It’s official, we’re legal residents of France for a year, at least, as of yesterday afternoon! The process all began back in January of this year when we went to the French consulate in Miami to request a visa. Americans can stay here for up to 90 days in any 6-month period with only a passport but for any longer than that you need a visa that’s valid for a year. But wait, even with that document issued in the US you still have to request a titre de sejour (residence permit) once you arrive.Then the wait begins.
When we landed in Paris on February 24 we made sure that our passports were stamped with that date because you have to prove that you’ve entered the country within 3 months of when your visa was issued. The lease on our house began on March 1 and 9 days later we mailed in our request to the immigration office, OFII, in Montpelier for the titre de sejour. In three weeks they sent us a receipt for our application and said that we would be scheduled for an interview at their office. Bill’s response was “They know we’re here” which meant that we could now relax since we had fulfilled our initial requirement.
Sounds good on paper but we still waited daily at the mailbox anticipating that our appointment would arrive “any day” probably to the amusement of our postman who would greet us with “Bonjour, I have nothing for you.” At last, on April 26 he handed us two identical envelopes inside of which were 4 pages detailing our May 9 appointment at 2:30 PM and what we should bring including our passports, a separate ID photo, a copy of our lease with rent receipts, and the all important fee of 241 euro ($270) that we could pay in advance online or buy tax stamps at a tabac convenience store in town. We have since learned that the immigration office waits to schedule the appointments until they have enough applicants to justify hiring medical staff for the day.
The OFII office is essentially across the street from the train station in Montpelier so it was easy to get there in plenty of time for our appointment. We showed up at 2 PM and the cheerful receptionist looked at our passports, took our files from the sizeable stack on her desk, and asked us to sit in the waiting room. There were 15 other people already in the room and every few minutes a nurse or doctor would call out a name and one of our fellow applicants would disappear only to reappear a few minutes later. Typically in that situation we might have asked “What did they do to you?” but not knowing what language the other person spoke, we all remained silent.
Finally it was Bill’s turn to go so off he went and he too was quickly back in the room saying only one word to me “X-ray”, loudly enough that several others heard him and that was all it took to break the ice. Suddenly we were in conversation with all sorts of wonderfully-accented English about where we were from, what we were doing in France, and the most pressing question of the day “What did they do to you?” That process was repeated 3 more times but at least the staff members took the two of us together instead of individually. After the x-ray we were interviewed by a nurse about our medical history and then she checked our weight, height, and vision. Next we were seen by a doctor who did a relatively thorough physical exam and even hand wrote a letter about her findings that we could give to our family doctor in Carcassonne.
The last step in the 2-hour process was to talk with an administrator who collected our rent receipts, ID photo, and the tax payment voucher. Every single person we encountered in that office, and there were many in addition to those mentioned above, was as nice as they could have been. As you would imagine, French was the language of the day, but they each had seen from the paperwork that we were from the US so when necessary they switched to English long enough to make sure that we understood. We were totally amazed. Now all we have to do is find that residence to stay in.
RECAP: The visa we got in the US is valid for one year, but only if you also get that medical exam and have them put a sticker in your passport once you are actually living here.
After your first year is up, you apply through your local police department for a residence permit (kind of like a green card in the US). Generally you have to show that you have a place to live, have income to live on, and have paid your taxes. The current cost is about 380 dollars for a one year period. You can do that annually for five years at which point you can either apply for a 10-year card or citizenship.