Getting a Carte de Séjour (Residence Permit)

From the back of the line at the Prefecture de Police

From the back of the line at the Prefecture de Police

Before I relate our process of obtaining a residence permit, a note of caution: Information we found on other Internet blogs was not always reliable and up to date. You will need to do your own research. The requirements change often. There have been major changes to the Préfecture de Police Web site even since we began our process. This post should in no way be interpreted as legal advice.

Last week we finally received from the Préfecture de Police permission to remain in France until April. The Préfecture is the agency that implements French government policies for non-citizens visiting or working in France for periods beyond one year. When we return to the Préfecture in April, they will review all of the documents and hopefully issue a resident card allowing us to remain an additional year in France.

In late October, about 3 months before the expiration of our visa, I checked the web site for the Préfecture de Police. How I wish I had checked this earlier! Right away I knew we were in trouble; the first requirement for visitors was to visit the Préfecture 4 to 5 months prior to expiration of their visa.

I relied on the information from our visa issued by the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII). We’ve already related the story of our visit to OFII. This visa gave us a resident permit for our first year in France. The application contained the following information about renewing our residence permit:

“If you wish to renew your residence permit you must, within the last two months before your visa expires, go to the relevant local authorities of your place of residence (“Préfecture”) and apply for a resident permit. You will be given the necessary forms and the list of requirements, which can vary according to your stay. Failing to do so will result in your having to return to your last country of residency to request a new visa.”

The Préfecture Web site provided a list of items that applicants need to present for their first renewal. It included some items not required by OFII, such as certified copies of birth certificates with date of issue within the past 3 months. Other items were similar to what we had presented for our original visa. About the same time, I found an article on the blog Paris Missives letting us know that obtaining a residence permit was no walk in the park. There was a form on the Préfecture Web site to request an appointment to renew the residence permit, but I could not figure out what number on my long term visa would allow me to sign up. The numbers in the online form appeared to correspond only to numbers on the residence permit card.

Knowing we were running out of time and still not having an official appointment, on November 1st Brenda and I went to the Préfecture de Police on Rue Truffaut, the designated place for people living in our part of Paris. We took with us everything on the checklist that we could pull together, and I hastily ordered our birth certificates by overnight mail from the US.

This first visit was a complete failure. We arrived early in the afternoon and found two long lines. We understood the line on the right was for first time renewals, and the line on the left was for people who were renewing a subsequent time. We waited outside, standing in a crowd in sub 40 degree weather for 5 hours. The line on the left moved quickly along, but our line moved hardly at all. Just as we neared the front, an administrator appeared and told everyone to go home. No more appointments that day. At least 100 angry people, trying to get the feeling back in their legs, trudged off.

Later we found out that traffic that day was especially heavy because people who normally would have been at work were off for some school holidays. The next week we received our birth certificates. Still hoping to get in the door to start the approval process, we went back to the Préfecture at 8:30 am on November 6th. This time we got inside, received a number, and within 2 hours were called to the front desk. The administrator spoke rapidly in French (too rapidly for us to understand what she said) as she looked at our paperwork. She handed our paperwork back, told us to leave and to call the phone number on the checklist to make an appointment. Since appointments were running about 5 months out (April 2014), and our visas were to expire in January, we did not understand why the Préfecture would not see us. We returned home to look for some bourbon and professional help.

We searched the Internet and found a company in Nice called “Mon Ami Andy”. They help clients obtain residence permits. I filled out their online form. Within a day I received a response from Jennifer Denison, who specializes in helping with visa/immigration issues. She answered my list of questions regarding our circumstances and explained how to obtain items required by the checklist. Her being in the south of France was not a problem. She met with us in our Paris apartment when she was in town early in December. Below are some requirements and answers for questions:

Is this our first renewal?

Our visa authorized residence for our first year in France. We were confused about whether we were now applying for our first residence permit or a renewal because the laws changed 2 years ago. Before the change one would apply for a separate residence permit at the Préfecture within 3 months of being in France. Now the first year of residence in France is authorized by the visa approval by OFII. Older websites discussing residence permits were not up to date with this change. With current rules, because one holds only a visa and not a separate residence card, one is classified as making his/her first request to the Préfecture.

Getting an appointment at the Préfecture

I hired “Mon Ami Andy” to obtain the appointment for us. For nearly a week they had no success contacting the Préfecture. Finally on a Monday they succeeded. Since July 2013 the Préfecture has a cap on how many appointments they can give out per week, making it easier to manage the workload for their employees. The previous week all of the spaces had been filled by 10 am on Tuesday, so for the rest of the week the switchboard was off! The Préfecture confirmed the appointment by sending us a “convocation” inviting us to individual appointments on April 14th. Since our visas expire near the end of January, we still had to have temporary permission to remain in France. Back to the Préfecture!

Get first Recepissé

With our letters of convocation, passports and a proof of address (a bill in each of our names), we went to the commissariat 19 rue Truffeau at 8:30 am to request a Recepissé. This time we got to stand in the faster moving line on the left. As a precaution recommended by “Mon Ami Andy”, we took additional paperwork – apartment lease and receipts, bank statements, and translated birth certificates and marriage license, but these were not required. As Jennifer predicted, we were issued the Recepissé without any problems. It allows us to stay in France legally until our meeting in April. We are also permitted to enter and exit France freely.

Note on what documents were needed to prove residence

Our landlord kept the utilities in her name so we did not have a utility bill to prove we live at our address in Paris. “Mon Ami Andy” recommended that we use a cell phone bill in each of our names, copy of the apartment lease with the most recent 3 months of rent receipts, and bank statements in both our names as a backup. Both our cell phone accounts were in my name. It took us more than a month to complete the paperwork so that our cell provider Orange could change one of the accounts into Brenda’s name. An Orange phone cannot list more than one person on the account.

Now we are looking forward to our meeting in April. We have given notice to our current landlord with the hope of finding a larger apartment in a quieter location. Below are additional details for our April meeting:

Marriage certificate

The checklist didn’t say we needed a copy of our marriage certificate, but we were advised that one is needed, the requirement being lumped in with “etat civil” documents. As with our birth certificates, this document must be translated into French by an authorized translator. “Mon Ami Andy” provides authorized translation services. All translations in France need to be dated less than three months from the day of the appointment.

Proof of Health insurance

Our health insurance policy letter showing coverage while we are in France must be translated into French. Another option would be to sign up for French coverage. We’ve been advised that we can do this without being members of the French social security system. Generally the cost of this coverage is not based on history/need/preexisting conditions, but simply on age. A person aged 40-50 is about 90 euros per month, 50+ about 100 euros. The Préfecture loves it if you have French coverage. It is easy for them to understand and determine approval. Since we already have US insurance with coverage in Europe, our current goal is to find a way to convince the French that our coverage meets their requirements.

Documents to show OFII health check

We have to provide the original (from April 2013) OFII health exam and chest X-rays. The Préfecture only needs to see the certificate signed/stamped by the doctor saying that we passed the medical.

Justification of resources

As visitors, we must justify our resources as sufficient for the time of our stay in France. We must provide our last 3 months bank statements from our French bank and an “attestation de compte”, which is a letter from our bank that says that we have a bank account in good standing. It is a good rule of thumb that whatever was used to justify assets for the original visa at the French consulate in America should be used again – now with the addition of any French bank assets and the bank letter. A summary of our US assets will need to be translated into French and converted into Euros.

Letter not to engage in work or services

“Mon Ami Andy” provided us with an example of a letter with appropriate French language to formally declare that we would not engage in work. This is a requirement only for visitors.

Proof of payment to OFII

The Préfecture checklist requires proof of payment to OFII for the original receipt of their approval stamp. The OFII stamp in one’s passport is proof that the taxes owed were paid.

Other considerations for success

We’ve been advised that, despite the appearance of a difficult bureaucracy, as long as all the ducks are in a row, paperwork translated, photocopies, not bound by staples, etc, Carte de Séjour (residence permit) requests very rarely get refused. Most of the decision process is based on whether or not you can afford to support yourself in France without needing French social assistance. We were able to justify this to the French Consulate in the US, and they are generally far more difficult to please than the Préfecture! At the Préfecture they like to see the documents the way that they like to see them, eg specific photocopies, specific order etc. It is worth the effort to ask for assistance in getting prepared.

Rendez-vous time

Our appointments at the Préfecture are scheduled for April 14th. This is long after our current visas expire. Unfortunately these are the earliest available appointments. The procedure is as follows: Documents for all the items on the Préfecture checklist need to be updated to within 3 months of the appointment. Only translation dates of translated documents need to be updated. Documents must be organized by originals and then copies- color documents with color copies, black and white documents with black and white copies.

Renewal date for new residence permit

Our new residence permit will expire at the end of January, 2015, a year after the original expiration of our visas. An updated Recepissé will be issued after the meeting, and a couple months later the actual residence card arrives. By that time we will need to start application to renew our residence permit for year 3!

Can we renew our lease or rent a new apartment prior to approval of the residence permit?

The Recepissé is a legal document issued by the Préfecture, which means that we are authorized to stay and reside. For all intents and purposes it has the same authority as the Carte de Séjour. We are fully legal in France until the 14th of April. Also, if for whatever reason we are not approved for the Carte de Séjour in April, we would only have to give one month’s notice to our landlord in order to terminate the contract. The lease at our current place could roll over automatically whether or not we have a valid Carte de Séjour, and our recipissé status should be no problem for any new individual owner or real estate agency. If requested, we may have to show our Carte de Séjour (residence permit) in April once we have received it. At our appointment, the Préfecture only needs to see a current rental contract; they will assume it will simply roll over upon approval of our residence permit.

How to give written notice

In France to terminate a lease you have to give written notice via the mail, to be sent with signed delivery upon receipt. The post office can help with this. Using the postal system web site, I was able to mail my signed termination and pay for the postage online and skip the trip to the post office.

Comments

  1. Oh My Goodness!!!! I think us “old folks” will just stay here!!! Glad that you got as far as you did. Hope everything works out so that you can stay as long as you want. Miss and love you!

  2. sounds about as difficult as getting visas/residence permits in the Middle East!!

    • Hugh Nelson says:

      Kathryn, you may have detected that part of our problem was our own ignorance. It was pretty easy once we understood what we were supposed to do.

  3. Don Merry says:

    I know it’s worth it, to go through there process, and am so very glad you are doing it again. Thanks for sharing the path you are on.

  4. Ardis Morrow says:

    Whew !!! I think I would have thrown what papers I had in the air and come back to the U.S. My oh my, I am so impressed with your detailed perseverance. Of my friends and relatives you are the only two I know who could go
    through this and still smile. You are smiling aren’t you. And it is worth it right?

  5. Gretchen Pickens says:

    Hugh and Brenda,

    Goodness gracious – if I were the French “emperor” I would welcome the two of you with open arms and invite you to stay as long as you like. I sure hope they see the light – you are the most wonderful, enthusiastic visitors in all of France.

    Keep us posted and best of luck.

    Hugs, Gretchen

    • Hugh Nelson says:

      Gretchen – you are too kind. There are many people who want to come to France because there is more opportunity here. The government is strapped and providing all the assistance they can, so there are tough screening procedures applied across the board to all of us and some perseverance is required.

  6. Jan Hiatt says:

    What an amazingly complicated mountain of paperwork. Obviously you love living there! Wow.

    • Hugh Nelson says:

      It was much easier once we understood what to do. The underlying thread is the struggle for us to interact with the government and to understand the French legal technicalities when we aren’t very good at French. Yes we can make conversation with friends – no we can’t keep up with the functionaires.

  7. This is an amazing chapter to read. Thanks for taking the time to post it and the warning that everything might change. Still enjoying our photos of our trip there and our memories from it!

  8. Peter Nelson says:

    I found the link to Mon Ami Andy to be a fascinating part of your story. They appear to be young, creative, and a good fit for you. How cool that they featured your blog on their web site!

  9. pat christensen says:

    Brenda&Hugh,
    I’ve been wondering if you would decide to stay on past one year – and now I know…I fully understand. The visa/residence permit sounds somewhat like what one goes through in the Middle East ! Have enjoyed reading your blog. Instead of traveling in 2013 I’ve been taking courses at OC, just to follow some interests that I never had time for in the past.
    Pat

    • Hugh Nelson says:

      Pat, it’s good to hear from you. Our struggle with the Carte de Séjour continues, and there will be more stories about it soon I hope. We’re hoping in April to have the residence permit settled, but who knows? We’ve also moved to a different apartment and are planning for a full schedule of visitors this summer. All this makes life very busy and leaves not enough time for writing in this blog.

  10. i over stay with a tourist visa in France with my daughter,and i married with Ghanaian lady worked at France
    airport she had ten years resident permit, i dont want to go back so this case can i get stay in france . let from you thanks

    • Hugh Nelson says:

      Sylvanus, we are not experts in French immigration and for your circumstances cannot recommend what you should do. Many people in your situation hire an attorney who specializes in immigration to guide them through the process. As described in our article, we used a service, http://monamiandy.com, who specialize in helping mostly English speaking clients with immigration, residence permits, and real estate purchases. You might try them. Best of luck to you!

  11. Hi there,

    If all documents are in order and the day of the appointment for renewal of the visa, will they retain the original passport until visa renewal approval or stamp it right away with the visa extension?

    Thanks for the info.
    Cheers!

    • Hugh Nelson says:

      Sera, pardon me if I explain too much here. The first year we went to a French consulate in the US and obtained a visa, which is a document pasted inside the passport. When we applied for our Visas in San Francisco, we left the passports with the consulate and received them back in the mail about a week later – the Visa’s were pasted inside on a separate page. The first year the visa functions also as your residence permit. Subsequent years, you must go to a separate agency, the Prefecture de Police, to obtain a residence permit (Carte de Séjour), which is an entirely separate ID card. The process we’ve described in the article was about how we obtained our Cartes de Séjour. Application for the Carte de Séjour requires that you show them your original passport and deliver a copy of it as part of the documentation, but you never have to surrender your passport during the period between applying for and actually receiving your final Carte de Séjour. There is no renewal or stamp on the original Visa. While you wait for them to issue your Carte de Séjour, they give you a separate document called a récépissé (literally a receipt) showing the date of your appointment to pick up your id card. This functions as your residence permit (including for entering the country again if you depart) until you have your final id card. Both years we have renewed, the final id card wasn’t ready at the first appointment, so they issued a new récépissé covering the period until the second scheduled appointment (about 6 weeks later). Hope this is a clear explanation.

  12. Hi Hugh:

    Thanks for sharing your experience! You experience is about getting your FIRST Carte de Sejour (ie, for the second year stay in France, after being here for the first year with Visa de Long Sejour), correct?

    Your blog mentioned that Mon Ami Andy informed you that your recepissé would allow you to exit/enter France freely. Does it include going back to US and come back to France? I am in the “first recepissé in hand waiting for FIRST Carte de Sejour” stage, and wonder if I could go back to US for a wedding for a week before I receive the Frist Carte de Sejour. Info I found on the web seems to suggest this is not possible for people waiting for the FIRST carte de Sejour. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hugh Nelson says:

      Ashley,

      Sorry for my slow response – yes – the article was about the 1st Carte de Séjour (2nd year in France). Our understanding based on what we were told by Mon Ami Andy was that the recepissé functioned as your residence permit until they delivered the Carte de Séjour. Our experience is that the French border check doesn’t typically (never has in our case) ask for the Carte de Séjour when you enter at the airport. On the other hand, the airlines (Delta most recently) asked to see it as part of the checkin process in the US (since I didn’t have return flight arranged). I can’t speak to other information available on the web. We did delay a flight to the US so that we could receive our Cartes de Séjour because we were going to be staying in the US for 4 months. The French require that you pick up your Carte de Séjour within 2 months of when it is ready, or you have to pay a hefty fine to receive it thereafter. Also, if you don’t have it after the recepissé expires, they don’t have to let you back in the country. That may be the problem you face. Also…our experience is that the Carte de Séjour has never been ready on the first availability date provided – thus you have to go in and receive a new recepissé with a 2nd availability date before you finally receive the card. My best guess is that if you return to France prior to the expiration of your recepissé, you won’t have a problem entering, as long as the airlines recognize it as a valid proof of residence in France.

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