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!
This post, Taxing Times, by Catherine Higginson caught my attention today. On this site dedicated to helping foreigners in France (like me) adjust to life here, she compare the benefits of high taxation in France to her home country.
She’s British, I’m American, so our comparisons are different, but she makes some excellent points regarding the benefits France offers with regard to healthcare and education in relation to higher taxation.
I don’t agree with all aspects of France’s social system, but my brief reply was to agree with Catherine: France may tax its citizens higher than some countries, including my own native home, but France’s citizens also have the comfort of knowing they will be taken care of health-wise and their children will receive free education (or a less expensive private education). This, I champion.
As an US resident, I was opposed to a social system; and while I don’t say I’m completely in favor of it now, living in France has opened my eyes to some of the issues, and some real benefits.
As of yet, I have not had opportunity to take advantage of free healthcare or education. I pay full price for my healthcare here in France and my son is in private school. But I can tell you that even at full price, I pay 1/4 for both healthcare and private education here in France compared to what I paid in the US. My point, even as a person who is not completely benefitting from the social system and yet paying higher taxes, I still feel I’m getting a benefit. If I were still living in the States, I would be paying taxes, plus insurance premiums, plus private education expenses. In France, I’m paying higher taxes, but paying much, much less for healthcare and private education. And I’m not paying medical insurance premiums.
So, maybe it’s a wash, at least for me.
Here are a few examples:
In the States it may cost (generally) $120 a month for health insurance (my portion, employer paying half or more). With insurance, it would cost me $20-$30 dollars to see a doctor and $60/month for some regular medications I take. In France, I have no insurance premium to pay, and I pay €23 (about $30 US) to see a doctor, and €16/month (about $20 US) for medication. Wow. That’s a big savings.
In the States, my son’s private school cost almost $10,000/year. In France, he’s attending an excellent private school for €1,100/year (about $1,400 US). And if he were in public school, it would be free.
Ok, taxes are significantly higher in France. Without doing all the math, at best I’m coming out ahead. At worst, it’s a wash.
What about quality? My experience so far has been that France’s healthcare providers are very knowledgable. In fact, I’ve been impressed. I’ve learned some things about my own conditions that were never told to me by a US doctor. I’ve taken some over-the-counter meds that worked far better than anything I had tried in the US. And I’ve never waited more than 15 minutes to see a doctor or get an x-ray (and the results of the x-ray were ready next day). I should also mention that going to a pharmacy here is almost like going to a doctor. Pharmacies here (unlike grocery stores) are well-staffed and the personnel are very knowledgable and helpful. Tell them your symptoms and they’ll offer you relief, as long as it doesn’t require a prescription, of course.
As far as the private school my son is attending, well, I can’t say enough about the high quality and the progressive and proactive philosophy of the school. Every student is required to have an iPad. Teachers send them notes to their iPad to reference in class and some of the textbooks are on iPad rather than hardcopy. I love it, and so does he. The students take notes on their iPads and then can share their class notes easily. Teachers encourage this. It helps them all have a better understanding of the material.
My purpose is not to say that one country offers better than another. They’re different. Our choices are different. Our experiences are different.
And our differences are what make us interesting.
Thanks to Catherine for that great post. See Catherine’s blog.
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.
Read French Red Tape.
“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.