There’s a reasonable explanation as to why the French have a reputation for bureaucracy–they’ve earned it.
As I’ve learned after a year-and-a-half of trying to get anything official done here, there is no such thing as official. Just because the official government website says it’s so, doesn’t mean it’s so. If you speak to a government official and they tell you it’s done a certain way, don’t count on it. The next official you speak to will tell you something quite different. And who’s right? Why, they both are.
Take my recent experience trying to exchange my U.S. driving permit for a French permit. According to the official website, my state has an exchange agreement with France. I’ve learned not to count on the official website, so I went directly to the Marie annex to get the appropriate paperwork and the answers for my locale. The lady handed me a written list of everything I would need to submit. Great, I thought. I have it in writing.
So, I gathered everything on the list. One item asked for an official translation of my original permit OR an attestation of validity from the US. Notice I capitalized OR. In actuality, the instructions were in French, so it said OU. Ok, that means I need one or the other.
I traveled to Marseille, gave the US Embassy $50 and they gave me a paper that says it is an official translation and attestation of validity of my permit. I included it in the portfolio of other documents required. I was ready to get my permit, or so I thought.
The translation/attestation of validity, I was told, was not acceptable. I needed both, the lady said. I pointed to the “OU” and said, the paper says I need one or the other.
Are you ready for her answer? She put an X through the “OU” and said I need both.
And such is the arbitrary French system. As carefully as I have tried to plan for every scenario, when I show up with exactly what I think they want, they arbitrarily change their minds.
I didn’t stop there. I called the US Embassy to see if I could get another type of paper. I was told that is the paper the US gives out to meet France’s requirements. What else can we do, she asked? It’s a translation and we stamped it with our seal to say it’s valid.
And so I told this to the not-so-kind lady at the French bureau. Her response: It’s not acceptable. And so I just stared at her for a few minutes, and finally asked, in French, so give me a solution. She shrugged her shoulders and moved back to her desk.
Technically, I’m supposed to get a French permit after living here for a year. At least that’s what the official website says.
So, what am I going to do? I’ve decided to adapt to the culture and make my own rules. I’m going to keep my US permit.
“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
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