Most tourists coming to Paris from the US never have to worry about getting a French Visa, but since 2009, to remain in France for longer than 3 months, you must have the permission of the government. Though we arrived in France in late January, we started the procedure to obtain a Visa early in November, 2012 by making the trip to San Francisco to visit the French Consulate. The French Consulate in Seattle does not process these Visas. The San Francisco Consulate is located close to Union Square, so it’s possible to combine business with pleasure when you go. We made an appointment in October via their web site (the only way you can do it) bought plane tickets and made a hotel reservation, etc.
1. ID photos – a separate photo is placed in your passport. The French government is particular about the appearance. T&C photo in Poulsbo provided everything we needed, but you’ll want to remember to be sure to bring the requirements along to your photo session.
2. A completed application form
3. Original passport plus copy of the identity pages
4. Status in the US (green card if you are not a citizen).
5. Letter promising not to engage in employment. The French don’t want visitors to be employed because it is very difficult to fire a worker in France, and they don’t want to add additional burdens to their social safety net.
6. Letter of employment in the US stating compensation and earnings.
7. Proof of means of income. Since we could not easily estimate business income, we brought every piece of financial information we had to prove to the Consulate that we would have sufficient funds to remain in France.
8. Proof of medical insurance. They were particular about ensuring that our US coverage also provided coverage in France. Though not necessary for us, we found that there are companies that will provide insurance that provides the necessary coverage.
9. Marriage certificate
10. Proof of accommodation (this meant we needed to have our hotel reservation, which meant that we needed to know our date of departure from the US).
11. Processing fees of $127 per person
12. A residence form with the top part completed. We searched Google until we found a student web site that translated the form so I could complete it correctly.
13. E ticket or reservation confirming the date of departure for France. (So in November before knowing that we had a visa, we had to make all reservations for lodging and travel with a firm arrival date).
14. A self addressed pre-paid express mailing envelope so they could return completed documents to us.
The application procedures made it clear that the Consulate might request additional documentation, that submission of the documents does not guarantee visa approval, and that approval does not guarantee the right to enter in France, which is still subject to immigration control procedures once we arrived. Do you think this was an uncertain time for us?
The visit to the Consulate in San Francisco actually went smoothly. The procedures require you to have a copy of every document but what they do not explain is that they want you to have copies because the Consulate doesn’t want to keep your originals. In our case we had a giant mound of paper including originals and copies of all bank and financial statements and every other document in the list above. The first thing the man at the consulate asked us was “Why so much paper?”. Still we must have done something right because by Wednesday of the next week we had received via snail mail our passports back with French Visa’s. Yes, you must leave your passport at the Consulate!
Now fast forward to a month ago. After we arrived in France it took us about a month to find a permanent residence, and because of the uncertainty of when we would be living where, we delayed our visit to the French Office of Immigration and Integration (called OFII here) until we were living in our apartment. At that point we completed the original residence form returned to us from the Consulate and mailed it (by registered mail with return receipt) to the local OFII office in Paris. Along with the form, we also needed to send copies of our passports including the pages with the stamp when entering France and our visa pages.
A few days later we each received an acknowledgement of receipt of our application forms. Everything was written in French so we had to scramble to interpret the web site and documents. Perhaps a week later I received a letter from the consulate scheduling an appointment, including a physical exam, on April 2nd. There was no letter for Brenda. We didn’t want to call because speaking French to talk about the terminology of our visas would have been difficult for us. Twice we trekked over to the OFII office only to find it closed both times. Finally we decided to just go to my appointment and ask about her at the same time.
April 2nd arrives and I’ve compiled the paperwork needed for my appointment – another passport photo (thanks T&C Photo in Poulsbo!), a copy of a letter from our landlord certifying that we live at our address, and funds to pay the €241 (a little over $300 US) tax for my visa. Funds had to be in the form of stamps, like postage stamps. They are sold at some tobacco shops and online at a government web site. I was wary of using the online purchase since I didn’t know how long it would take to receive by mail and since I don’t have a way to print at home. We decided to visit tobacco shops – there was a list of those who sold tax stamps. An hour or so before my appointment we go to the first tobacco shop on our list – no their stamp machine is broken. We go to another shop – no they don’t have €241 in stamps, but they suggest a government tourism office down the street that might be able to help. We never would have understood this except that we were helped by an English speaking hotel concierge from across the street, who happened to be in the shop. We go there (walking blocks and blocks to all these places, first in the Latin Quarter, then over by Hotel d’Ville) and are able to purchase the stamps. We debate whether to purchase stamps for Brenda too, but decide against it because we don’t yet have her letter.
Then we go to OFII (walking of course – over by the Bastille in an office that looks like a hole in the wall). Perhaps 100 people are lined up outside for a 1330 appointment-I thought I had the only one. There are all nationalities, many Chinese, Africans from various countries, Japanese, Brazilians. Most are students but some are new wives of French citizens (we didn’t see any new husbands) or people coming to work in France. There was one older American couple who seemed to be in our situation-sort of stupefied! The sign on the doors said that OFII wouldn’t reopen after lunch until 1400, so we all just stood around and waited to see what would happen. Eventually there was movement in the line.
A big security guard examines each person’s paperwork as they enter. I explain in poor French to him that Brenda is my husband, and he laughs and lets her in without paperwork. Inside we pass through a reception desk, where I provide my passport photo, passport, and tax stamps. We ask about Brenda’s situation, and the woman processing forms says there’s no time now and we must ask later. We receive directions to go sit in a cramped waiting room, where officials start calling out names and issuing instructions in French – I can’t understand much. I’m shuttled to another waiting room where I eventually am called for a cursory physical. They measure height and weight, take blood pressure, a blood sample, and a chest x-ray, then shuttle me back to the waiting room. Then I am interviewed by a doctor, who pronounces me fit and sends me back to the waiting room. Eventually I receive a letter certifying that I am medically acceptable to remain in France. Then I get back in line at the reception desk, where I receive my Visa sticker certifying that I am OK to remain in France. Voilà!
Meanwhile we don’t yet know about Brenda’s letter. We ask when I am receiving my completed visa and the lady says we’ll just have to call OFII when we get home since they didn’t have any information there to help us. We go downstairs where Brenda asks again at the front desk. The woman there marches us back upstairs, reads the riot act to the woman who told us to go home, reaches down and pulls Brenda’s letter out of a stack sitting next to the lady at her desk. Next thing we know Brenda is getting her physical completed. Once we have everything done we’re back at the reception desk providing passport, photos, etc., so we can complete the process. The woman asks about Brenda’s tax stamps. We don’t have no stinking tax stamps for Brenda! It’s about 10 minutes to closing time when she tells us to run to a tobacco shop just down the street. We rush over there and, guess what, they have lots of tax stamps. We purchase Brenda’s and hustle back just as they are beginning to lock up. The woman upstairs issues Brenda’s completed visa, and we are ecstatic! 3 1/2 hours of fun.
Imagine working in a chaotic office where you process 100 mostly non French speaking people through the visa pipeline every afternoon. Our hats are off to the workers at OFII. An aside, we only had to get the tax stamps because our trip occurred in the interim period before implementation of a new law that requires long stay visa holders such as ourselves to pay the tax at our visit to the consulate in America.