States.

So how do you get your prescriptions filled when you are spending 3 months in another country? You thank God for generic drugs and ask for a 90-day supply before you go. And I always ask for an emergency antibiotic to carry with me, just in case.

It’s just another one of those details.